Engineer’s Career is Enhanced by Humanities Skills

Mark Bauerlein reprinted in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this response to his recent contribution to the Jobs vs. Gates debate in the NYT :

“Professor Bauerlein:

“Having retired after 36 years as an engineer/physicist, I can look
back and honestly say that the liberal-arts courses I took amplified
my effectiveness as an engineer.  They could be described as what the
military would call ‘force multipliers,’ always present in my best
work and often most responsible for my promotions along the way.

“My promotions were more related to my ability to write and give good
presentations than to the technical ingenuity of my work.  Often,
some very ingenious output resulted in a company patent but just
didn’t create any excitement, while on other occasions I managed to
sell some rather pedestrian work to roars of approval.

“Some studies of philosophy helped me to understand what it means to
know something and to see logical holes in an argument.  My exposure
to psychology and sociology made me more sensitive to ingrained
paradigms that I could not change and so needed to navigate, like so
many hidden reefs.

“I think my finest university teacher was a historian named Milton
Halliday.  He was awakening a classroom of physical science and
engineering majors to the history of western philosophy.  That
course, and the inspiration of Halliday, motivated in me a lifetime
of study outside of my career.”

These are just the kind of testimonials that the humanities need in discussions of funding, general education requirements, curricular changes, and career readiness.  From what I’ve seen and heard, humanities professors haven’t made the case.  Their defenses of the humanities can’t overcome the simple dollar calculations.

The dean’s option is irresistible: Why spend $80,000 on one associate professor of English at a 2-2 load when I can pay two adjuncts $48,000 to teach 16 (!) courses?

English professors struggle to answer that question in an effective, persuasive way.  If we had more engineers and scientists putting administrators on the spot, the adjunct trend would, at the least, slow down.  Right now, the silence of people whose research brings in big federal dollars isn’t benign or neutral.  It’s an endorsement of the steady marginalization of the humanities on campus.

I believe most scientists and engineers believe in the essential role of the humanities in higher education, but they don’t know how much they have declined in prestige and persuasion.  It would be all to the good if more cross-the-quad communication took place.

Speak up! Let us know what you think.