Ripon College, a private residential liberal arts college, is holding its Alumni Weekend this coming weekend.
Chris Rickert of the Wisconsin State Journal feels the need to defend the liberal arts (including a journalism and political science graduate with a history minor whose work you read in this space):
I can’t open the paper lately without reading about how the American economy is doomed unless we get more kids into the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math. …
As a graduate and employee in two fields ranked among the most useless of college majors — English and journalism, respectively — I admit I’m a little envious of all the love being showered on STEM.
My personal bias is also that STEM skills started succumbing to the law of diminishing returns some time shortly after the invention of indoor plumbing.
Nevertheless, it’s clear STEM isn’t nearly as important to solving the world’s problems — economic or otherwise — as the so-called “soft” skills: compromise, empathy, the ability to understand different viewpoints, etc. …
A lot of people were opposed to [Gov. Scott] Walker not necessarily because they were pro-collective bargaining but because they felt violated by “lack of process,” said Lisa Derr, who as president of the Wisconsin Association of Mediators knows something about process.
Conflict-resolution consultant Harry Webne-Behrman said it’s important to identify not just the details of a conflict, but how the need for respect, empathy and understanding fuel the behavior of conflict participants.
The STEM fields don’t always teach that, he said. “You’ve got to learn these soft skills.”
And don’t forget the world-saving power of all those non-STEM degrees — literature, philosophy, history and others of the oft-maligned humanities.
“Skills and methods associated with the humanities aren’t soft, despite the convention of referring to them as such,” said Sara Guyer, director of the UW-Madison Center for the Humanities. “The importance of the humanities … is not just about empathy or imagining others, but it is about deepening our real understanding and fostering rigorous, critical analysis.”
This is not to say STEM is irrelevant to the (maybe-not-so) soft skills. …
But personally, I’ve learned more about humanity and its discontents from Jane Smiley novels and David Foster Wallace essays than from any STEM course I ever took.
The path to prosperity may well be paved with STEM graduates — but only if they learn the soft skills and read a few decent books along the way.