Readers Respond to Seattle Times Article on Humanities at UW

Image of students in Red Square, Gerberding Hall in the background and lots of trees.

Seattle Times staff reporter Katherine Long’s most recent article on the changing landscape of higher education, titled “As STEM majors soar at UW, interest in humanities shrinks — a potentially costly loss,” sparked record interest and engagement from readers of Simpson Center content online.

The rapid “swing to STEM is having unexpected consequences,” Long writes. “With fewer students studying the humanities — history, philosophy, foreign languages and English — those departments are shrinking. Retiring professors aren’t replaced. Academics worry that the nation would be impoverished — both culturally and intellectually — if only an elite few understand the arc of American history, know how to find meaning in poetry, or can discuss the ideas of the great philosophers.”

The response to the piece was resounding. On Twitter, Lauren Pressley, Director of the University of Washington Tacoma Library and Associate Dean of University Libraries, posted, “As someone with a Philosophy degree, I read this closely.”

The numbers tell the story: “At UW Seattle,” Long notes, “there are now almost as many students studying in STEM programs as in non-STEM programs. That’s a dramatic flip: Just 10 years ago, there were twice as many students in non-STEM majors as there were in STEM majors.”

On Facebook, Veronica Muskheli, a doctoral candidate at UW in Slavic Languages & Literatures, called it a “dangerous trend.”

Others shared her concerns. The Simpson Center’s Facebook post linking to the article was viewed by nearly 900 people, almost 100 of whom engaged with it in some way, as measured by comments, shares, and click-throughs to the full text on the Seattle Times website. Metrics from Facebook show a 76% jump in engagement during the week of January 23, 2019, when the post was featured.

Interest in the article can be attributed, in part, to the ongoing debate about the value of a college degree. Long describes a well-observed pattern of student perception and behavior driven by "the idea that only STEM degrees lead to good jobs in Seattle."

That idea is mistaken, according to Robert Stacey, Dean of Arts & Sciences at UW, who has the last word in the article: 

“This is a really good place to come to study the humanities, arts and sciences,” Stacey said. “What people think they know about the economic consequences of choosing one major over another is simply not true.”

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