Craig Frucht | Axes to grind
Devaluing liberal arts
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 01:03
There you sit, five years from now, in your parents’ basement drinking Crystal Lite out of a Mason jar and using your beat−up MacBook Air to scour the Internet for nonexistent jobs where your ability to write a gendered analysis of “Moby Dick” or debate the merits of Rousseau’s definition of sovereignty make you a coveted candidate. Meanwhile, your best friend, a former biomedical engineering major who owns three houses, has already invented a new vaccine delivery system that’s saved enough lives to populate a small island off the coast of Guam — which she also owns.
This, as some media pundits — and some Tufts students — would have you believe, is the future awaiting today’s liberal arts student. There’s a stigma now around the liberal arts that didn’t exist when my parents were college students. Both were English majors with so−so grades, and both ended up with jobs in their field.
When they went to school, of course, their tuition didn’t cost more than their houses, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The recent panic over the usefulness of a liberal arts degree, more than being due to rising tuition costs, is a product of the unemployment crisis that has gripped the nation for the past five years.
A 2012 study by the Associated Press exacerbated the hysteria when it determined that only half of recent college graduates are working in jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. But, in addition to ignoring that study’s methodological shortcomings, anti−liberal−arts crusaders are ignoring history (which isn’t so surprising, given their disdain for the discipline). It isn’t unusual for college students to have trouble landing a first job. Historically, just over 60 percent of recent grads have been employed in a job that requires a degree.
The difference today is that we’re looking to tech fields more than ever to drive the economy forward. Green energy, information technology, biomedical research, manufacturing — these are the industries we’re relying on to pull ourselves out of the recession. So where does that leave you if your expertise lies in literature or sociology or political science?
Here’s the thing, though: the humanities and social sciences have never been our job engine. The growth of tech−industry jobs spurs the growth of jobs for other professionals — tech companies don’t just need software engineers to stay in business, they need professionals to market their products to the public, write about them in the media, advocate favorable regulations with lawmakers and handle the various lawsuits every successful company is bound to face. As tech companies grow, their employees will purchase more from businesses that provide products other than technology in fields like education, real estate and entertainment.
Right now, we’re in an awkward stage where tech industries are booming but most of the economy is still crawling. That’s a normal side effect of the recession, though, not the result of systemic changes that have rendered hopeless the future of any student who majors in philosophy.
I was disappointed to discover that the myopic notion that a liberal arts degree is a one−way ticket to the unemployment line is widespread even at Tufts. According to PayScale Inc., a well−regarded job research company, the average midcareer salary for a Tufts alumnus/a is $102,000, only $9,000 less than Harvard and $16,000 less than MIT. Since more than 80 percent of Tufts alumni were enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts, both Liberal Arts and Engineering graduates must be finding some success. That is, unless Tufts’ engineering alumni are all raking in seven figures, in which case all you really need is some soundproof foam and a smoothie machine to make Dad’s basement feel like home.
This letter is a response to Dylan Saba’s article that appeared in the Daily on March 5. I admire Dylan’s activism. His Jewish and Palestinian background puts him in a unique position, and it is encouraging to see that he has embraced his heritage to make a change. Being myself half−Iranian and half−Jewish, I can appreciate the complexity of taking a stand, but I agree that it is essential for people like us to educate ourselves and have an opinion. Like Dylan, I would be ashamed to ignore the issue and not develop an opinion. But that is not the case for everyone.
For a huge number of people, Israel’s behavior in the Middle East is irrelevant. At Tufts, prolific activism on both sides bombards the nonaligned, convincing them of the importance of the issue and to have an opinion. But why should a dispassionate person develop a viewpoint on an issue that is so far removed from him or her? This radicalizes the issue further and tears it out of the grip of the people who have valuable input.
At the end of his piece, Dylan calls on everyone to have an opinion about the conflict. Why should we develop a position on that issue, though, and not others? We live in a world of conflicts, often closer to home than Israel. Mexico, for example, is now in the grips of a war among drug cartels whose existence depends on American drug consumption. Some estimates say that the majority of marijuana in the US is of Mexican origin and in five years 40,000 people have died in a conflict fueled by American demand for such illicit drugs. Nevertheless, one hardly hears a word about it here because of students’ inflexible commitment to personal liberty that ignores its residual effects.
Like Dylan, I am frustrated that people do not care about these issues −− but being neutral does not “legitimate a morally reprehensible view.” If a person does not care about a certain conflict, their unawareness does not necessarily put guns in the hands of the oppressor. Every single one of us lives in ignorance of some injustice. This is not unacceptable, it is simply the truth. Now, by no means do I seek to be the wind at the back of the apathetic. I just think we should take a step back and recognize that everyone has to pick his or her own battles. No one can fight in every war. Sincerely, Cameron Uslander, 2015