Success in life requires a sensibility about the world and one’s place in it.
Improving U.S. education in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has become a popular cause. With U.S. competitiveness in the global economy at stake, educators and policymakers have championed increasing the number of college graduates in these fields, reducing attrition among students interested in STEM fields and even discounting college tuition for STEM students.
The overall objective is important. We — one of us a biochemist who leads a large, public university in the Midwest; the other a computer scientist who leads a private university in Silicon Valley — believe deeply that our country’s scientific and technological capacity is critical to its economic future.
But we also have cause for concern. Amid the push for science and engineering and the pervasive pressure on many students to obtain, above all else, career skills from their undergraduate education, our country risks marginalizing the humanities and social sciences. We cannot allow that to happen. These disciplines play an important role in educating students for future leadership and deal most directly with the human condition.
The humanities — history, literature, languages, art, philosophy — and the social sciences focus on the lasting challenges relevant to all of us: creating lives of purpose and meaning, appreciating diversity and complexity, communicating effectively with others and overcoming adversity. Ultimately, our ability to work meaningfully with others will determine the success of our enterprises, and that ability is honed through the humanities and social sciences.
hat is why the humanities and social sciences are an essential part of undergraduate education. Most successful careers, including in technology and engineering, do not result simply from technical knowledge. They require leadership skills, social and emotional intelligence, cultural understanding, a capacity for strategic decision-making and a global perspective.