Despite trend, BU students still interested in humanities

While a recent nationwide trend indicates a declining interest in humanities studies among college students, Boston University has recently seen an increase in the amount of students pursuing a double major in both humanities and science, said James Winn, director of BU’s Center for the Humanities.

Winn said while there has been a significant decrease in humanities majors between the ‘80s and 1995, the press has only recently picked up on this trend. National statistics indicate that selective universities such as BU have seen a subtle trend of young women switching from studying humanities to the sciences.

“What’s driving the national trends that you see is that parents are very concerned about their sons and daughters being able to get jobs when they graduate,” Winn said.

Many universities have reported a dip in humanities majors, according to an Oct. 30 New York Times article. Harvard University has seen a 20 percent decline in humanities majors over the past decade.

Winn said this pattern is related to the misconception that a humanities degree alone will not lead to a stable job in the future. However, he said the critical thinking skills that come with a humanities education are essential for success in the top professional fields.

“It’s important to have a basis in humanities, just as I think people choosing humanities should have a background in mathematics and sciences, just to have a better idea of how people approach problems,” Winn said.

Humanities professor and College of General Studies Interim Dean Natalie McKnight said in an email that recent surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Management Association indicate employers typically look for critical thinking, oral and written communication skills in potential candidates.

When students finish their courses within BU’s College of General Studies, McKnight said more students tend to major in humanities disciplines than sciences. She said this maintained interest in humanities at BU could be a testament to the excellence of the BU’s humanities program.

“Humanities disciplines teach students to interpret a wide range of information and communicate intelligently about it, and those skills … are crucial in all professional fields,” McKnight said. “It also helps students to understand and relate to other human beings — is there anything more important than that?”

Humanities professor Megan Tyler said University Provost Jean Morrison, a former English professor, has recently pushed for an increased amount of undergraduate research in the humanities.

“The arts is one way that reminds you there’s other things to focus on that don’t include a dollar sign,” Tyler said. “… It might be the environment at BU where we integrate the arts into courses, but I think there may be a kind of excitement at BU for the humanities.”

Rachel Nguyen, a College of Communication junior, said BU keeps students interested in the humanities by hosting many interesting programs that pertain to the field.

Nguyen said she was originally an art history major, but switched to study advertising because she was not enthralled by her humanities courses. She also said the idea of graduate school did not appeal to her.

“Maybe the reason for the decline [in interest in humanities] is job availability and that you’d have to go into grad school for a lot of the humanities courses,” Nguyen said. “I liked advertising, so I took some courses and ended up switching. It’s more business-oriented and more involved in the modern world.”

Emma Conlon, a CAS sophomore studying linguistics, said BU professors do a good job in keeping students generally interested in humanities courses.

“Here [BU] it helps that we have amazing professors,” Conlon said. “BU has done a really great job of picking professors. If you have a good professor, you’ll be interested in the topic, regardless of the course.”

Zach Bengtsson, a CAS junior studying biology, said the BU community is accepting to all majors, and it does not prioritize one department over another.

“I don’t see a whole lot of people [at BU] talking down on certain majors like in some other schools,” Bengtsson said. “People here can see the value in taking humanities courses, even if [it’s] just because they’re fun or interesting.”

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