Faculty have expressed concerns over officials’ plans to reduce enrollment and increase the number of STEM majors, but professors should not be the only ones worried.
The majority of students major in humanities, but fewer than 1,000 of the University’s more than 12,000 students are in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. University President Thomas LeBlanc’s goal to reduce the number of humanities students sends a message that officials do not care about the interests of the majority of the student body. Officials have not told humanities and social sciences students how the cuts will affect them and their majors, and students have every right to inquire.
The growing focus on science, technology, engineering and math can make students who major in humanities and social sciences feel like an afterthought. In their plan to increase STEM, administrators are forgetting that the University is known for humanities programs like political science, journalism and international affairs. GW is defined by its connection to liberal arts fields, and administrators should explain how students studying humanities and social sciences will be affected by a drastic shift in academic focus.
GW’s graduate programs are ranked higher in political science, history, public affairs, public health, English and economics than in engineering or math, according to U.S. News and World Report. The University’s science majors, like biology and chemistry, also lag behind social sciences like psychology. While some of these humanities departments are relatively small, prospective and current students recognize that more attention is paid to social sciences than to math and engineering. Students have a right to know why the departments people know GW for might shrink.
Administrators should work to increase GW’s STEM ranking, but it should not come at a cost to the University’s higher-ranked programs. Administrators could roll back funding for some major Spanish classes, foreshadowing potential cuts to other humanities and social sciences departments. Shrinking advanced language courses could hurt interdisciplinary studies, because students taking international affairs courses benefit from advanced language classes. Students taking humanities courses, even if they are not on the chopping block, should be concerned by the possibility that cuts to another department could affect their own.
But the consequences of potentially cutting funding for the humanities could reach people who have already earned their degrees. Alumni with degrees from humanities and social sciences programs that might be cut may lack a connection to the University. The University already struggles with alumni relations, and alumni might not be incentivized to donate if the program they attended is significantly defunded or slashed.
The University should tread lightly in implementing changes to departments, whether that be in STEM or humanities. Many students come to GW for political science, economics and international affairs – all of which are majors that thrive because students are attracted to GW’s location in D.C. Students often stay in the District after graduation, because GW sets students up for jobs in government and politics. If the University neglects what students came here for, students may stop coming here to study in the majors that thrive because of the opportunities D.C. has to offer.
Officials need to recognize that they could lose the prestige gained through their political science and international affairs programs. Even if the University cuts other humanities programs, the potential ripple effect could still damage the University’s reputation. Students majoring in large schools like the Elliott School of International Affairs may still want to enroll in courses housed in smaller departments, like language.
Officials must explain to students what actions they are taking to increase STEM and decrease student enrollment, the motive behind their intention to increase STEM and how their goals will impact the student body and the departments where students study. It is fair for students to demand that officials explain their actions and why they believe increases in STEM and decreased admissions are positive actions for the University as a whole.
Increasing STEM may not be a negative for the University because it could make the University more competitive with the STEM prestige that large state schools have. But it should not need to increase the popularity of STEM while damaging the fields in which students already excel and are attracted to at the University. We are known for political science, international affairs and other humanities. We should not harm our reputation by trying to shift our identity.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.
This article appeared in the October 7, 2019 issue of the Hatchet.