Utz Argues Integration of Humanities and STEM in Response to Article ‘The Humanities Need Gen Ed’

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Richard Utz, professor of medievalism studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and associate dean for faculty development in Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, authored an op-ed published by Inside Higher Ed titled “Integrating STEM and the Humanities.”  The op-ed is in response to the opinion piece “The Humanities Need Gen Ed” written by Mark Bauerlein, emeritus professor of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things magazine, which Inside Higher Ed published on March 21, 2022.

In Bauerlein’s article, he argues that the decline of “canonical works and grand narratives” taught in humanities classrooms has caused the decline in students majoring in humanities subjects. He cites that the rate of students majoring in English fell below 2 percent in 2019, versus the popularity of the major in 1970, when English constituted nearly 8 percent of four-year degrees. His call to action — “make the humanities great again” — suggests returning “masterpieces” and “strokes of genius” to humanities classrooms in place of “thinking skills” or abstract issues which are now more commonly taught.

In his response, Utz counters Bauerlein with four main points: healthy enrollment, collaborative atmosphere, external funding, and a new collaborative model.

Utz concedes that enrollment numbers in traditional humanities majors has declined but says he has observed an encouraging mentality among his students. Out of 35 students in his Fall 2021 Intro to LMC course, two-thirds indicated they had chosen a humanities program at a technological university because they felt “an intentional integration of the humanities with STEM disciplines would be to their advantage.”

Utz also highlights cross-unit and cross-college partnership on research, as well as internship and co-op experiences, lab culture, and vertically integrated programs, to show the collaborative atmosphere already in place in many humanities programs and at Georgia Tech.

The “new collaborative model” Utz presents is based on findings by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Their 2018 consensus report “Branches From the Same Tree,” established that programs with integrated learning experiences in the humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine were linked to positive learning outcomes. Based on these findings, the National Academies have recommended future interdisciplinary integration at the level of individual courses, certificates, and entire degree programs. 

Interdisciplinary collaboration also expands external funding options, Utz writes.

“In an increasingly technological world, human-centered paradigms and creativity should not remain siloed based on the demarcations developed to satisfy the knowledge economy of the late 19th century,” Utz concludes. “They should also not be artificially sustained at a mere surface level in general education requirements developed in the wake of the two world wars. Instead, they deserve to accompany and shape new educational technology, work in concert with STEM disciplines, and communicate and forcefully affirm their relevance and value as part of a newly holistic educational experience.”

Utz’s response and Bauerlein’s original article are both available on Inside Higher Ed.


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