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The New York Times published the following letter from President Alison Byerly today:

To the Editor:

Interest Fading in Humanities, Colleges Worry” (front page, Oct. 31) repeats clichéd dichotomies, pitting the humanities against STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and broad liberal arts education against vocational training.

In fact, the major value of a college curriculum, and the reason an undergraduate degree is still preferable to a random menu of massive online open courses, is the opportunity it offers students through a variety of disciplines and the different skills specific to each. A university’s willingness to provide those options, even though some fields may draw more students in a given year, is not a flaw in its business model. It is what you are paying the university to do.

As president of a college that offers both liberal arts and engineering, I can say that most colleges do not view humanities and sciences as in competition with each other. Today’s students need to develop the capacity for open-ended inquiry cultivated by the liberal arts, and also the problem-solving skills associated with science and technology. A quality curriculum does not shirk its responsibility to offer both.

Alison Byerly
President, Lafayette College
Easton, Pa., Oct. 31, 2013

1 Comment

  1. David B Spencer says:

    Amen!! A good education, in fact an excellent education, would provide the option for both STEM and Humanities (often referred to as STEAM) — STEM with a good dose of the Arts, or the reverse. Allowing students to choose the academic combinations that are “right” for each individual based on his/her interests makes sense. Hopefully the silos of the past, will remain in the past, and cross discipline education across many silos will replace the old structure. And hopefully student centered small group education will replace teacher centered education. I am proud of Alison and proud of Lafayette for the unique role it plays in preserving a small, high quality schooling that is focused on undergraduate education and social development. The Lafayette brand of education seems quite unique: A unique brand of education: humanities, science and engineering, social growth through human interaction and student centered group learning with teacher coaching and mentoring plus a wide range of sports and living situations. It is not all about academics, grades and the business of education, but rather it is about the passion for learning and building young people to become adults who contribute and give back to our society with confidence and social sophistication and a desire to help others and do the right things.

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