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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Focus on humanities all talk, no action

This year we find ourselves in the midst of the university's Year of the Humanities, a series of lectures dedicated to esoteric topics in hopes of increasing visibility of the humanities on campus and to promote the worth of a well- rounded, humanistic education in the job market. A liberal arts education is often composed of a lot of intangibles, but if the university is truly serious about its commitment to a humanistic education and the worth of the humanities to mankind, it needs to commit something more tangible to the cause.

The problem with the university's development over the years is that it seems reluctant to approve anything that may not have a significant impact on its image, of which the humanities silently make up a significant part. Looking briefly through the US News and World Reports undergraduate rankings, UW-Madison ranks in the top 20 universities for the departments of English, history, political science, economics, and sociology, with the sociology department coming in at number two in the nation. We have a strong humanistic tradition here on campus, a place known fondly as a liberal bubble and a place for strong intellectual discourse.

Chancellor Martin is herself a fine example of the worth of a humanistic education, having received her Ph.D in German literature from our fine institution of higher learning. She speaks often about her own dedication to the humanities and what she does to support it. But therein lies the problem. If everyone talks about the worth of the humanities but no one does anything for the humanities, how much are they really worth on campus? Where do we go from here? How does the university go ahead and show the humanities that it is as important as the ""Year of Humanities"" declares it is?

The easiest way to compensate someone's worth is with money, and the humanities sure could use some right now. Donations do not pour in as quickly in the humanities. Some say it's because poetry isn't as lucrative as chemical engineering, but it's up to graduates to decide what they do with their paychecks. The university should stop paying lip service to the worth of the humanities and start giving something more tangible. The starting point should be the renovation of the Humanities building. The brutalist structure with its labyrinthine interior incites more fear than it does intellectual discourse about the arts. The dingy classrooms give off the vibe that it is perpetually raining outside and the myth that the building is riot proof only exacerbates the feeling that the structure was based off of a passage from ""1984.""

David Byrne once famously asked ""Well, how did I get here?"" The question echoes one of the most important goals of a humanistic education—to be reflective. As students, we are asked to think critically about our surroundings, to ""sift and winnow"" for a perspective and an angle, some sort of elusive truth. But first, the University must look into itself and see how much of its image it owes to the humanities.  

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