Sexton: Liberal arts programs need to be preserved amid college budget cuts

Due+to+the+COVID-19+pandemic%2C+many+colleges+and+universities+have+experienced+significant+budget+cuts%2C+affecting+the+funding+for+certain+majors+and+programs.

Diliff, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities have experienced significant budget cuts, affecting the funding for certain majors and programs.

By Hailee Sexton, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Colleges and academic institutions around the nation are facing vast budget cuts because of the costs of the ongoing pandemic, causing significant losses and forcing programs to be cut – usually starting with humanities and liberal arts. This is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. Humanities and degrees in the fields of liberal arts are viewed by society as trivial to the expansion of economic productivity; however, these degrees are essential now more than ever during a global pandemic, causing economic disorder and division between communities and families.

Because of the shift in the educational environment, colleges are forced to shell out millions of dollars to adapt to the new situation and regulations, causing major budget cuts. Many surpluses from 2019 ended up being losses in 2020, including Harvard University with its pandemic losses making a $300 million in surplus in a $10 million loss as of this year. These institutions seem to be doing what they can; however, budget cuts mean staff cuts, limiting extracurricular funding and most importantly – program cuts. 

Permanent or not, the funding for certain majors and programs are reduced, if not cut off completely. Colleges have faced costs up to $120 billion in the current pandemic and are reporting up to $10 million shortages in the new year. In response to the losses, colleges are cutting programs, even the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences, which has suspended over 100 humanities programs, and many other schools are suspending up to 50 school-funded doctoral students in the fall of next year due to the need to redesign their programs. 

Since education in the humanities is seen as useless by the majority of society, they’re the first to be cut. After all, degrees in fields such as STEM and business have more worth in the eyes of society, so why would colleges not do away with the humanities first? This is completely backward, especially with the current national situation and the lives of so many people being uprooted. Education in the humanities needs to be available to students who wish to pursue it because it is fundamentally important to the way we live our lives and the progression of our generations.

Languages, art, literature, philosophy, religion and history are the major branches of the humanities, and if programs revolving around these subjects are cut completely, what are we left with? There will be no education of culture, and people will not have an understanding of major philosophical ideas that guide us through our very complex lives. Art and literature are key to understanding human emotion and expression, which is now more important than ever. Humans need to be able to express themselves freely during a time of inordinate isolation, and the reduction of opportunities in art and literature is inimical to human expression. 

Basic knowledge and contributing content of the liberal arts are important and need to be preserved because of the understanding it provides about the people and the world around us.

We need this knowledge of diversity and empathy and emotion to guide us through not only a pandemic, but through our lives. As of right now, the world is in a state of such uncertainty and it is affecting the lives of so many groups and individuals. If there is no higher education of the humanities, there will be no basic understanding of how and why we live the way that we do. There will be no perception of emotion and culture and the history of the world we live in. Living through these unprecedented times, some of the only things getting me through all of it is being able to express myself through the arts like painting and writing. This is something that has become crucial to me, along with many other people around the world.

Much of the understanding we have of the world comes from the different branches of the humanities, which stems from the liberal arts. Budget cuts understandably need to be exercised because of the unprecedented situation; however, cutting or reducing the humanities is certainly not the way to go, considering its prevalence in our cognizance of the world and how we live. Without this basic understanding, we will not survive these times of isolation and the precariousness of the pause placed on our lives.

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on December 2, 2020.