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SDSU Minor Reqs Smell of STEM Obsession; Focus on Liberal Arts Core for All

The College of Arts and Sciences at South Dakota State University wants to require its graduates to take minors along with their majors. According to A&S Dean Dennis Papini, it has something to do with making everyone look like the letter T:

Papini said the goal for the minor degree is to give students skills that are different from their major.

“Instead of a psychology major, minoring in sociology, what if that psychology major gets a minor in technology or professional writing? What if that psychology major gets a minor in statistical and program evaluation?” Papini said.  “What we’re trying to do is provide students with what’s called a T-shaped profile. Where they have collaborative skills — the T-top — and they have the innovative skills — the T-stem” [Brady Mallory, “SDSU May Require Minor Degrees for Certain Students,”, 2015.03.02].

The Collegian reports that the college is working on new minors and phasing out those that are not “useful.” Looking at that language and Dean Papini’s examples for KELO, I sense something like Governor Dennis Daugaard’s misguided focus on science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) and disdain for mere liberal arts degrees. You darn psych majors! Quit taking minors where you just think about stuff; take some practical classes!

Professor Loretta Jackson-Hayes might support the idea that we need to encourage both sciences and arts. She appears to recognize something like Dean Papini’s T in some of our greatest innovators, but she says we don’t need more STEM majors, let alone minors, to get them:

Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science, one that did not exist for innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs. Leonardo’s curiosity and passion for painting, writing, engineering and biology helped him triumph in both art and science; his study of anatomy and dissections of corpses enabled his incredible drawings of the human figure. When introducing the iPad 2, Jobs, who dropped out of college but continued to audit calligraphy classes, declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” (Indeed, one of Apple’s scientists, Steve Perlman, was inspired to invent the QuickTime multimedia program by an episode of “Star Trek.”)

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, credits her degree in philosophy and medieval history in helping her be the first woman to lead a high-tech Fortune 20 corporation. “If you go into a setting and everybody thinks alike, it’s easy,” she has said. “But you will probably get the wrong answer” [Dr. Loretta Jackson Hayes, “We Don’t Need More STEM Majors. We Need More STEM Majors with Liberal Arts Training,” Washington Post, 2015.02.18].

Dr. Jackson-Hayes says the problem isn’t a lack of STEM skills, but a lack of humanities skills to make work in science and technology meaningful and more successful:

To innovate is to introduce change. While STEM workers can certainly drive innovation through science alone, imagine how much more innovative students and employees could be if the pool of knowledge from which they draw is wider and deeper. That occurs as the result of a liberal arts education.

Many in government and business publicly question the value of such an education. Yet employers in every sector continue to scoop up my students because of their ability to apply cross-disciplinary thinking to an incredibly complex world. They like my chemistry grads because not only can they find their way around a laboratory, but they’re also nimble thinkers who know to consider chemistry’s impact on society and the environment. Some medical schools have also caught on to this. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has been admitting an increasing number of applicants with backgrounds in the humanities for the past 20 years. “It doesn’t make you a better doctor to know how fast a mass falls from a tree,” Gail Morris, head of the school’s admissions, told Newsweek. “We need whole people” [Jackson-Hayes, 2015.02.18].

South Dakota’s workforce problem is not a bunch of head-in-the-clouds sociology majors who didn’t minor in computers or technical writing. Our problem is short-sighted leaders who think all that matters is getting a technical job. We don’t need more workers; we need more citizens. We don’t need more technologists; we need more scholars, well-versed in our history, our literature, our political institutions, and the great moral questions of our civilization. A good university curriculum puts every student through those disciplines in its core requirements and leaves them free to major and minor in the fields of their choice.


  1. mike from iowa 2015-03-05

    If you go into a setting and everybody thinks alike, it’s easy,” she has said. “But you will probably get the wrong answer” [Dr. Loretta Jackson Hayes, “We Don’t Need More STEM Majors.

    Perfect description of the imperfect wingnut.

  2. crossgrain 2015-03-05

    I dunno that there is enough molehill here to make a mountain of. The Collegian article mentioned that an engineering major would be required to take a foreign language, and that Papini said employers are looking for a lot of values in the education of liberal arts – so I’m not entirely certain that these are the STEM-Droids you’re looking for.

    But then, I’m just some idiot who somehow wound up with a Bachelor of Science in Visual Art with a minor in English.


  3. bearcreekbat 2015-03-05

    One really important aspect of the liberal arts education that might be overlooked is the effect such an education has on one’s ability to have both empathy and compassion for others. If we discourage young people from studying in these areas we may well lose this most valuable aspect of our society.

  4. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-05

    What about Freedom?! Don’t Americans have the Freedom to select their own course of higher education?

    Keep walkin’.”
    (I don’t remember the rest of the 60s song. Blindman?)

  5. leslie 2015-03-06

    anthropology here. . . . .

  6. Dicta 2015-03-06

    I’ll say it again: the devaluation of the bachelor’s degree has hit liberal arts undergrad majors especially hard (I know, I am/was one). At the end of the day, to hell with being a well rounded person if I can’t get a job that will help me pay off my newly acquired, non-dischargeable debt. We do kids a disservice if we do not prepare them for this new reality.

  7. o 2015-03-06

    If looking at he reality of the SD job market, check out this SDDOL chart showing the wages associated with the jobs categorized under each requirement of education.

    What does it say about our state if the occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree pay lower than those requiring an associate’s degree.? Furthermore, a master’s degree will put your occupational choices even lower on the pay scale.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-06

    Dicta, I think we “do kids a disservice if we do not” inform them of job prospects, and also do not rob them of the opportunity to make their own decisions.

  9. leslie 2015-03-06

    the new reality is not a pretty picture.

  10. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-07

    O, I think what it says is that South Dakotans ought to move to another state where their bachelor’s degree skills and knowledge will be properly valued.

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