Op-Ed: Schools of ‘Arts and Crafts’

What it takes to reach central campus from the Engineering Center can sometimes feel equivalent to that of a marathon. Every other day I make the journey east, reaching my class late, completely out of breath, because someone thought that ten minutes was enough time to walk more than a half mile uphill; if it was any further, there would have to be a shuttle to and from the UMC.

After I am enlightened with a little bit of Roman culture, Shakespearean prose, or some art history, I run all the way back to Siberia (aka the Engineering Center), where much more interesting topics, such as Linear Algebra and Database Information Systems, await me. As important as Linear Algebra is to modern day science, like Markov chains and coupled oscillations– I donít think anyone could ever argue that itís an interesting class. I would much rather spend my time watching paint dry than listen to an ancient professor write down equations that Iím bound to forget within the next two hours

Although I bring up the distance between the Engineering Center and the rest of campus mostly in good humor, I think that the difference between engineering classes and humanities classes is more than just a physical segregation: it’s also a segregation of learning. Society holds more “science-” knowledge to a much higher pedestal than any art class. Thatís why engineering students all are forced to take classes like calculus and physics, but we are allowed to choose our humanities– as long as some are a little bit harder or whatever upper-division is supposed to mean. Oh, wait: I forgot about that one writing course that’s required. Thanks higher learning!

I’m totally prepared for all the technical writing and other forms of communication that I will have to do on a daily basis as an engineer because of those three lousy essays you made me turn in. Big whoop. This minimization of the arts in our curriculum can be contextualized with how the school of engineering looks down on the other colleges, an example of which is the degrading nickname “the College of Arts and Crafts”. I don’t think I even need to say which college this is poking fun at. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of using this name, but I think itís time that engineers stopped using the inaccurate view of science versus the arts as a crutch for our superiority.

OK, maybe I can see how sciences could be considered harder than, say, a history class and I can kind of understand how it could be said that physics is more important than underwater basket weaving. All of these could be taken as arguments for why we value sciences more than the arts in a classroom setting, but I still don’t see why the knowledge I received in Intro to Humanities is in any way less than that of my Discrete Math class.

Scientific knowledge is going to be vital in all of our careers as engineers, but it’s not just the science that will make us great. It will be how we can communicate and work together with our fellow peers. It will be how we can look at old problems in new and creative ways.

The social sciences induce creativity that leaks into our other work that is invaluable. Us engineers need to get off our high horse and wake up to fact that all those “other” classes are just as important as science classes. If we don’t, not only will people continue to think we’re pretentious, but then we’ll end up with a lot more hideous buildings, like the Engineering Center. As fun as it would be to live with the creative equivalent of Soviet Union architecture, I would much rather spend my energy seeing what I can learn from the English department rather than projecting my own self.

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