Saving the ‘fuzzy’

(AUBRIE LEE/The Stanford Daily)

Techie or fuzzy? It’s a deceptively innocent question, but on a campus in the heart of Silicon Valley, the voices of the humanities can easily be lost in the technical buzz and clamor of industry.

According to Debra Satz, senior associate dean for the humanities and the arts, the decline in humanities enrollment has been a long and enduring trend; and Stanford programs are determined to reverse the trend.

The steady decline in the humanities can be traced back to as far as the 1960s and 70s. For Stanford, the 60s were the golden age for humanities — more than a third of the students majored in the area. Fifty years later, while enrollment for science and engineering classes have grown tremendously, humanities enrollment continues to slip.

“About 17 percent of students at Stanford major in the humanities,” Satz wrote in an email to The Daily. “We have a declining number of students taking classes in the humanities beyond the mandated requirements like IHUM.”

Stanford’s flagging numbers in the humanities are an anomaly in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the number of humanities bachelor’s degrees has actually experienced healthy growth over the last decade after experiencing a slight depression.

Some argue that the strength of the humanities — at least in the eyes of the public — is simply dwarfed in comparison to the gargantuan science and engineering departments.

“Stanford has an image problem,” said professor of classics Richard Martin. “People think of it as MIT West, so those who are interested in medieval history or Islamic studies don’t apply here.”

One factor contributing to the perception of Stanford as “the holy land of technology” — so dubbed by medieval history professor Philippe Buc — may come from the relatively small percentage of admits interested in the humanities.

The cultivation of a “techie”-driven reputation, in theory, results in a self-selecting applicant pool that leans heavily toward science and engineering.

“About the same number of our incoming admits say that they are interested in the humanities,” Satz said. “Our applicant pool looks roughly like our admit pool in terms of humanities interest.”

On top of having only a modest number of humanities-inclined incoming students, humanities departments are also faced with the all-familiar force of parental pressure to pick the “right” major.

“I’ve seen firsthand the kind of culture that quickly develops…the peer and parental pressure that pushes students into supposedly ‘vocational’ majors,” wrote English Department Chair Gavin Jones in an email to The Daily.

Given that the lifetime earnings of science and engineering majors are significantly higher than those of humanities majors, the desire for financial stability is not completely unfounded. But Martin warns students against drawing the conclusion that a humanities degree is equitable to financial self-destruction.

“We need to wean people from the idea that humanities are not useful,” Martin said. “You can do a liberal arts degree and still get a job. And I don’t mean like working in a library or going to grad school and wasting five years of your life.”

With declining student interest, humanities departments have been forced to adopt a number of strategies to defend the value of their respective fields and market them to students.

“Professors don’t like to deal with the idea of having to market their field,” Martin said. “But humanities are pushed into that position. We’re fighting an anti-intellectual and vocational mentality.”

Classics has been one of the few humanities departments that have experienced a slow but steady growth, at least partially thanks to aggressive advertising and a strong presence in IHUM and freshman Introductory Seminars. Classics also invested a significant amount of time developing an appealing curriculum. It includes a series of entry-level classes such as classical mythology, which are designed to attract a broad range of students, and brings in senior faculty members to teach classes with low enrollment.

“The hardest sell is Intro to Greek, which usually attracts 15 to 20 students,” Martin said. “We support their interest — they’re getting our most seasoned professors.”

Other departments, such as Comparative Literature, have adopted similar tactics in an effort to make their respective fields more salient to an increasingly technology-oriented society.

For instance, Amir Eshel, chair of undergraduate studies, comparative literature will be teaching a seminar titled “Narrative and Ethics,” which will look at not only traditional forms of literature but also films, television shows and video games as mediums for exploring storytelling.

“The insight we gained in humanities over millennia…we can apply those skills to look at shows like ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ or ‘Dexter’ or ‘The Wire,’” Eshel said. “These shows touch upon issues like drug addiction, role of the media, corruption — issues that are very relevant to this world.”

Other departments are also working to throw off the assumption that humanities are entrenched in the past.

For instance, the Department of History has developed a series of interdisciplinary tracks specially designed to guide students’ academic interests towards a specific career path. Their newest track, “Global Affairs and World History,” is geared toward students who seek to apply their history studies towards a career in government, business and non-governmental organizations.

“Acquiring deep knowledge about multiple parts of the globe, learning to ask probing questions and construct arguments, evaluating evidence and writing and speaking effectively are all timeless skills in a globalizing world,” wrote History Department Chair Karen Wigen in an email to The Daily.

With the advancements in technology leading to globalization, humanities departments also see an opportunity to take the skillsets their students develop and apply them in a more pragmatic setting.

“[Societies] change and develop, but we’re constantly going back to the languages,” said Gabriella Safran, chair of the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL). “Students need real literacy and real fluency. Students need to understand just how important it is to become multilingual and global citizens.”

Confronted with declining enrollment in foreign language classes beyond the second year, the DLCL launched a new program that will provide funding to any students majoring or minoring in any department under the DLCL to go abroad and conduct research, a move that Safran hopes will encourage students to take more advanced language classes.

“Our mission is to get half of Stanford students to minor in a modern language,” she said.

Other departments such as English are optimistic that restructuring and developing new curriculum will bolster student enthusiasm while showcasing its versatility in other disciplines.

“We can’t wave a magic wand,” Jones said. “But we can think about offering a course on Harry Potter, or on new media, or on environmental writing, or in the medical humanities.”

The concerted efforts of the humanities departments to add a fresh and interdisciplinary focus to their curriculums will hopefully dispel the pervasive conception that the Stanford students’ academic interests are bifurcated into either the humanities or engineering.

The fuzzy-techie divide is “a myth that’s been made real,” Martin said. “Not only is it really demeaning to ‘the fuzzy side,’ but it’s just an excuse for one side not to [have anything to] do with the other.”

  • William Treseder

    The United States is experiencing a shortfall in qualified STEM graduates with terrible costs for our society. We are unable to safely dismantle nuclear weapons, rebuild our roads and bridges, develop new computer hardware and software, repair our levees, or even educate our children in basic science and mathematics.

    We should be trying to get more colleges and universities to follow Stanford’s model, not complain about why there aren’t more people learning dead languages.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    Agreed with William. Maybe the solution is to spin out all the humanities departments to create a liberal arts college for those interested in such majors. Stanford’s prestige comes from two places, the quality of its science/engineering professors and graduates (http://facts.stanford.edu/faculty.html) and, to the dismay of many humanities professors, from hosting the Hoover Institution. All that the rest of departments do is to leverage the prestige coming from those two areas to sell themselves as prestigious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    Agreed with William. Maybe the solution is to spin out all the humanities departments to create a liberal arts college for those interested in such majors. Stanford’s prestige comes from two places, the quality of its science/engineering professors and graduates (http://facts.stanford.edu/faculty.html) and, to the dismay of many humanities professors, from hosting the Hoover Institution. All that the rest of departments do is to leverage the prestige coming from those two areas to sell themselves as prestigious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    Agreed with William. Maybe the solution is to spin out all the humanities departments to create a liberal arts college for those interested in such majors. Stanford’s prestige comes from two places, the quality of its science/engineering professors and graduates (http://facts.stanford.edu/faculty.html) and, to the dismay of many humanities professors, from hosting the Hoover Institution. All that the rest of departments do is to leverage the prestige coming from those two areas to sell themselves as prestigious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    To continue with my previous posting, the DLCL has had the marvelous idea of offering classes for the Catalan and Basque languages. This quarter there were 1 and 3 students registered for the respective class. This is such a waste of Stanford’s money.

    Compare that with the incredible response received by the CS classes that have been opened to the world (Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) this quarter.

    If I were Hennessy I would spin out the humanities departments and focus Stanford’s money on what makes Stanford great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    To continue with my previous posting, the DLCL has had the marvelous idea of offering classes for the Catalan and Basque languages. This quarter there were 1 and 3 students registered for the respective class. This is such a waste of Stanford’s money.

    Compare that with the incredible response received by the CS classes that have been opened to the world (Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) this quarter.

    If I were Hennessy I would spin out the humanities departments and focus Stanford’s money on what makes Stanford great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    To continue with my previous posting, the DLCL has had the marvelous idea of offering classes for the Catalan and Basque languages. This quarter there were 1 and 3 students registered for the respective class. This is such a waste of Stanford’s money.

    Compare that with the incredible response received by the CS classes that have been opened to the world (Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) this quarter.

    If I were Hennessy I would spin out the humanities departments and focus Stanford’s money on what makes Stanford great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    To continue with my previous posting, the DLCL has had the marvelous idea of offering classes for the Catalan and Basque languages. This quarter there were 1 and 3 students registered for the respective class. This is such a waste of Stanford’s money.

    Compare that with the incredible response received by the CS classes that have been opened to the world (Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) this quarter.

    If I were Hennessy I would spin out the humanities departments and focus Stanford’s money on what makes Stanford great.

  • StanfordStudent

    So Stanford doesn’t garner any prestige from its business, law, or medical schools? They’re just coasting on the Hoover Institute and STEM? That’s an odd view.

  • StanfordStudent

    So Stanford doesn’t garner any prestige from its business, law, or medical schools? They’re just coasting on the Hoover Institute and STEM? That’s an odd view.

  • StanfordStudent

    So Stanford doesn’t garner any prestige from its business, law, or medical schools? They’re just coasting on the Hoover Institute and STEM? That’s an odd view.

  • StanfordStudent

    So Stanford doesn’t garner any prestige from its business, law, or medical schools? They’re just coasting on the Hoover Institute and STEM? That’s an odd view.

  • Plan-B

    Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the techie majors to augment their curriculums with programs that overlap with the humanities, such as more ethics and morality aspects of the scientific and business worlds to which Stanford products will emigrate?  As it is, many of the newer environmentally oriented science and engineering programs are already imbued with “fuzzy” concepts.  Stanford’s professional schools are increasingly providing such perspectives to their program offerings in business, law and medicine.  As it is, techie-fuzzy isn’t the severe dichotomy as it may have been before the internet and the web became mainstream phenomena.   Today, we’re in a digital world in too many ways.

  • Plan-B

    Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the techie majors to augment their curriculums with programs that overlap with the humanities, such as more ethics and morality aspects of the scientific and business worlds to which Stanford products will emigrate?  As it is, many of the newer environmentally oriented science and engineering programs are already imbued with “fuzzy” concepts.  Stanford’s professional schools are increasingly providing such perspectives to their program offerings in business, law and medicine.  As it is, techie-fuzzy isn’t the severe dichotomy as it may have been before the internet and the web became mainstream phenomena.   Today, we’re in a digital world in too many ways.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    The medical school, from my point of view, is part of the large cloud of which STEM is the center. In fact, if I remember it well, the medical school budget is something like 30-40% of Stanford’s budget. The Business School is good, but the most well known Stanford entrepreneurs did not come from the BS: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, the Cisco guys, David Packard, Bill Hewlett, Andy Bechtolsheim (known as the Midas of Silicon Valley),  Jerry Wand, David Filo, even President Hennessy. The Law School is highly rated but it’s not the Law School what brings reputation to Stanford but the other way around. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    The medical school, from my point of view, is part of the large cloud of which STEM is the center. In fact, if I remember it well, the medical school budget is something like 30-40% of Stanford’s budget. The Business School is good, but the most well known Stanford entrepreneurs did not come from the BS: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, the Cisco guys, David Packard, Bill Hewlett, Andy Bechtolsheim (known as the Midas of Silicon Valley),  Jerry Wand, David Filo, even President Hennessy. The Law School is highly rated but it’s not the Law School what brings reputation to Stanford but the other way around. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    The medical school, from my point of view, is part of the large cloud of which STEM is the center. In fact, if I remember it well, the medical school budget is something like 30-40% of Stanford’s budget. The Business School is good, but the most well known Stanford entrepreneurs did not come from the BS: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, the Cisco guys, David Packard, Bill Hewlett, Andy Bechtolsheim (known as the Midas of Silicon Valley),  Jerry Wand, David Filo, even President Hennessy. The Law School is highly rated but it’s not the Law School what brings reputation to Stanford but the other way around. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    The medical school, from my point of view, is part of the large cloud of which STEM is the center. In fact, if I remember it well, the medical school budget is something like 30-40% of Stanford’s budget. The Business School is good, but the most well known Stanford entrepreneurs did not come from the BS: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, the Cisco guys, David Packard, Bill Hewlett, Andy Bechtolsheim (known as the Midas of Silicon Valley),  Jerry Wand, David Filo, even President Hennessy. The Law School is highly rated but it’s not the Law School what brings reputation to Stanford but the other way around. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    The medical school, from my point of view, is part of the large cloud of which STEM is the center. In fact, if I remember it well, the medical school budget is something like 30-40% of Stanford’s budget. The Business School is good, but the most well known Stanford entrepreneurs did not come from the BS: Larry Page, Sergey Brin, the Cisco guys, David Packard, Bill Hewlett, Andy Bechtolsheim (known as the Midas of Silicon Valley),  Jerry Wand, David Filo, even President Hennessy. The Law School is highly rated but it’s not the Law School what brings reputation to Stanford but the other way around. 

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • A Believer in Balance

    Politically Incorrect, what you’re writing is a huge insult to the numerous accomplished alums who majored in more “fuzzy” topics and went on to become leaders in the world, or prominent researchers in their respective fields. Also, you fail to acknowledge that fact that Stanford is the top in numerous areas of social science as well, such as psychology, has one of the top education graduate programs in STEP, and has some of the top programs in ‘English Language and Literature’, ‘Linguistics’, ‘Philosophy’…and the list goes on. All the various disciplines you can study nurture each other. That’s the whole point of a liberal arts education. You’re overlooking the role of creativity and a well developed intellect. 

    For instance, one of most Stanford’s most popular majors is economics. Just this morning in Econ 1a, John Taylor talked about the fact that in order to succeed in economics you need to have an understanding of both ‘fuzzy’ topics and ‘techie’ topics since the discipline is a merge of the two. You have to study history of economics to learn from economic trends in the past in order to make predictions about the future. Therefore, by having a solid foundation of historical knowledge, you would be able to more make educated guesses about the future. You also might want to learn a language (another ‘fuzzy’ topic), like Mandarin, as globalization continues and economic and political power shift. However, you also need to have mathematical knowledge to derive graphs of aggregate demand and supply, and to make quantitative projections about where the economy is going. So, you take math 51. The point is, you need to have knowledge from both ‘fuzzy’ and ‘techie’ areas, otherwise you would not have a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of economics.

    In order to further illustrate this, I think it’s important to reference one of the greatest innovators of our time, the late Steve Jobs. During his commencement speech at Stanford he stated, “I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

    I think this excerpt perfectly illustrates the importance of ‘fuzzy’ classes. Steve Jobs did not graduate with a CS degree, in fact he did not even graduate. He did, however, take a calligraphy class that shaped the way typography is displayed today. 

    In essence, ignoring the importance of a well-rounded education reflects ignorance and naivety. Any area of study holds value, and as one of the top universities in the country, Stanford does an excellent job of showing this by offering classes in Catalan and Basque languages, even when only 1-3 students are interested in it. You never know when it might be useful in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    Let me take apart your diatribe.:

    – STEP is such a success that the Department of Education at Stanford was denied a renewal of its license to operate its East Palo Alto Charter schools. Impressive!!

    – There is a reason why Economics nickname is 
    “dismal science” in the scientific world. I give you that economists make money and it is easier to get funding for economics research than in other areas (in some cases even than in STEM). That doesn’t mean I should have any respect whatsoever for economics. The only branch I respect a little bit is microeconomics, however the models they use are so non related to the real world that few microeconomic predictions turn out to be as accurate as physics is predicting which planes fly and which ones don’t.  Since I am very sure that you’d also agree that physics needs to be that accurate when it comes to flying planes, why does anybody give any credit to economists when they are right 50% of the time at best, no better than chance, is beyond my comprehension.

    – Steve Jobs. I greatly admire him but I think that some of the statements made after his death are greatly exaggerated. Steve Jobs is no Thomas Edison. The world would be perfectly OK without macs, ipods, ipads and iphones. Personal computers (including with GUIs), digital players, tablets and smart phones existed way before Steve Jobs proposed his ideas. With respect to the comparison, take the electrification of cities away, which is one of Edison’s great achievements, and you’ll see the difference. In addition, none of Apple products would exist without the underlying technology (wireless networks, GUI interfaces, the internet, algorithims to compress audio and video, cryptography,  etc) none of which was invented by Steve Jobs. The weekend after Jobs died, Dennis Ritchie also passed away without much media fanfare. You can wikipedia him. Without the revolutions brought about by people like Ritchie and other giants such as Shannon, Ken Thompson, Douglas Engelbart and the rest, Steve Jobs might have found himself marketing sugar water after all.

    – Sure, at some point we will be all using Basque language as lingua franca. We will look back to this day and realize how pioneering Stanford was in offering these classes. Have you heard about Reality Distortion Field (a specialty of Steve Jobs)? I think the same thing is going on here. And since there is no free lunch, other Stanford departments have to subsidize the crazy ideas of whomever approved the creation of a Basque/Catalan language offer.

  • Chris Bourg

    “You can do a liberal arts degree and still get a job. And I don’t mean like working in a library…” OUCH!! Actually, working in a library is an awesome choice for humanities and social science types. Happy to chat about cool library opportunities w/ anyone who is interested. ~Chris Bourg, PhD Sociolgy, Stanford 2002; & Asst. Univ. Librarian for Public Services, Stanford.

  • Jer

    You’ve heard of Nike?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Politically-Incorrect/100001896293128 Politically Incorrect

    I said the most well known entrepreneurs. I’ve also heard of Victoria’s Secret. But if you want to compare the combined revenues of companies founded by Stanford STEM graduates/professors vs the combined revenue of non Stanford STEM graduates/professors, I think that you are on the loosing side.
    Business Schools are nothing more than today’s country clubs.

  • Humanities needs stronger case

    i think the humanities needs a much stronger case, otherwise it is really hard to justify it’s existence in this day and age of severe unemployment. people take humanities classes, and come out complaining that they didn’t learn anything, and I feel the same way sometimes.  and let’s face it, techie classes are harder and take more time, stanford kids are smart, maybe that’s why we have more techie majors? I know several fuzzies that come in and don’t see the value anymore, so they go techie, and still take some fuzzy classes. stereotypes exist for a reason. 

    unfortunately, i think the strongest case for the humanities has more to do with learning about how to live and think (whether it is through philosophy, literature, learning a new language to better communicate etc), applied humanities if you will. Like ethics, but actually what is probably more like religion. People do take that stuff seriously and believe it has an important influence on their lives. But this is not the goal of humanities at any non-religious university. but it is interesting to remember the fact that the ivies started as institutions to train clergy. 

  • Disagree

    “techie classes are harder and take more time.”  Gross generalization.  For me, techie classes are way easier to do well in.  Humanities classes rarely give out A+’s, whereas I’ve gotten more than a handful in my techie classes. 

    “stereotypes exist for a reason.”  What stereotypes?

    “otherwise it is really hard to justify it’s existence in this day and age of severe unemployment.”  You make an assumption that STEM majors presuppose employment.  However, not only are there countless professions who prefer humanities majors, but there are many (such as the medical profession) which don’t really care one way or the other as long as you do the med school reqs.  There are a lot of great skills (applicable to jobs) one can learn in humanities classes that one simply cannot learn in a STEM class.  Drama performance, for instance, generally leads to increased confidence in public settings.  Or philosophy classes that preach the necessity of an entirely sound written argument. 

  • Historian

    Recall pre-World War II Germany.   One of the main complaints was a culture focused on science and an adandonment of the Humanities.  The techies made great gas chambers, V-2 rockets and the railroads ran on time.   Lost was an appreciation or understanding of the victims of those tools.  How tragic if the focus of the Stanfords’ dream becomes the worship of a gadget and not the appreciation of a painting or the world’s within literature.   As for techie classes being harder – e will always = mc2.  Techies are just that – gifted with the ability to learn lots of technical stuff and with no loss of ego.  This article, and the sometimes vicious and techie slanted comments, herein, are the strongest argument for making sure the Humanities do not die and assuring that  “cont’d”

  • Historian

    “cont’d” those conditions that preceeded pre World War II Germany do not occur again and breed a culture of heartless, egotistical “atom-worshippers” with no sense or appreciation of their human hisory, where they arenow and where they will be going.  To quote a well-known scientist. “Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.” Albert Einstein.  Humanities!  Do not go quietly in the night!  The world needs you to survive.

  • Med School Biosciences Grad

    What are you talking about?  Are you saying that the STEM graduates in Ph.D. programs are “unqualified”?  Or are you saying there is a lack of qualified physics and engineering graduates because they are the only ones that matter in your worldview? 

    Regardless, most of the problems you point out have little to do with a shortfall and more to do with politics and economics.  If there is no money to pay for the rebuilding of roads and bridges, it is simply not going to happen, no matter how many “qualified” STEM graduates are produced.

  • Engineer

    Technology did not start the world wars, it merely made them more brutally efficient.  One may argue that it was the mechanization of warfare that dispelled the romantic myth of noble battle and ended centuries of barbaric crusading and empire building.

  • Reformed Techie

    Not to be crass, but judging by the egregious misuse of an apostrophe in this sentence of yours–“it is really hard to justify it’s existence in this day and age of severe unemployment”–maybe a few more humanities classes would be of benefit to you.

    And, by the way, I completely breezed through Orgo and P Chem, while literature classes required more brain power from me. To each his or her own, I guess.

  • Historian

    *think, analyze and reason.*

  • A. Guy

    Two of the things that make Stanford great are its willingness to offer classes on a wide variety of topics, such as Catalan and Basque, as well as the large number of classes with few students, allowing direct interaction with the faculty.  If Stanford were to “spin out the humanities departments” and focus entirely on the sciences, it would lose a large part of what makes it such an excellent school.  Besides, if the idea of attending a school with an active liberal arts program is so distasteful, there’s always CalTech or any number of other engineering schools.

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