OPINION: WSU must invest in future of the humanities



President Jay Golden makes his introduction to faculty senate in January. In his introduction, Golden emphasized the importance of shared governance and transparency.

Since President Jay Golden stepped foot on campus, talks of bold changes in the direction of shared governance and transparency have abounded.

Golden commissioned department reports from all academic colleges and other university divisions, and on Jan. 21, The Sunflower reported that on top of reimagining the president’s executive team, Golden was creating nine task forces focused on a range of campus issues.

Yet, among this talk of change, little emphasis has been placed on the liberal arts and sciences.

The President has commented on the need for more diverse and “traditional research,” and the need to “build up that portfolio to diversify our research and diversify the economy of Kansas.”

While this is encouraging, it doesn’t give adequate attention to what is, in terms of enrollment, the largest academic college on campus.

Wichita State has received millions of dollars in contracts from the Air Force and the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium and has partnered with companies the likes of AirBus, which has the second largest manufacturing contract with the Air Force.

In terms of campus infrastructure projects, LAS is constantly lagging behind. In last year’s failed Shock the Future student fee referendum, a mere $900,000 of the $38.6 million initiative would have been allocated to LAS. If all students were to pay the proposed fee directly towards campus upgrades for their college, LAS would have netted $10 million.

President Golden’s most prominent mention of the importance of liberal arts and sciences was in his Jan. 28 address to the Faculty Senate, when he announced the imminent arrival of an undisclosed Fortune 500 company on campus which focuses on “convergent sciences.”

When questioned by faculty senators on the role of humanities on the Innovation Campus, Golden cited the necessary role that ethics play in autonomous vehicular development. Beyond that rather uninspired response, Golden shared his hope of building a convergent science building that would merge areas of study.

Despite these unrealized plans, the financial fact remains that the liberal arts and sciences, particularly humanities, are vastly underfunded in proportion to engineering.

While this might seem immediately justifiable in terms of the sheer profitability of engineering contracts and tuition dollars, it is not profitable to any vested interest in the long term. By vested interest, I mean those who have a stake in the continued survival of public education — not those who stand to profit from university ventures. I would imagine the latter parties are pleased with the current trajectory.

As is taught at this university, the main goal of the humanities is to teach critical thinking skills that enable students to make informed and ethical contributions to their communities.

Beyond this, the humanities are crucial to a healthy democracy. They make possible an informed citizenry which thereby form the only guarantee of an accountable government.

Without the diverse perspectives, critical theories and logical skills taught by the humanities, the very culture of a public university — one of open-mindedness, exploration, promise, and scholarship — is not possible.

Wichita State’s mission and strategic dedication to diversity, as well as President Golden’s evident commitment to shared governance and transparency, are exactly the sort of ethical aspirations which rely entirely on the robustness of the humanities.

Engineering will teach our students how to make machines. Business will teach them how to sell them to the highest bidder.

If we as a University desire anything more from our students, and the society they will build, then we must begin investing in the humanities. Maybe several LAS-oriented task forces are in order.

This University will get what it pays for.