The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

ROBBINS: The humanities and liberal arts have value as fields of study

The myths surrounding certain academic disciplines undermine academic freedom and put pressure on students to ignore their passions

<p>The <a href=""><u>humanities</u></a> and <a href=""><u>liberal arts</u></a> provide general knowledge and intellectual skills like reason and judgment — they typically include literature, philosophy, languages, history, politics and the arts.</p>

The humanities and liberal arts provide general knowledge and intellectual skills like reason and judgment — they typically include literature, philosophy, languages, history, politics and the arts.

As a high school student, I pushed myself extraordinarily hard to ensure I went to an academically rigorous university. In doing so, I took classes based on how they would affect my GPA and resume, ignoring my passion for social science and English classes. As graduation approached, however, I felt pressured to specify both an academic path and a career. The pressure to assimilate to culturally-held beliefs about academic excellence despite one’s passions is fueled by myths about the humanities, as well as a desire to enter a socially-acceptable academic field. However, the liberal arts and humanities should be considered socially acceptable for a number of reasons. The myth that students in these disciplines are unemployable has been proven false time and time again — students learn a wide variety of transferable skills in these programs and ultimately, academic freedom and the exploration of one’s educational passions should be respected.

The humanities and liberal arts provide general knowledge and intellectual skills like reason and judgment — they typically include literature, philosophy, languages, history, politics and the arts. When asked in high school in which direction I planned to go academically, I would say I was interested in politics. The common response was always to ask why I would go down such a terrible career path where I would make no money. Despite my clear passion for the social sciences and humanities, this common sentiment from people shut me down — it is a familiar trend among humanities students. Instead, I resorted to vague statements about not knowing what I was interested in — because even that was more acceptable than what I was actually passionate about.

After coming to college, I have discovered my interests are more in line with fields other than politics, but still in the humanities. I have begun to fully embrace my passions for reading, writing and historical study as an English and history major. In doing so, I’ve become increasingly happier in my classes, and have felt much more confident and comfortable in my academic environment. So, I’d like to take some time to make a case for humanities and liberal arts majors.

Firstly, the idea of being unemployable as a liberal arts or humanities major is a myth. Students in the “English Language and Literature/Letters” field had a 29 percent unemployment rate five years after graduation, while students in “Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support Services” had a 31 percent unemployment rate — this is not as dissimilar as they are made out to be, and even with English majors edging ahead. Even still, there is a significant problem with these percentages — they show only the percentage of unemployed people out of the number who graduated with degrees in the same field, as opposed to showing the percentage of total unemployed people. For example, in the aforementioned business category, 212,583 people were unemployed five years after receiving their bachelor’s degree, while in the “Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities” field, there were only 18,824 people unemployed. The earlier report gives no indication of the total number of unemployed bachelor’s degree graduates or even how these numbers compare to the total but based on the sheer size of the unemployed business population, it is clear that the myth of the unemployed humanities and liberal arts majors doesn’t quite stack up. 

Additionally, people think that there are no transferable skills in the humanities and liberal arts. This is blatantly incorrect — while the humanities may not yield the same technical skills as the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, they provide other incredibly important qualities. The humanities are shown to strengthen skills like analysis, induction, contextualization and innovation. Students in the humanities also learn to read and write analytically and are skilled in ethical decision making. These skills are just as necessary as any technical knowledge, and also address another area of expertise not often covered by STEM paths.

Finally, there is the matter of academic freedom. It takes privilege to be able to attend an institution of higher education and to also be able to choose a field of study based on interests. Even so, it is extraordinarily important to respect students for following their passions in an academic setting. When I say I’m a double major in English and history, I often get blank stares. However, academia thrives off of the passion of students and is a foundational aspect of institutions of higher education, including the University — my passion is the humanities. Different people have different interests and skill sets — each of them equally important in society. The point is that we need people in all fields. We need people who can address problem-solving from a technical perspective but also from a creative perspective. Our world quite literally functions based on the diversity of perspectives and approaches of people with different skill sets. 

I ask that we take a new approach to discussing the humanities — we respect those who have a passion for that field and let them thrive within it. Instead of immediately questioning how someone will find a job, ask yourself instead what kind of valuable skills they’ll bring to the table when it comes to their future employment. In reality, the myths we’ve been told about the liberal arts and humanities are false, and it is time to replace them with a culture of respect for academic diversity.

Hailey Robbins is an Opinion Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.