R-MC's Trend Toward Stem
Jordan Chappell '20
Feelings of frustration and accusations of favoritism have steadily been growing among students of the humanities due to the addition of two STEM-focused buildings on Macon’s supposedly liberal arts campus over the past two years: the new Brock Jr. science building and the Payne Hall construction project.
According to our college webpage, Macon F. Brock, Jr. Hall is a 30,000 square-foot, $17.5 million building that features state-of-the-art research laboratories, faculty offices, and conference rooms, along with solar panels, a cupola, and a new Keeble Observatory, which houses a brand-new Ritchey-Chretien telescope. The page goes on to assure the handicap accessibility of these features, and describes the new building as a reflection of “R-MC's strong commitment to the sciences.”
A similar page dedicated to the Payne Hall construction project boasts features such as a simulation center, technology-enhanced classrooms, and laboratories dedicated to health assessment and nursing skills. According to the construction site’s 24/7 live-stream, time-lapse camera, the 30,000 square-foot, $12.575 million project broke ground in April 2019, roughly twenty-one months after Macon F. Brock Jr. officially cut the ribbon for the new science building on June 23, 2017.
These expensive, state-of-the-art, handicap accessible buildings will be a great benefit for incoming STEM students, but comparing them to a few of the neighboring humanities buildings may explain why students of the humanities feel unsatisfied. Haley Hall for example, with its limited wheelchair access, concerns students like Unity Bowling ‘21, who describes entry into Haley as “frustrating.” With a single ramp on the far side, next to Patrick street, Unity worries about “what would happen in the case of an emergency, when everyone else has three exits and I only have one.” According to Unity, Fox Hall is even worse, with “no elevator and no wheelchair-accessible bathrooms on the first floor.”
Both Haley and Fox Hall are also renowned among students for their faulty AC, which seems to be a pattern across other old buildings like Mary Branch, whose struggling AC units have led to more serious problems like black mold and roaches. There is also an increasing and more general issue with space, or a lack thereof, across campus. The overcrowding in regard to student housing , not to mention parking spaces, has led to a push for more off-campus housing earlier this year. With complaints intensifying across these areas, the construction of a new nursing building and an eventual goal of serving roughly 160 nursing students per semester leaves students in the humanities simply asking why?
As a double-major in English and Classical Studies with a double-minor in Sociology and Writing, Casey Dossat ‘20 is all too familiar with these frustrations and what she considers to be unfair treatment of the humanities. She feels that “humanities students are being attacked from all sides by lack of funding, systematic favoritism, and overall disrespect.” In regard to the new nursing building, she feels “undervalued by the construction of these new STEM buildings when the funds could go toward greater needs like dorms.”
Students are not the only members of R-MC frustrated by the college’s inclination toward STEM. According to Dr. Evie Terrono, head of the Art History program, the college is “not only intentionally but explicitly undermining the humanities.” She says this move away from the humanities is due to a “shrinking of humanities in career paths.” She explains that “we are currently privileging disciplines because the college is responding to market forces by supporting STEM.” She is “very discouraged by the fact that market forces drive our curricular forces” and feels that “undermining the humanities will compromise what we do as a liberal arts institution.”
While market trends are always fluctuating and often biased in their interpretation, a study by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System showed that the amount of humanity-focused degrees dropped from 36 percent to 23 percent between 1970 and 2016, with STEM-focused degrees rising from 64 to 77 percent. This data suggests a decrease in job opportunities for students of the humanities, a trend supported by Macon’s own EDGE career fairs, which have recently advertised twelve companies attending its Nov. 7 Arts, Media, and Communications Fair--as opposed to the nineteen attending companies listed for the Oct. 8 STEM Career & Internship Fair. According to another study from Strada Education Network and Emsi, fewer students may be pursuing liberal arts majors, but companies are in fact searching for employees with a solid background in the humanities.
Regardless of the trends in ever changing career and market patterns, the humanities cultivate valuable skills that are highly applicable to all manner of students’ professional lives. Skills like in depth analysis, critical reading and writing, and the encouragement to challenge pre-existing scholarship and ways of thinking are valuable across all career fields, including STEM related professions. While the college may be making every effort to treat all departments equally, the frustrations of humanities students and faculty make it clear that these efforts are not always recognized or appreciated. If Randolph-Macon is indeed leaning toward STEM departments, and if this is due to market trends, they need to take responsibility for their actions, own up to their favoritism, and explain to everyone affected why they make the choices they do. While an explanation won’t change the conditions on campus, students at least deserve to know what the college’s attitude is toward their departments of interest. If we’re expected to pay an average annual cost of over $50,000 to attend this institution, students, along with faculty and staff, deserve to be kept in the loop in regard to financial and educational choices.