By Rachel Blood
I memorized 80 digits of pi once. I’m not sure why – probably for the same reason that I used to ask my dad to make up math tests for me in the summer, the same reason that balancing chemical equations in high school and doing synthetic division were always weirdly cathartic. I’m always going to choose a good book over a string of numbers, but there’s something to be said for the positive impact math and science have had on my life.
I am not, by any stretch of definition, a woman in STEM. But I love that so many people are, that while I’ve picked a road paved with words (and maybe not a lot of income) my roommate has chosen a path filled with proofs and our news editor splits her time between Dungeons and Dragons and linear algebra. I have no qualms with y=mx+b. But there’s one equation I find particularly alarming, and it’s one that involves the subtraction of the arts.
Platforms like TikTok allow creative content to be produced and distributed by anyone at absurd rates, and that is wonderful. We’re populating the internet with some real talent and beautiful art. But because it is so populous, I fear we don’t appreciate it like we should. In a world where we can save priceless paintings forever with a camera click, why spend more than 10 seconds looking at it in real life? When you can gain a massive online following by posting videos of you singing in your room, why bother with a music degree? When TikTok gets you published, why go to school for English?
We’re left with the paradox that keeps me awake at night: The arts are winning, and it’s making us lose the arts. (I’m also kept awake at night by horrible car jingles that get stuck in my head and by thinking I must have forgotten some all-consuming homework assignment due before my first class Monday morning, but that is not the point.)
And I don’t just fear this as a general global phenomenon. I’m afraid Bethel is slowly losing the “arts” of the liberal arts.
“Liberal arts” does not just mean books and theater. Actually, the term stems from the original Latin liberales artes, seven subjects studied in the upper classes of Ancient Greece: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. And it’s evolved to mean a well-rounded education, with each subject informing one another. Sounds ideal, right?
The new physics labs—beautiful, state of the art—were being built as I toured Bethel, which advertises itself as a liberal arts university. At the time, Bethel seemed like a liberal arts school. It had a theater program. It was just starting to develop its STEM focus.
Now, there is no theater program. There is no England Term. I found my way to the United Kingdom anyway, and in a friend’s flat in Reading, a half-hour train ride from London, I found out from a late-night Snapchat that two of the six remaining members of the Department of English and Journalism had been cut. When I came to Bethel, there had been eight.
STEM is important. The arts are important. Every area of study in between is important. The key is and has always been balance. And we, as a society, as an institution, as individuals, have lost our balance.
I am making no claim to know the intricacies of this university’s financial situation or the decisions made by people in positions of power. It can’t be easy to run an institution, and I certainly don’t think Bethel has set out to crush English and studio art and history majors under their shoes. I am just worried that this liberal arts school is subtracting the arts faster than we can fight for them. I am worried that the world is losing the arts, and I am worried that Bethel is, too.
I’ve had my fair share of identity crises, and maybe Bethel is having one of its own. But I would urge it to make up its mind sooner than later: What kind of institution is Bethel University? STEM or liberal arts?
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