Watch Out for the Fuzz… Why Stanford’s Arts and Humanities Aren’t as Forgotten as You Think

Posted by at 4:40PM

Odds are, you probably came to Stanford because you’d rather slip on a hoodie than sidle into a sportcoat, prefer sunshine and band-run to wintry-mix and finals clubs, and would rather cheer for Andrew Luck than say, the Winklevii. And, odds are, if you’re even remotely techie, you chose Stanford for its knockout science and engineering curriculum… and rankings. It’s no secret that the Farm is both a Mecca and breeding ground for calculation gurus, technical whizzes, biological demigods, and everyone else who is still slightly pissed that they couldn’t take C++ to fulfill their foreign language requirement.

But not everyone destined for Stanford emerged from the womb taking integrals.For those of you who didn’t know that we have an entire quad for engineering, who mourn the death of IHum, who  spend more time in Roble Gym than in the ACSR, who actually stop at Braun on Saturday nights rather than going straight to the Row, and who otherwise prefer the scent of leather-bound books and rich mahogany to motherboards and formaldehyde – your moment has arrived.

We know who you are – even if you are in an oft forgotten niche here at Stanford. The concert halls, high-ceilinged archive and manuscript libraries, and sun-drenched studios of ivies and liberal arts colleges pulled at your heartstrings when you were in the heat of college applications. You fantasized about wearing tweed (with elbow-patches) and swirling cognac whilst ruminating over the flaws in deontological theory and debating Descartes, salon-style. You are a connoisseur of human culture, and you came here, to Stanford, hoping that just maybe you could find that same level of pained fascination with the human condition and method of expression under a red-tile roof as you might have under the buttresses of collegiate-gothic cathedral.

Oh, you knew the sacrifices you’d make. You worried that your love of Chopin, appreciation of Klimt, and obsession with Marquez would all be misunderstood, met with raised eyebrows and blank stares peering over sheaves of graph paper and physics tomes. You would be ever the outsider during O-Chem rants and the communal groans over CME. Your choice to major in English, Religious Studies, or Studio Art would be met with polite smiles and the silent judgment that you weren’t intense enough to study something technical and have no solid, foreseeable career path. Your daring choice to pursue a creative, innovative, reflective, and interpretive field is constantly challenged by those who insist your interests provide no real-world application or insurance. Others will ask you why you chose to pursue a path in arts or humanities at Stanford which, while having what are generally assumed to be “good” programs in these departments, seems to place a much greater emphasis on technologically-driven fields. With our home and history in Silicon Valley, seemingly endless scientific resources, and army of high-profile techie alums, people will probably ask you why you didn’t go to say, Harvard, to study all that “fuzzy” stuff.

To those people, you can now proudly reply that Stanford upholds the honor of having the top arts and humanities program in the world. And that we actually knocked Harvard off of its crimson pedestal to snag it. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Stanford upstaged Harvard, UChicago, The Australian National University, and Princeton for the coveted top spot among university arts and humanities programs. The leap in the rankings has been largely credited to the outstanding number of MacArthur fellows and Pulitzer winners zipping across the quad and pioneering our liberal-arts research and curriculum, in addition to our broad range of arts/humanities offerings and extensive resources.

By comparison, (according to the U.S. News and World Report) Stanford Engineering clocked in at only #2, taking a backseat to M.I.T.. Admittedly, M.I.T. isn’t exactly a mortifying rival, and obviously second place is nothing to be ashamed of,  but the fact that one of the disciplines we pay the greatest lip-service to here on the Farm isn’t comparatively the best on campus does resonate a bit ironically.

That said, I could go on at length about the fallacy of rankings and the inconsistency of the methods, variables, and formulae (as well as frequent subjectivity and manipulation) that produce them. Rankings are not all-determining and should not be the primary mechanism through which we garner our self-esteem or evaluate ourselves as a school. But they do stand as a considerable litmus test that can testify to the strength of a program and should be reflective of the attention and respect that those departments should receive from students, faculty, administration, and, of course, the general public.

So the next time you find yourself smugly worrying about the future of your friend who’s an Art History major, try to catch yourself. The arts and humanities have not been extinguished in the wake of technology and scientific advancement. Their champions claim just as meaningful a place in our culture and society as do the engineers, programmers, researchers, and inventors.  And the work produced by the left-brained talent of the world might not thrive to the extent that it does without the help of the designers, writers, artists, performers, historians, anthologists, etc. who use the context of the human condition and sensibility to establish a place for those technologies in our lives.  I applaud Stanford for acknowledging the importance of bolstering such broad fields of study, and for taking such impressive strides to strengthen its departments and cultivate extensive opportunities for intellectual exploration and discovery. Thank you, Stanford, for yet again proving that your students really can have the best of all worlds.

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One Response to “Watch Out for the Fuzz… Why Stanford’s Arts and Humanities Aren’t as Forgotten as You Think”

  1. Kristi says:

    If there isn’t a Rodin sculpture meme yet, there definitely should be one. Well done.

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