Campus Divided: Rift between humanities and STEM departments apparent

Photo by Hana Isihara ‘17| Photographer

According to some members of the Lafayette community, not all departments are created equal.

Some suggest the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments operate differently from their counterparts in the humanities.

“Not every department is treated the same way by the administration,” Mechanical Engineering Professor Erol Ulucakli said.

Ulucakli expressed the need for more faculty in the Engineering Division and high hopes for progress with Lafayette’s new president, Alison Byerly. Professor Ulucakli believes there should be more interdisciplinary activity, such as classes that combine the humanities and STEM.

“We seem to be so far apart, but in other universities, [all departments] have merged,” he said.

Byerly thinks there is a healthy conversation on campus between departments, but acknowledges room for improvement.

“My take would be that I don’t think there is anything like the gap you see in other places,” Byerly said. “But I also think there’s probably room for more collaboration and more opportunities for groups to understand the work that the other side is doing.”

Byerly cited an earlier project erected in Metzgar Fields to honor student Bryan Hendrickson, who passed away in 2011. Engineering majors, alongside faculty advisors, designed a water tank that would improve irrigation to the garden, and surrounded it with a scrap metal sculpture created by art students.

Professor Larry Stockton, head of the music department, said, “‘divide’ is a little bit too strong a word.”

“First and foremost, Department X has to justify their own curriculum and their own approach for doing things,” Stockton said. “Department Y, likewise, has a whole set of values, some of which don’t seem to be similar, and probably aren’t.”

Although Stockton acknowledges each department’s self-interest, he does not “sense any degree of unhealthiness at this point.” Stockton said every student should have a well-rounded education and leave Lafayette College with an awareness of the world.

Both Professor Ulucakli and Professor Stockton want students to interact with different departments in order to for students to have a versatile education. Various students also feel the divide between departments affects their everyday lives.

“I think that there tends to be a stereotype when we think of humanities majors,” mechanical engineering major Larry Galloway ‘14 said. “Then there’s probably tends to be a stereotype that they think of when they talk or think about us, which is unfortunate.”

Greg Heisler, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, does not see a divide between the students; however, he also sees the stereotypes on campus. Both students agree that engineers stereotype humanities majors as having a lighter workload. Galloway said engineers are sometimes stereotyped as “nerds.”

“We have just as much work as they do, it’s just not heavy in math or science,” Chanel Mowatt ‘17, who is planning to major in English, said.

There is misunderstanding across majors and divisions, students say.

“I could never do what a humanities major does,” chemical engineer major Christina Cucinotta ‘14 said.

About William Gordon

William Gordon '17 is the editor-in-chief of The Lafayette. He writes about student government, law, financial aid and music. He's studying English and government & law with a minor in economics.

2 comments

Down at Haverford, Dan Weiss is smiling and saying “Mission Accomplished!” It will be interesting to see how Byerly administers the recent $29.5 M donation that is supposedly for STEM. That will be very telling to see what side of the aisle she falls.

This article makes a very strong statement about the supposed divide between humanities and STEM on campus, but I don’t see any substantial support of this argument in the article. It seems that the article is based off the opinion of one engineering professor. I do think there are issues with majors being stereotyped–extending beyond our campus–and those are worth addressing but I don’t see this causing the rift that this article claims.

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