Letting the humanities shine

Located between Baker, Hamerschlag, and Scaife Halls, the sparkling new multi-story ANSYS Hall houses a massive makerspace, a computer lab, student collaborative spaces, and offices behind an impressive glass façade. Funded in part by ANSYS Inc., the mission of ANSYS Hall is to provide another interdisciplinary collaborative space for students from major STEM fields, as well as maker support for computer simulations and large-scale assembly initiatives.

As with most of the building projects on our campus, a significant portion of the funding for these amenities came from the tuition dutifully paid by students every year. $55,465 per student per year, with steady annual increases (a 3.2 percent increase was approved for the upcoming 2020-21 school year), provide Carnegie Mellon with the financial resources to construct these lavish spaces and furnish them with state-of-the-art equipment for undergraduate and graduate use and, ultimately, back up its reputation as a world-class university.

These massive expansions in both our campus and facility demonstrate that Carnegie Mellon is focused primarily on the technical fields. Buildings like ANSYS Hall, as well as the pervasive labyrinths of laboratories, computer labs, and makerspaces, provide ample proof of where the university’s interests lie. This bias makes sense for two reasons: STEM education tends to require more materials, space, and equipment than other disciplines, and there is a high demand for technically-proficient individuals in the present economy. Directing money towards these STEM-related assets appears to be the best investment in the long-run, for both the university and students in those fields.

But this raises an important question: what about those students studying something outside of STEM? What utility does an English or psychology student gain from another makerspace or computer lab? Financial aid notwithstanding; whether you are in drama, ECE, chemistry, or technical writing; every student is expected to pay the same price. This is true even when that money is used to fund projects that bring little to no tangible benefit to that student. In the case of a building like ANSYS Hall, it’s fair to say that the engineering student gains far more than a humanities student.

Granted, an education in the humanities requires a smaller budget than a technical education, requiring only the labor budget of education. Other line items, like printer paper or food budgets, are minuscule in comparison. Technical education and the requisite graduate research require a high material cost. There are cutting edge technologies — computers, specialized printers, drones, expensive lab materials, and so much more — that go into a technical education. Meanwhile, the humanities departments need pens, paper, books, and maybe some cheap computers. At the same time, humanities departments see limited funding going towards important database initiatives, such as easy and open access to journals, magazines, or newspapers; many schools grant students easily accessible online access to the New York Times, but Carnegie Mellon does not grant the same easy online access. Rather than indexing the price of an education to departmental spending, Carnegie Mellon spreads the cost of tuition across its students. Everyone pays the same sticker price for tuition, even though the materials for a technical education are so much more expensive.

This is indicative of a larger pattern at Carnegie Mellon. Instead of indexing tuition to departmental expenses, or even college expenses, or even making a more equal balance of expenses, the university subsidizes STEM at the expense of humanities and arts students at Carnegie Mellon, because the newest technological advances create a better workforce, which returns to the college in the form of donations. It's a cyclical process, and the end goal of the process is more money, resources, and capital in all of its various forms, going toward technology and its attendant humans. Students with critical thinking skills, who question science and its downsides, are diminished. Numerous science research projects at Carnegie Mellon push the doomsday clock closer to midnight, and very few students give it a second thought.

One thing that students do have a stake in is the campus that they live and work on, and the facilities that are added to it as Carnegie Mellon expands. Students have a right to a more equitable distribution of funding, especially given that the funding comes from them and their families. Rather than catering to one group just to pad its reputation, the university should cater to all majors. After all, science and engineering are important. They make our lives easier, but the humanities is equally important. We need to question the cost of that ease.

A previous version of this article stated that Carnegie Mellon does not grant students online access to the New York Times. Students do have access to the New York Times via the the ProQuest database, which can be accessed with a search of Carnegie Mellon's library website.