We Live in a Stem-ciety

AMP Staff

Liberal Arts? Who’s she? Discover how UTD’s non-STEM schools battle for recognition and support from a school that seems content to ignore their existence.

Read Time5 Minutes, 20 Seconds

When people think of UTD, “STEM” is normally the first thing to come to mind.  During orientation, I sat in the ATEC auditorium while ECS, NSM, and BBS went left for their individual seminars. Once they’d all filed out, the “other five” schools crowded into a single lecture hall for PowerPoint presentations that failed to address all the diverse concerns of the various students studying economics, literature, arts and technology, and music by lumping together some vastly different fields into one lecture on our five separate schools.  I can’t speak for the students from the other schools, but within the School of Arts and Humanities, students suffer from stagnating arts programs because of their lack of resources. Our programs are underdeveloped, not because of lack of skill on the part of students or professors, but because of neglect of these programs by the university, both in terms of our resources and our degree structures. 

I am an art historian. As a Visual and Performing Arts major, I have the same degree as not only visual artists, but also musicians, actors, dancers, and even creative writers. Concentrations in VPA aren’t quite equivalent to pathways in STEM majors: Having the difference between a musician and an art historian exist in the same degree plan is like putting a psychologist and a mechanical engineer in the same major because they’re both Bachelor of Science students. 

Being an Arts and Humanities student at UTD feels at best like being a unicorn discovered in the wild. Engineers say, “I could never do that much writing,” then say they would have it so much easier if they were an English major.  At worst, you have to constantly defend your choice of degree against the flood of STEM students who wonder why you’re getting a ‘useless’ degree, or against social science students with physics envy (Imagined superiority because certain degrees have “science” in their name).  The bias of today’s research universities towards professional-track and technical degrees has led to some measure of disbelief that I, a liberal arts major, am involved in research. What exactly do people think historians do?

Why does A&H receive so little funding?  The short answer is because we have so few people.  Everyone knows that liberal arts majors go to UNT, UT, or literally anywhere except The University of Texas at Dallas.  Case closed — or so it seems. The longer answer to this question stems from the utilitarian nature of our university: it was created because of the high demand for a scientific research center in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  The university will, as makes economic sense, fund programs and classes in high demand at the expense of smaller programs. However, appropriating funds in this way creates a cycle that holds our liberal arts programs back from ever growing.  Even as we attempt to break into the circle of elite universities like our sister school in Austin, we turn prospective students with passions for the arts away at the sight of the Arts and Humanities buildings. The temporary buildings that were created to alleviate overcrowding in arts classrooms — AH1 and AH2 — have been “temporary” for over ten years. Also, in a shocking turn of events, the visual arts building known as The Art Barn was torn down to make room for yet another giant science building, leaving the visual arts homeless (unless you count AH2, which I definitely don’t).  The music building, which was created to solve overcrowding, has only created even more crowded rooms. Band and orchestra rehearsals cram as many students as will fit into the rehearsal spaces, while the choir classes have had to remove furniture to fit their population, which has expanded from 12 students to 55 over just two years. Student music groups are also often the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to room reservation, which means that we often don’t get access to the limited rehearsal space available. For two days of the Comet Opera tech week, we rehearsed at our director’s house because it was the only space we could actually claim.  Student music groups can provide a viable option for those who are already overloading on credit hours and can’t afford to be in music classes, but the major resource these groups require — access to suitable performance and rehearsal spaces — isn’t something the Student Organization Center can provide because it’s simply nonexistent.

These myriad issues with our rehearsal and creative spaces don’t even touch on the lack of adequate performance space at UTD.  Our performance spaces lack both quality and quantity: their acoustics, to say the least, are not wonderful, while the spaces themselves are not equipped for the sizeable audiences that A&H performances draw.  The University Theater’s acoustics, in particular, are awful while the Performance Hall deadens the sound produced by our choral groups. A&H performances this semester, including the Choral Showcase and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, have had to turn many prospective audience members away because of a lack of seats.

On a more personal note, a close friend of mine could have attended UT Dallas as a business honors student but turned down her scholarship offer because of our lack of support for our language acquisition and vocal music programs.  She’s definitely not the only one — our Liberal Arts Honors Cohort, while a step in the right direction, is only two years old with a far less defined mission and structure compared to similar programs like the Davidson Management Honors Program or CS Squared, and a Living Learning Community for the liberal arts was only established this year.  

Unless we show prospective students, especially those who won’t major in the liberal arts, a developed arts program, they will continue to choose other schools no matter how highly ranked our programs in computer science and business get. Without the ability to attract new students, all the non-STEM programs, especially A&H, are stuck in a vicious catch-22 of declining quality, funding, and interest. Without first actually investing in our A&H programs, we can never expect to get a benefit from it. 



Ben Wise (sophomore | visual and performing arts, political science)

Ran away and joined the circus only to discover he was a clown the whole time.

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