Recently, at the William Jewell College 74th Annual Achievement Day Convocation, three honorees were given recognition and citations for their great life-after-Jewell accomplishments. During the convocation ceremony, each honoree had the opportunity to give a speech, sharing their stories of how Jewell shaped who they are today. Honoree Dr. Mark Hoffman, Chief Research Information Officer for Children’s Mercy Hospital, did not share his story through the mind of a scientist. Instead, he shared his story through the mind of a liberal arts intellectual.
“I don’t know what the language requirements are currently at Jewell,” Dr. Hoffman begins, as he proceeded to share his story as to how learning Spanish transformed him to who he is today. When hearing this starting phrase, the current students looked at each other, some with smiles, some with concern. These looks were exchanged because in November 2017, we were told that William Jewell College will no longer offer foreign languages and art as majors, and perhaps, foreign language may not even be required for students earning a bachelor of arts. In most recent news, Jewell will still offer a few foreign language classes but not enough for students to earn a degree in their foreign language of interest.
Prioritizing certain majors over others creates a hierarchy, and we cannot allow this. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is exciting and cutting-edge, but these fields are not enough. Business, accounting and education are directly applicable majors to jobs, jobs that are necessary for our world to be sustainable and innovative. However, these fields are, again, not enough.
The above majors answer how the world functions, but humanities give us purpose and the answers to why we care about the world. Art and foreign language vastly broaden our communication and relationships with people around the world. Emotion is universal, and we can build relationships with people through the expression of visual and audio art. Learning multiple languages directly increases the number of people with whom one can communicate. If we expect WJC students to leave the Hill open-minded and learn about other cultures and traditions, we first must have the skills to adapt to languages other than our own.
The decision to cut these majors is not unique to Jewell. According to the US News and World Report, “[f]unds have been cut in more than 80 percent of U.S. school districts since 2008. The very first programs to go are often disciplines such as music, art and foreign language” (Boyd 2014). However, this does not make it permissible or without consequences for Jewell to join this bandwagon. If primary and secondary public schools are already cutting art programs, this limits the number of students that will have the resources to achieve their artistic potential. When these few students reach the end of their high school careers, and they see that well-respected William Jewell College does not offer art or foreign language as majors, it will reinforce that their preferred field is “unimportant.” This is dangerous because without the opportunity to study the history and creation of language and art we develop a hierarchy of fields of study. The humanities give us purpose, help our world flourish and maximizes our global communication.
Jewell did not cut art and foreign language majors because they wanted to; they cut the courses because, unfortunately, they felt like they had to in order to keep WJC financially afloat. We, as students, have to trust this is the best option, and WJC will recover. Once Jewell overcomes this financial challenge, I hope to see Jewell re-establish prestigious art and foreign language curricula so that the school can reclaim its title: The Liberal Arts College of the KC Metropolitan Area, or as some say, the Harvard of the Midwest. Until then, Jewell students will be missing key resources and skills on how to pursue meaningful lives.