November 18, 2013

University presidents Mary Sue Coleman and John L. Hennessy ask us not to ignore the humanities [“Collegians need humanities, too,” Washington Forum, Nov. 15]. But as a parent of two, one of whom is likely not to go into a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field, I can’t help but wonder about the return on investment of a liberal arts education.

Undergraduate tuition is approximately $40,000 a year at Mr. Hennessy’s Stanford University and about the same amount for an out-of-state student at Ms. Coleman’s University of Michigan. It’s no secret that music and drama majors can expect to make substantially less than their engineering classmates. If these college presidents feel so strongly about the humanities, why don’t their universities recognize this in their fee structures?

The state of Oregon has approved a pilot program thatallows some students at its public colleges to finance their education by paying 3 percent of their income to the state for 20 years after they graduate. Such creative financing allows students more freedom to go to school and will reduce the pressure after graduation to make a certain sum to repay loans.

Drew Bendon, Arlington

I thank Mary Sue Coleman and John L. Hennessy for promoting the humanities, but these disciplines will continue to falter unless one of two cultural sea changes occur: We care far less about money or the humanities bring in far more of it. Otherwise, offering undergraduate humanities courses ends up being decorative.

I received an advanced degree in comparative literature from Stanford University (at a time when all my fellow students were majoring in engineering) but later wisely decided to transition to medical school. Now I develop arts and humanities programs at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine while carrying out the usual full-time duties of an academic clinician. Over the years, I have supported my humanities work with $5,000 grants, with all of the dollars going to supplies and speaker honoraria and none supporting my time. At this writing, I have an application for an arts research grant pending that, if I am awarded it in an international competition, will provide $1,000 for my research goals.

To those who, like me, spend their lives honoring the principles of the humanities, I say: Go ahead, by all means, but don’t give up your day jobs.

Caroline Wellbery, Washington