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Faculty Forum Papers

March 1976 - By

Louise Westling
Department of English

January 12, 1976

    If humanists and scientists at OSU have nothing important to teach each other, if our inquires are unrelated, then the College of Liberal Arts has no business on this campus. OSU students are wasting valuable hours taking required courses in history, political science, English, and psychology, when they could be enriching or polishing their training in a chosen scientific or technical field.

    Strangely enough, however, institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College, and California Institute of Technology seem to believe that strong liberal arts programs are vital to their students' scientific and technical educations. The finest liberal arts colleges continue to require students in humanities to have a serious initiation into the sciences.

    Professor Hawkes (January issue) seems to have forgotten that academic disciplines are merely arbitrary makes set by human intelligence around parts of the vast and seamless web of the universe we perceive. Mathematics is undeniably related to music and painting, as Renaissance culture makes so obvious and as Einstein frequently reminded us. Literature, psychology and history dealing as they do with the experience of a species of living creature, investigate the same forces that geology, archaeology, biology, and even chemistry examine. Human values are important in business, forestry, and engineering, just as the arts depend on science and technology to provide an understanding of the structure of the cosmos and man's relation to it. It is terribly shortsighted to ignore that essential unity of our enterprise as intellectuals, scholars, and teachers. To do so is to make a mockery of the idea of a university. To do so is to condemn each discipline to see along its own narrow shaft of light into the whole world we need to understand.

    Academic disciplines have become vested interests for their members, who then religiously guard them with increasing suspicion and hostility against any outsiders who claim to have a corner on truth. Members of each priesthood tend all too often to behave like the proverbial blind men trying to describe the elephant. Is it the chemists or the physicists who proclaim that the creature is cylindrical and tough on the bottom, because all they can feel is a foot? Do we humanists pronounce the true beast to be affectionate because we feel the trunk curving around to investigate us?

    Every teacher and every student is nourished and grows by seeking to understand, synthesize and meaningfully organized as much knowledge as he or she can absorb. The constant quest for knowledge, as a mutual enterprise, is what academic life is supposed to be about. How foolish to suggest that scientists and humanists would waste time and tax resources by trying to cooperate and bring their disciplines closer to the original harmony they shared in the age of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.