Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive


Why study English?

in Columns/Op-Eds/Opinions by

When I tell people outside of Swat’s intellectual community that I want to be a Computer Science and English Literature double major, the response is usually something along the lines of, “Why study English?” The first time this happened, I was slightly taken aback. Why did I have to justify a passion for literature when one for coding is lauded as smart, practical, and even exemplary?

When people hear “Computer Science major” attached to my name, they are sometimes shocked, as I don’t exactly fit the stereotypical, general perception of a CS major: some guy who spends all his time in a basement gaming and playing Dota. Still, they are usually impressed, often commenting that I will have an easy time getting a job or that they think I will be really successful.

With English, this is not the case. When people hear the words “English major,” their minds jump to a picture of an idealistic idiot who, twenty years later, will be living under a rock writing poetry, attempting in vain to find a publisher interested in their 1,000 plus-page novel on 18th-century Russian idealism; or a picture of a professor in a lecture hall at a school in the middle of a cornfield wearing a tweed jacket and preaching about the importance of Medieval Literature to a group of half-asleep freshmen who could not care less.

Although these stereotypes do not cover the breadth of options English majors have after college, it is true that such majors have an average starting salary far lower than that of most other disciplines. This is a fact that turns many away from the department, even if they are one of the dwindling few who may have a passion for literature. As someone who is also studying Computer Science, arguing that starting salaries don’t matter would be hypocritical. So why study English when sticking solely to Computer Science would be the more practical choice?

English as a discipline is far more valuable than most believe. People who have never taken a college English class often assume that the department concerns itself solely with the contents of novels when, in fact, English classes — at least the ones I have taken so far at Swat — employ novels as portals through which we engage in sociological and political analyses of the time periods in which they were written and read. For example, in Professor Patnaik’s first-year seminar Literature and Law, we discussed the various ways in which Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” helped spur the 19th-century English Property Law reform movement that eventually granted women the right to own land.

The ways in which fictional works influence the way we live our lives are infinite. So many societal trends and behaviors evolve from characters and themes formulated inside authors’ imaginations. The cultural influence locked inside novels affects the way we behave and interact with each other, especially across social and political differences.

In her critically influential text “From Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel,” Nancy Armstrong states, “Fiction alone enables very different individuals to sit down to dinner in entirely unfamiliar places without finding them particularly strange, to shuffle into classrooms with people they have never met and with whom they might have little else in common … In this respect, the most powerful household is the one we carry around in our heads.”

Widely circulated works of fiction, and the themes that emerged from such stories, have molded behaviors throughout history and continue to touch the present, tying together people across large swaths of distance and time. Throughout her piece, Armstrong emphasizes not only the supreme power of reading fiction but the necessity for writers to keep creating it.

“In suppressing the fact and agency of writing, we also suppress the historical process by which these spheres of self, society, and culture were created and held in equilibrium … and thus the political power exerted by fiction — beyond our power to question.”

We have the privilege of attending one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, and our English department is fantastic. The professors are renowned in their respective fields, brilliant in lecture, and constantly pushing their students to achieve a greater level of understanding of the text and of the world.

Further, there aren’t a lot of places where you can take both English Literature and Computer Science every semester, and the fact that Swarthmore permits its students to open their minds to new disciplines, and diversify the range of subjects explored is an opportunity of which I think more of us should take advantage.

So when you’re signing up for classes come December and you scroll past the English Literature section, give it a second glance before moving on. Even if you’re a STEM major who took Modern Algebra to fill a writing credit, you may actually enjoy learning through novels. The classes are pretty incredible; I recommend giving one a chance.

Future of honors program in question

in Around Campus/News by


Last week, members of the class of 2019 assembled in the Lang Performing Arts Center for an event entitled “Chocolates, Chai, & Choosing” sponsored by members of the faculty and the Dean’s office. “Chocolates, Chai, & Choosing” is designed to be an information session about the sophomore planning process. Five of the speakers at the event, each representing different academic disciplines, gave short speeches solely dedicated to explaining and advertising the college’s honors program.

The emphasis on the honors program was deliberate. Professor of English Literature and Honors Program Coordinator Craig Williamson explained why he thought the emphasis was necessary.

“I think that the faculty feels like honors is a great program. In the old days, students already kind of knew what the honors program was like, but it seems like that’s not so much true anymore, at least from some of the feedback we’ve gotten,” he said.

Williamson noted that in the past four or five years, there have always been three or four speakers at “Chocolates, Chai, & Choosing” to discuss the honors program. While he also mentioned that much of the information about honors could have been given at the designated honors program informational session, Williamson explained that some students who had not been set on doing honors prior to “Chocolates, Chai, & Choosing” changed their minds after the event.

However, he could not point to a specific reason for why he believes students are less familiar with the honors program.

“I don’t have an easy answer for that question. I think the academic mission has become vastly complicated over the years. You know, students want to do a variety of things. I think that because the number of students doing honors this year has come down somewhat in the last 4 or 5 years, there are not so many people doing it and talking to other students about it,” he explained.

According to honors program enrollment data from the college’s Office of Institutional Research obtained by The Phoenix, the number of students both graduating and majoring with honors has declined in the past five years. Williamson explained that five years ago, the normal amount of honors majors would have been around 105 students. In the past few years, the amount of honors majors has hovered around 70 students, even as the average class size has increased. During this 5 year period, humanities majors as a whole declined, while STEM majors rose in what Williamson described as “astronomical terms”.

“The honors program has always been a signature program at Swarthmore. I think the faculty largely believes in the program and supports the program. Not universal, but I think most of us would be sad to see the program disappear somehow,” he said.

When asked if there was an enrollment threshold, after which the honors program would be ended, Williamson indicated that the numbers were getting close, provided that the trend of decreasing popularity for the honors program continues.

“It’s hard to know what that threshold of enrollment is. I think we’re close to it. If you teach seminars, you need to have them reasonably filled up in order to teach them. If you offer a seminar, and two people sign up, you can’t do the seminar. It’s hard to know,” he said.

However, Williamson still remains hopeful.

“I think the program will strengthen and will rise again, but I’m not a prophet about these things. Nobody knows what the magic number is. I don’t think we necessarily need get it back up to 105, but I personally would like to see it around 90. That would be a strong number for the program in this particular era,” he continued.

Williamson attributes this decline to the rise in popularity of STEM course majors both at the college and in the nation. Humanities majors have declined at the college as a result too.

“Historically it’s been true that the strongest student support of honors has been in the humanities division, and the weakest support has been in the natural sciences and engineering. So, you know, the movement in the last three or four years in general away from the humanities majors and into the STEM fields, for whatever reason, has influenced the number of people going into honors,” he said.

Assistant Professor of computer science Ameet Soni shared his perspective on the CS honors program with respect to the growing popularity of STEM majors.

“We would love to have honors seminars, but we have a huge enrollment problem. In fact, we used to have two seminars but we haven’t been able to offer them in seminar format because of the enrollment pressures. If we ever got to the point again where we could offer honors seminars, then we would probably change the honors requirement,” said Soni.

Currently, the computer science department does not offer designated honors seminars. Instead, honors students must take two related high level courses concurrently to count toward one honors preparation. The department has experienced a sharp increase in the amount of course majors. In 2010, 11 students graduated with a course major in computer science. By 2014, that number was 48. Since then, only 3 students have graduated with an honors major and just 11 with an honors minor in computer science.

“I don’t think the way that we structure honors discourages students from doing it. Comparing to some disciplines, I’ve heard that to get into the popular seminars you have to be an honors student. We have a relatively flat curriculum where we want students to be able to engage in any of the type of courses the want to,” Soni continued. “Of the students I’ve talked to that I’ve done research with, a lot of them say that the haven’t seen a lot of benefit in doing the honors program. They’d rather have the flexibility to kind of change their path as the semester goes along.”

Soni later pointed to some possible reasons why students are choosing to complete course majors over honors ones: students increasingly prefer to study a large breadth of material across divisions rather than an intense focus in one area, and a lack of interest in attending graduate school directly after Swarthmore. The honors program has often been regarded as good preparation for graduate school.

Williamson further lamented the decrease in humanities majors in general.

“There are some places like Harvey Mudd that see themselves like kind of liberal arts colleges, but are really STEM schools with a little bit of liberal arts stuff. I’ve always felt that would never happen to Swarthmore. For the longest time I’ve felt that. I’m not so sure about that anymore,” he said. “I think if the percentage of majors in the humanities division got down to below 10%, I think that would be a great loss in terms of the students and their capacity to learn different things and exchange ideas.”

Dean of Admissions and Vice-President of the college Jim Bock described the Office of Admissions’ procedure on admitting a class that represents all the academic distributions.

“Typically, when we make admissions decisions, we admit to the College and not to the major, except in the case of engineering. Over the last few years, interest in humanities has dropped on a national level, and we have placed more emphasis on genuine humanities interest when making admissions decisions.  ‘Undecided’ is still a popular choice for students to list on their college applications, and as a liberal arts college, Swarthmore allows students the freedom to change their major before matriculation and once on campus. Because of that, we do not place much emphasis on what a student indicates as a potential major on their application,” he said.

Bock also stated that the Office of Admissions continues to highlight the honors program in its tours and other communications.

Students arrive at the decision to participate in the honors program for various different reasons. For Joe Boninger ‘16, the only honors major in computer science in his class, deciding to do honors was not a calculated decision.

“My decision to do Honors was pretty impulsive—I wanted to be achieving more, academically, than I was at the time, and I figured I would probably be taking all the classes and doing summer research anyway. For most of senior year I thought I’d made the wrong decision,” he said.

For others, the decision-making process was more straightforward.

“Essentially I chose to do the honors economics major for the seminars. Some of the more popular ones give priority to honors students, and taking these courses felt like a unique opportunity only available here at Swarthmore that I could always stop if I decided the seminars weren’t for me,” said Sam Wallach Hanson ‘18, an honors major in economics.

“I took an intermediate biology class my sophomore fall and really enjoyed the experience I had, both in the coursework and with the professor, which led me to working with that professor the summer after and eventually choosing to continue that research as my honors thesis,” explained Dan Lai ‘17, and honors major in biology.

At “Chocolates, Chai, & Choosing,” Williamson stressed that students who graduate with honors find the program to be a very gratifying experience. Boninger, Hanson, and Lai all echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t regret doing Honors now, because I did learn a lot of cool stuff and I forced myself not to spend too much time studying for the exams. That said, I definitely would not have done Honors if I knew about the reduced senior week,” said Boninger.

Senior week is a week of festivities at the end of the year held for graduating seniors. Last year, the length of senior week was reduced.

“What I really appreciate about the program is how supportive the environment is as an honors biology major…as even though my thesis is my independent work, my peers and professors have been a consistent source of positive yet critical feedback. The honors program as a whole is, in my opinion, a challenging yet incredibly rewarding intellectual exercise, and I think it’s helped me build a strong foundation of resolve and discipline I hope to keep with me after graduating,” continued Lai.

“So far the honors program has been great. I took the behavioral and experimental economics seminar last semester and am currently taking advanced microeconomics. Spending up to 5 hours at a time with 5-6 other students and a professor was intimidating at first, but I feel like the degree to which I master the subjects, and the depth to which I learn, is totally unmatched by any other educational setting I’ve experienced before,” echoed Hanson.

Williamson lastly reflected on the possibility of the honors program disappearing in the future.

“I think there’s a sense in the academic world today that this is the thing that really makes Swarthmore stand out as different from all these other liberal arts colleges. If we lost it, I think it would do something serious to the reputation of the college,” he concluded.

It remains uncertain whether honors enrollment numbers will rebound or continue to decline into the future.

From ceramics to catacombs, swatties abroad go beyond classroom

in Campus Journal by

Students at Swarthmore study abroad for countless reasons. Some go to fulfill language requirements, some because they find the one perfect, chance-of-a-lifetime program, and some, if not most, go for the main goal of getting off of Swarthmore’s beautiful but sometimes suffocating campus. While many Swatties choose to enroll as a student at a different college or university in another state or country, some Swatties opt into programs that aim to take learning out of the classroom.


Although about 75% of Swarthmore students graduate with a degree in either social or natural sciences each year, students of all majors choose to study humanities abroad, selecting programs that allow to them to earn credits while immersing themselves in a personal passion or studying something new entirely. Nikhil Paladugu ’16 is a double major in neuroscience and studio art, and also plans on attending medical school after graduating from Swarthmore. Although studying abroad as a pre-med student is difficult, Paladugu chose to enroll in an intensive ceramics program in China during the fall semester of his junior year.


His program, run through West Virginia University, placed Paladugu with three other undergrads in a ceramics studio in Jingdezhen, a rural city in Eastern China known as the “Porcelain Capital,” famous for its talented ceramicists and rich artistic traditions.

“We stayed at a youth hostel in the same factory as the pottery workshop where our studios were,” Paladugu said. After breakfast, students would work in the studios for essentially the whole day, taking a break for lunch mid-day.

Although Paladugu could have fulfilled his studio art credits at Swarthmore, he chose to go abroad instead, making up his other necessary credits by taking 5 classes other semesters. “If I’m going to do 10 years of rounds with doctors, I wanted the opportunity to really delve into ceramics,” Paladugu said.

Though Sadie Rittman ’16, is an honors religion major, she chose to study abroad her junior year at Prague Film School, taking classes on film directing, editing, cinematography and screenwriting.

“I’ve never really known what to study,” Rittman said. “I’m not a film major, but I have a lot of interest. I wanted insight into what it’s like making films; I was exploring that option.” Rittman’s program was more course-based than Paladugu’s: she attended classes four days a week for six hours a day. Rittman’s academic work consisted of four different film projects that involved large amounts of individual, creative work time outside of class.


Both Paladugu and Rittman seemed to share the notion that their experience was very different from that of being at Swarthmore for a semester. “I didn’t have to write any papers or do any reading the whole semester,” Rittman said of her experience at in Prague. “I got to work with a different part of my brain. It was nice to spend a whole semester not doing any Swarthmore work. It was extra nice to experience a new city in Europe while doing that kind of work.”


Paladugu shared a similar experience. “Our art history midterm is the only real work,” he said.

“Otherwise you’re free to just focus on your art.”


For many students, studying humanities abroad in a certain location greatly enhances the experience of their learning by providing a new perspective.


Natalia Sucher ’16 chose a program that was directly related to her honors classics major. Through Duke University’s Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, Sucher studied in Rome with 30 other undergrads from the United States. Although the format of the program was several hours of lecture-based classes per week, Sucher’s professors would bring the students to relevant sites in all parts of Italy where they would learn while experiencing in person the architecture or artifacts about which they were learning.


“Twice a week we had a double credit class where we would take trips for the entire day,” Sucher said. These trips often included long days at museums around Rome, where students would look at the same artifacts they studied in class. The group also travelled up and down the entire Italian coast, took a trip to Etruscan tombs to see paintings, spent a day at Mount Vesuvius and got the opportunity to walk through the Roman Catacombs.


Paladugu also stressed the importance of his program’s location in his learning experience.


“The entire city is focused on ceramics,” he said. “The biggest thing I learned was the cultural history. They took us on field trips to amazing hundred-foot long dragon kilns…. We got to see things that tourists can’t see.” Being fully immersed in a culture so focused on ceramics allowed Paladugu to develop as a designer and ceramicist in a way that may not have been possible had he not gone abroad.


“They want you to basically try everything you could possibly try,” he said. “The people you’re working with and living with are all international superstars. Since you get this opportunity to completely dive into and immerse yourself in the study of ceramics, it really helps you grow as an artist.”


Sucher, who chose her to study based in part on a desire to learn Italian, also found that the location of her program offered large advantages over classes at Swarthmore. Although she entered the program without even a familiarity with Italian, Sucher became fluent by the end of the semester. On her return to Swarthmore, this skill allowed her to further her study in Classics by taking a directed reading on Dante’s Divine Comedy in its original form.


Other students also felt their abroad experiences impacted their academic lives at Swarthmore upon return.


Rittman felt that her experience abroad gave her a much-needed sense of renewal and clarity, and saw her time in Europe as a much needed break from the overwhelmingly academic experience of school at Swarthmore. Going abroad also helped her make the choice to participate in the Honors program, although the actual content of her study abroad was not related to her major in religion.


“I would not have done honors before going,” she said. “Now that I’m back it feels so different from before. I’m more relaxed about what I’m doing and can appreciate it so much more… I feel much more grounded.”


Paladugu shared the notion that a semester abroad was a necessary relief from the intensity of Swarthmore.


“Taking a break from academics was awesome,” Paladugu said. “Especially coming from a place like Swarthmore, it’s really refreshing to get a new perspective. It doesn’t matter where: I think traveling abroad is something everybody should do.”

Decline in humanities majors causes concern for faculty, students

in News by

Data from the Office of Institutional Research shows that the percentage of humanities majors awarded as a proportion of all degrees fell from around 25% to 16% from 2005 to 2014 while the number of natural science majors increased considerably. This shift creates significant problems for the college administration as it battles to revive the beleaguered Honors Program, which the humanities division disproportionately supports, and decides how to allocate precious educational resources. Also, the change leads many students and faculty to question the state of the study of liberal arts at the college.

While some humanities departments, including theater and studio art, actually experienced an increase in the number of majors in the last decade, most humanities departments experienced decline or stagnation. This trend occurred even as a larger student body and more students double majoring increased the number of degrees awarded every year. religion and English, once popular majors, saw significant declines in this period. English, which in 1995 was the largest major at Swarthmore, in 2014 awarded just 19 degrees out of around 450 awarded across the college.

The decline in humanities majors corresponds to an increase in natural science majors, especially concentrated in computer science and mathematics. Computer science, which as recently as 2010 only awarded 11 degrees, now annually graduates over 40 majors making it one of the largest departments.

No parallel decline in humanities majors has occurred at Bryn Mawr and Haverford in the last ten years. According to data from their institutional research websites, both schools maintain about a 40% and 25% rate respectively of humanities majors in their graduating class.

The decline in the number of humanities majors partially explains the decrease in the number of students participating in the Honors Program. Historically, a greater proportion of humanities and social science majors participated in the Honors Program. Certain departments such as English and history (history, though not a humanities major, also experienced a significant decline in the number of majors in the last ten years) usually experience about a 50% participation rate in the Honors Program, while some very large departments like computer science oftentimes do not produce a single honors major.

The Curriculum Committee, a faculty committee responsible for administering the honors program, set out as its goal in 1995 to maintain about a 30% participation rate in honors. In 2015 the percentage fell to 18%, the lowest rate in decades. A historical precedent exists for declined interest in the honors program. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the number of students participating in the honors program declined to a rate almost as low as today. According to Provost Tom Stephenson the nature of the decline in the 1980s and 1990s differed from the recent decline. The earlier decline occurred more slowly, was carefully studied, and was found to have resulted from a lack of flexibility in the program. The college administration is still trying to understand the reasons behind the recent decline.

“What we’re in right now is a two or three year decline that may or may not be part of a trend,” Stephenson said. “What we’re doing is looking at the data pretty closely to identify reasons for the decline.”

Stephenson said that so far the Curriculum Committee found that the rise in double majors, which is often suggested a reason for the decline, does not correlate to declined participation in honors.

Honors Program Coordinator and English Professor Craig Williamson proposed that increased concern among the student body about getting a job after graduation leads many to pursue majors they are not passionate about, meaning they are less motivated to pursue honors.

To combat the trend of decreased honors participation, the administration hopes to increase interest in the Honors Program in natural science departments, which have not historically had large honors programs. Williamson mentioned computer science specifically, which produces very few honors majors:

“The computer science faculty is struggling with this, and they are in the midst of making a new proposal for the honors program in their major to make it more workable and attract greater student interest.”

Apart from hurting the honors program, the decline in humanities majors leads many faculty to question how well Swarthmore currently fulfils the liberal arts ideal of a broad based, rigorous education across the disciplines.

“If you have a college in which basically 40% of the students are in natural sciences and 40% are in social sciences and 10% are in individual majors and 10% are in humanities majors then the importance of those humanities disciplines and the kinds of thinking and writing they value gets short-thrifted.” Williamson said.

Not only humanities students and faculty feel this way. Provost Stephenson, himself a Chemistry professor, said that the decline in humanities majors frustrates faculty in all departments.

Some students in humanities majors feel that they personally experience the effects of the decline in humanities majors.

“I tend to find that when I talk about philosophy, people generally don’t care. I think people tend to look at the job market and say ‘well nobody is taking their [humanities major] subject seriously so why should I take them seriously?’ and I think that’s a mistake.” said  philosophy major Jamie Gregora ‘16.

Anna Marfleet ’19, a prospective art and art history major, said that she thought the low number of art history majors negatively affected the curriculum.

“If you look at the art history courses offered they don’t seem to be geared towards art history majors but more towards people wanting to take fun light courses to fill out their schedules. It seems irresponsible to offer them and not offer survey courses that covers the full breadth of of the evolution of art in a culture across many years.”

Marfleet added that she felt the percentage of studio art majors who pursue double majors led many students to not take art courses as seriously as their other coursework.

The Class of 2015 produced slightly more humanities majors than in recent years, with humanities degrees comprising about 18% of those awarded. Also, according to Williamson, the current number of honors students in the senior and junior classes suggests an increased rate in honors participation in the next few years. Williamson pointed out, however, that these numbers were preliminary. The success of the college administration’s efforts to increase honors participation in the natural sciences division remains to be seen.

Data demonstrates fewer students are declaring humanities majors

in Around Campus/News by

As the world becomes increasingly dependent on technology and educational policymakers continue to push for STEM education in American schools, the balance and nature of humanities and natural science courses at Swarthmore are changing.

A Daily Gazette article published earlier this month reported that the sophomore plans for the class of 2017 included a noticeable drop in the number of anticipated humanities majors at the college, falling from the class of 2015’s 20 percent to 16 percent. The trend appears to continue with the class of 2018, with 11 percent having indicated interest in majoring in the humanities.

Provost Tom Stephenson confirmed in an email the general trend away from the humanities and towards the social and natural sciences, citing data from Swarthmore’s Institutional Research website.

Stephenson said that when the college experiences a shift in academic interests toward a particular division of the college — such as the shift that is currently occurring — the first response is to allocate temporary faculty in that area, since the college is reluctant to make more permanent commitments until they certain that the demand will hold up. As time passes, the college allocates tenure lines to overenrolled departments in response to stable student demand. However, Stephenson noted that the power to increase resources to a particular division of the college is not unlimited.

“There is a limit to what we can do, since our resources are not completely flexible — we have minimum critical mass considerations in other areas of the curriculum that need to be maintained to have a healthy broad based liberal arts experience for students,” Stephenson said.

Even though Swarthmore is able to adapt to the changing academic demands of students, Stephenson expressed concern over the trend towards the natural sciences. He believes that the national push for more students to major in the natural sciences is a short-sighted practice, and one that Swarthmore should work hard to defy.

“I don’t think that we should change our overall goals in response [to the trend], except to redouble our commitment to a broadly based education, and to increase our efforts to attract a student body that is interested in the full range of subjects that we offer here,” he said.

Professor of English and Coordinator of Environmental Studies Betsy Bolton agreed that the increase in the number of students majoring in the natural sciences is a concerning trend, both for the natural sciences and the humanities. Bolton explained that as fewer students choose to major in the humanities, departments like English Literature are left with no choice but to offer fewer courses, and the courses that remain contain fewer students. She noted that the increased interest in the natural sciences puts huge strains on departments like Biology to keep up with student demand and ensure that majors are able to take all the courses required to graduate.

Chair and Professor of Biology Amy Vollmer confirmed that her department has seen a steady increase in the number of tenured professors in recent decades. The department added its 12th tenure track faculty member in 2013, a conservation biologist who will arrive in fall 2015. The last new tenured position was granted in 1997, for an evolutionary biologist.  Vollmer also expressed a need for even more expansion in the department as student interest continues to increase.

“We need to expand even more, given the fact that all of our courses are lotteried nearly every year.  We have put in for 2 more positions, one new and one to replace a

retiring faculty member, and will hear from the Provost in May about the

decision,” she wrote in an e-mail. Vollmer also stressed that curricular decisions

in the Biology department are made by the faculty. They are not based on student interest, but rather on what fields of biology are expanding.

The Philosophy department is also being forced to adapt in response to the changing academic climate at Swarthmore. According to Professor and Chair of Philosophy Tamsin Lorraine, the department graduated from 13 to 20 majors a year from 2005 to 2010, while from 2011 to 2015 it graduated from 7 to 15 majors each year.

“Of course, we are, like other humanities, aware of changing student interests that relate to changes in the larger culture,” she wrote in an email. She mentioned several different ways in which the department is adapting to changing student interests, such as offering new courses, including Environmental Ethics, The History of Analytic Philosophy, and Philosophy of Literature and Film, and updating the syllabi of current courses like Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics in order to respond to the emergence of new topics and problems.

On the ground, students are also noticing a shift in the way in which different academic interests at Swarthmore are perceived. Bill Fedullo ’16, an Honors Philosophy major and English Literature minor, believes that Swarthmore and other liberal arts schools are always dealing with the drive to make the humanities more “practical.” He admitted that it may be difficult to justify studying the humanities in contemporary society, but recognizes real value in the timeless questions that the humanities discuss.

“The humanities and the sciences are different things. Yes, the humanities are less amenable to objective testing than the sciences. Imagine how tragic it would be if that weren’t the case,” he wrote in an email. “If philosophy could just be reduced to a set of facts that can be learned and memorized, it wouldn’t really be worth anyone’s time.”

It remains to be seen whether the current trends toward the natural sciences are going to continue past the Class of 2018. Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock said it was too early to tell what the prospective majors of the Class of 2019 will be, since they have yet to officially make their college decisions.

Go to Top