UMS chancellor should be careful not to tout STEM courses to the detriment of other areas

For those who live on Mars or Venus, STEM means science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM has become a buzzword throughout education in recent years, not least in the University of Maine System. As elsewhere in public higher education, there is nowadays an obsession with touting STEM subjects for ever more undergraduates and for connecting STEM courses and majors to jobs upon graduation. Certainly there is a strong case to be made that students with STEM majors have a big step up on the occupational ladder.

But I was struck by the public comments of Chancellor Page in praising the 25 recently tenured faculty in the University of Maine System. He clearly went out of his way to elevate those in STEM areas — 15 out of the 25 — as being far more important to higher education than their colleagues in other fields. He went on to praise the remaining 10 newly tenured faculty in avowedly practical areas like “business, accounting, tourism, and recreation,” according to the Bangor Daily News story.

One can only imagine his delight not to have many — or perhaps any — newly tenured faculty in traditional humanities areas. Who needs ‘em?

As an historian of science and technology, I am hardly hostile toward STEM courses, programs, and majors. I used to have undergraduates from the College of Education who intended to become science teachers take one or more of my history of science and/or technology. I don’t know why this is no longer the case, but given the low regard for public school teachers of any subject in the state of Maine — starting with Governor LePage — maybe such would-be teachers decided on other career pursuits.

Chancellor Page himself has a Ph.D. in philosophy from MIT, left a tenure-track job in philosophy in Kansas some years ago to head Sewell in Old Town, and for years taught part-time in philosophy department in Orono.

I wonder what his reaction would have been if he were seeking a career in philosophy these days had MIT’s president expressed similar thoughts to his own.