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December 17, 2011 12:00 PM Humanities Majors Will Be Fine

By Daniel Luzer

One of the constant refrains of college critics has to do with those students majoring in the humanities. “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state,” said Florida governor Rick Scott recently. “It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees.”

Responding to a piece about people with college degrees holding blue-collar jobs, one reader comments: “Bet you a lot of those janitors with PhDs are from the humanities, in particular ethic studies, film studies,…basket weaving courses… or non-economics social sciences, eg., sociology, anthropology. There should be a buyer beware warning on all those non-quantitative majors.”

Well maybe not. According to an article by Elizabeth Murphy at Inside Higher Ed:

JavaScript was a foreign language to Brian Novacek, and he couldn’t tell you where a website’s front and back ends were located.
But none of that mattered for ConAgra Foods — an Omaha, Neb., company that produces food brands such as Chef Boyardee, Slim Jim, Hebrew National and Reddi-wip — when it recruited Novacek for its IT internship program in 2009. The year-round program, which began in 2008, targets students off the beaten IT track. Coordinators of the internship program say that, no matter the major, they are looking for students with sharp critical thinking and leadership skills. It’s not quite “IT for Dummies,” but the current interns in the ConAgra IT department are students majoring in finance, journalism, biology, accounting and marketing.

It’s an IT job track, but the people in it don’t need IT backgrounds. According to the director of career services at one Nebraska college near ConAgra headquarters

They want people who can analyze information, who can write and present. They’ll teach them the details of the system they have, but it doesn’t matter if the student is an English major or a philosophy major.

That’s because, in truth, there aren’t that many jobs in the humanities, and there never were. But people who majored in the humanities can certainly do other things much as, I suspect, they always have once they left school and attempted to obtain professional jobs. That is, after all, why one goes to school, to become smarter.

The chief information officer at ConAgra, Gerritt Schutte, incidentally, has a bachelor’s degree in English from Fordham University.

“I don’t just need coders and programmers,” Schutte apparently said at one point. “I need thinkers.”

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • AG on December 19, 2011 1:14 PM:

    The fact is you dont need a special degree to do IT. Sure for hardware stuff like embedded systems and cpu microarcitecture and automotive microcontrollers you would need a degree that taught math physics and engineering priciples but for web developing and ecommerce you can learn most of that on your own. The problem is when hr directors with zero training budgets feel like they cant take a chance on someone without perfect matching skills, preferably who already has a job. But people like that are probably already make more than these openings pay, so they go unfilled and we here more bellyaching about this mythical tech shortage that makes more H1Bs so "necessary."

  • Stevo on December 19, 2011 2:55 PM:

    the current interns in the ConAgra IT department are students majoring in finance, journalism, biology, accounting and marketing.

    Umm...those aren't the humanities.