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Solving social ills takes humanities, says UCSC alum

adams_headshot_220By Alison F. Takemura, Sentinel

When society grapples with issues such as racism, violence and life-altering technologies, it needs more than science.

It needs humanity.

William Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, expounded on the value of the humanities disciplines Thursday at UC Santa Cruz.

For some of the “wicked problems” we face, the humanities offers skills and knowledge to build toward solutions, Adams, a UCSC alum, told an audience of more than 300 people.

The humanities, which include the study of history, psychology and language, enable people to examine society, culture and themselves. Yet science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, dominate the zeitgeist of the present.

“No one could have imagined the power and press of technology, especially information technology, on our economies and our lives,” said Adams. “We are indeed living in the time of STEM.”

Adams said he’s visited more than two dozen public and private universities and seen declines in the share of students pursuing a humanities major by 20 percent to 40 percent in the last four years. In 2013, the share of undergraduate degrees in the humanities was just 10 percent, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, or less than a third of the share of science degrees, 33 percent.

But STEM alone can’t solve social issues, Adams said.

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