When asked why he chose to study a BA Humanities degree, Gaydon said that he saw a BA as a good foundation because of the vast array of subjects on offer and the fact that it teaches you to learn. This is true in the sense that BA subjects can be applied and used in various fields other than the fields that BA degrees naturally feed into. Admittedly, there are a lot of lazy BA students, but does the “just need to pass” attitude not filter through into every faculty? So why is it always the BA kids who fall victim to the stereotype?

A common generalisation is that students walking away with BA degrees will struggle to find a job. Former President Bill Clinton seemed to find himself a pretty decent job with his bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Georgetown University. So did Bobby Godsell, who served as the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti with a masters degree in liberal ethics, Clem Sunter, the famous scenario planner and former chairman of the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund who has a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, and Saki Macozoma, the chairman of Stanlib and Liberty Life who has degrees in politics, economics and journalism.

Many companies are starting to measure and seek out strengths like adaptability, social and emotional intelligence, reasoning and writing skills. Companies are starting to acknowledge that those in humanities have a different perspective and that perspective offers a competitive advantage. In today’s economy, being able to adapt to different occupational positions is incredibly advantageous. The Association of American Colleges and Universities analysed Census Bureau data on the education and occupations of 3 000 000 American residents. The study found that between the ages of 55 and 60, which are “peak earning years”, men and women who majored in the humanities or social sciences earned on average at least $2 000 more than those who majored in specialised fields. However, to judge the value of a humanities education based solely on potential earnings is to misunderstand the true value of humanities degrees.

Yes, science and maths give us truth and certainty, but the humanities give us a healthy dose of perspective. As UP psychology lecturer Sulaiyman Philander said, “It is easier for people to have a system which allocates clear cut labels to everything. It’s easier to believe in certainty than live in an uncertain world, but uncertainty has its place as well. Without uncertainty or the humanities, for example, there would be no room for the development of new knowledge or new ways of understanding the world”. If these arguments seem a bit flowery and struggle to hold up in conversation with number crunchers who roll their eyes and proceed to question the intelligence of BA students, keep in mind that there are different kinds of intelligence.

An interesting fact to dispel the stereotype that BA kids aren’t the brightest crayons in the box is that philosophy majors in America outperform almost all other majors on entrance exams to graduate school. This is including law school, graduate school in arts and sciences, business school and medical school. In fact, according to Mark Couch, assistant professor of Philosophy and director of the Liberal Studies Program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, philosophy majors have the highest acceptance rate of all majors. Of the interviews conducted there was only one non-BA student, second-year medical student Peter Mitchell, who admitted to choosing his degree because he had a genuine passion for it. The rest spoke only of stability and money.

A vital question to ask is “Are people really going to be successful in something they don’t enjoy?” Do we trust standing on the bridge built by the engineering student, the accountant with our life’s savings or a doctor with our life if they just scraped a pass? Perhaps we shouldn’t undermine the serious BA student who chose to do a BA, not because they were incompetent at maths and science, but because they were brave enough to go against the grain. Many do intend on specialising, completing their masters and even a PhD. They don’t deserve to be walking under the dark cloud that is the “BA-mansoek” stigma. It should be said that ultimately, no matter what the degree, passion for what you are doing should translate into success.

 

Illustration: Johann van Tonder

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