How we build our values

Many an article, many an academic journal have been written about the decline of the humanities and the glorification of the sciences. The humanities departments shrink; the science and business departments grow. As an English major, I have casual existential crises once a month about how to apply my knowledge to the job market. But I also know there are many kinds of value besides economic, for I think studying the humanities are valuable on their own accord. On Baylor’s campus, I see this difference in attributed value exemplified in the respective buildings the departments inhabit.

I like walking through the Baylor Sciences Building. It has the atmosphere of a classy mall with well-placed plants — a mall of learning. Productivity flowing, people stay for hours. Starbucks cups decorate tables beside laptops, fueling students in desperation to memorize hundreds of anatomy terms. It is difficult to find a seat or empty table in this environment of people, seated, working like in mainstream coffee shops. Fatigued students seek to rise to the challenge of organic chemistry in order to become doctors, researchers, etc. Good jobs. The building stands so proud and tall; I always admire it driving past campus on University Drive. At Christmastime, the decor is top-notch. In the classrooms, though, I have to doodle to make the minutes pass. I curse the fourth floor when I march to the top of the building for my mandatory labs. But as I look down, light streams in through the tall windows of the BSB, filling the atrium with sunlight.

The building shines in its relative newness, stretching a large square footage, boasting of its vast import. Horizontal in nature, it covers a wide range of knowledge, evidence of its versatile significance. Its construction speaks of the university’s desire to be competitive — shifting away from liberal arts to become a research university. Its automatic doors and Starbucks are emblematic of the sciences’ commercial practicality. In English, the word “science” simply means knowledge, so empirical knowledge must be king. Four stories high and 508,000 square feet wide, the science building sits in the elegance of new money.

Carroll Science, finished in 1901, was originally meant to be a new science hall. Eventually, the science departments outgrew the building, so the Marrs McLean Science building was built in 1963 for chemistry and physics. Then, like an invasive species, the sciences extended to Sid Richardson for biology, geology, math and physics. Finally in 2004, the $103.3 million BSB opened on Sept. 24.

Now Carroll Science is home to my beloved English department. The building is old and creaky. A place where one might imagine secret societies form. A building where dust accumulates and mysteries linger. The off-white stone, circular construction, yellowing walls, and spiral staircase create the feel of an antique furniture store or the comfort of being in your grandmother’s guest room. All the wood. All the portraits of long-dead writers that hang in various classrooms.

I’m making it sound haunted. But I think the environment is fitting for a humanities building to be full of old(ish) things, because old things do a good job of making us feel human. We read old books and climb the stairs to discuss our sleep-eyed readings. In discussion, texts I didn’t even particularly enjoy come alive—nuance seeps in and contextualization elecifies Medieval verse. Professors illuminate complexity and characterization. We conjecture and volley questions and possibilities back and forth. We bring our personal experience to understand connotation and draw upon a lexicon of prior myths and metaphors humans have written about to describe something close to what they feel when facts do not suffice. A classmate once said, “Sometimes it feels like we’re swimming in a sea of ambiguity in that class [British Literature],” but it is a swim I love.

The leisure of the summer activity of reading charged with fierce and friendly intellectualism. I’m allowed to feel, think, have opinions in literature class; I do not have to suspend my personhood for the higher pursuit of objectiveness. That’s why I love it, that’s why I like existing best in Carroll Science.

This is not to say that science is a clinical evil simply because I do not enjoy it. I’m grateful for its discovery and amazed by its tangible ingenuity. I’m thankful for the passion of others in the sciences. I see its value, because it is so tactile. I just feel most natural in a caffeinated rush of abstract and analytical thinking — thinking for thinking’s sake.

Dickens-like in characterization of appearance being indicative of values and beliefs, the English and science departments are symbolized in the very buildings in which they reside in accordance with their perceived value. Carroll Science, stoned in ivory and vertical in nature, representative of the dismissal of scholars in their ivory towers with no practical solutions, trying to colonize the humanities with the elite. Because a degree in the humanities does not easily translate to the job market, it can often be viewed as less accessible to those in the middle and lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The BSB’s grand edifice, located at the forefront of campus, emphasizes its broad influence and success. The humanities require less expense, so they will continue to bend towards the will of the more profitable departments. Look at our glittering, new $100 million 2015 business building. Naturally, the university will continue to invest in the most profitable schools. Realistically, individuals and or alumni with money most likely made it in business or medicine, so they will donate to advance those schools. It’s a value judgement rooted in economic value — the values of the green and gold.

Caroline Shurtleff


English major