When the University announced that President Herbst would be resigning, I was interested to see who her replacement would be. I went into the process with an open mind, unsure of what to expect of her successor. Now knowing that Thomas Katsouleas will be our next president, I’m certain that he will do an excellent job; however, I can’t help but feel anxious about UConn’s dwindling support for the liberal arts in favor of STEM. There is no doubt that Katsouleas is a man of outstanding merit. With a doctorate in physics, multiple fellowships, and over 250 co-authored publications, it is certain that he’s deeply involved in academia and knows his way around a university. What worries me is his field: STEM. He’s a leading scholar in the field of plasma science and has years of meaningful experience under his belt. His election by the Board of Trustees and his support from Governor Ned Lamont has proven just how dedicated UConn is to STEM.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is a field that is growing quickly and there is a nationwide push to get more students (especially young women) excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. UConn has already proven its commitment to this cause with a goal to hire 200 new STEM faculty, renovate or create buildings for multiple disciplines, construct new laboratories for STEM purposes, invent a new STEM honors program and more with the Next Generation Connecticut project which was started by former Governor Dannel Malloy. Evidence of progress is clear: The renovations of the Gant complex have begun, and a whole dorm building dedicated to STEM students has been erected. However, I can’t help but notice the disparity of facilities when I look at Werth’s air conditioning, bigger rooms, wider hallways and pretty much everything else compared to my classes in aging and outdated buildings like Arjona. I can’t help but feel jealous knowing for certain that the Bio/Physics Building and other surrounding buildings are being renovated, and not knowing for sure if or when liberal arts facilities will be upgraded to be as big of a priority as STEM facilities. When I think of Werth, I don’t just think of success: I think of obvious favoritism and a blindness towards older buildings and programs in favor of shiny new buildings that will make the University look better to applicants. I think of how liberal arts classes are scattered across campus (some being too big for the corresponding facilities), how related learning communities are shut out of Werth and how UConn’s goals of giving students a well-rounded education clash with the realities it’s forced to face and prioritizations it has to make because of budget cuts and state debt. I don’t think that STEM is the only field dominating UConn and being treated better than the liberal arts; I think the School of Business is significantly better equipped to suit the needs of a 21st century education. I’m also not arguing that the only field suffering is the liberal arts; I look at the School of Engineering buildings and how desperately they need renovation as well.
As a student majoring in both the liberal arts and sciences, I don’t want to pit fields against one another or make it seem like I’m completely biased against one side and in favor of another. It’s easy for anyone to see how differently the University treats STEM programs compared to the liberal arts. What I hope for with President Katsouleas is change: Focusing on not just creating new buildings, but remembering that the old ones are still in need of help and renovations. I want him to display a similar love for the liberal arts rather than a bias against them. I hope he will be able to unite the UConn community, rather than dividing it any further and alienating a large number of students. If anything, I’m wishing for a better UConn for every student, no matter what major; and I’m confident President Katsouleas will be able to take these widespread concerns into consideration.
Liz Collins is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.