Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

Yes, Non Natural Science Majors Do Matter

Breaking down the implicit academic hierarchy.

Dec 11, 2016

In the year and a half I’ve spent at NYU Abu Dhabi, I have become cognizant of an implicit academic hierarchy. The so-called hard sciences are placed at the top of this hierarchy, followed by the softer, fluffier ones. The social sciences occupy the unambitious mid-range and the arts and humanities are at the very bottom of this short but significant ladder.
Incidentally, this was the last thing I expected to encounter in our liberal arts college with its inescapable find-your-passion and follow-your-dreams mantra. Many might deem this sort of inequality in academia unjust. For others, it may be a mere reflection of the real-world applicability of each discipline, rather than an unfair classification. Regardless, the existence of this hierarchy is more or less established. Therefore, despite being tragically uninformed in many respects, I took it upon myself to examine the so-called validity of specific non-Science majors offered at NYUAD to determine whether or not this categorization of subjects is justified.
####Philosophy Many think of the discipline of philosophy as being unnecessarily romanticized. The simplistic way in which philosophy is often equated with thinking plays a significant role in its dismissal.
Philosophy students, however, are not avant-garde hippies who ponder abstract theories. From Descartes and Gandhi to Aristotle and Buddha, philosophers have played a substantial role in shaping human history, thought and consciousness. Disregarding philosophy, particularly in these changing times, reflects a painful ignorance of both the role of philosophy as an academic discipline and of philosophers as agents of social change.
####Art and Art History Like philosophy, art is often regarded as overrated and useless. Absurdly, we make these claims with very little understanding of what art encompasses. After seeing one work by Picasso and taking a selfie under the Sistine Chapel, we consider ourselves experts on the subject of art. However, the history of art is entwined with the history of socio-political change. Both the creation and destruction of art have had tangible impacts on ideology formation and political mobilization.
And this is by no means restricted to the past. The Danish cartoon controversy, Dread Scott’s What Is the Proper Way to Display a US Flag? and ISIL’s demolition of Nimrud demonstrate examples of the profound effect art has had in the so-called real world.
####Film and New Media A major criticism leveled at the disciplines I have outlined so far is their perceived lack of real-world value. Film is no exception. It bears noting that films do more than offer an escape from reality. They provide platforms for social debate and influence our perceptions. A Short Film About Killing for instance, is credited as being instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in Poland. The heavily satirical Four Lions forces viewers to challenge their perceptions of terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
It must be underscored here that Film and New Media students don’t simply binge-watch movies and whip up one-page responses on them over popcorn. Rest assured, they are tackling complex work, even if they aren’t computing mathematical problems.
####History The major problem with history, as the general trope goes, lies in its irrelevance. The inaccurate assumption underpinning this sentiment is that past events rarely affect the present.
But contemporary events quickly reveal the fallacy of that assumption. For instance, present day conflicts between Syria and Lebanon, Israel and Palestine and Pakistan and India, to name a few, have much to do with the arbitrary divisions that were demarcated by erstwhile colonial powers. Evidently, an allegation of inconsequence is one that would not hold, as far as history and historiography are concerned.

I will be the first to admit that the descriptions I’ve outlined are somewhat simplistic, and do not necessarily capture the rigor or essence of the aforementioned majors adequately.
It is also not my intention to disparage the natural sciences, or self-labeled Fossies, whose class schedules have come to acquire a mythical status on campus. However, it should be evident by now that each discipline encourages a different mode of analysis and critical thinking. Rather than hierarchize them with respect to their workload, course requirements and future employment prospects, we must recognize that they are equally valuable and pertinent. Giving each area of study its due and acknowledging its contribution to the production of knowledge is the first step in navigating an education scene that is steadily becoming more interdisciplinary today.
Safa Salim is a contributing writer. Email her at
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