Commentary  Open Letter: Don’t dismantle Humanistic Studies

Dear Professor Manfredi and the Faculty of Arts Curriculum Committee:

I am writing to express my disappointment upon hearing that there has been a recommendation to dismantle the Humanistic Studies Program. As a graduate of Humanistic Studies (BA’ 06), I was lucky to experience the rewards and intellectual challenges of the program firsthand. I sincerely hope that this opportunity will continue to be made available to McGill students.

Coming out of CEGEP, I was offered a scholarship to study out of province, but I choose McGill because I was interested in its Humanistic Studies Program. The program provides motivated students with an opportunity to study in an interdisciplinary environment. For students with an interest in the liberal arts and who are not eligible for the Arts Legacy Program (all students from Quebec), Humanistic Studies is also the only English alternative in the province to Concordia’s Liberal Arts Program.

As president and co-founder of the Humanistic Studies Student Association, I often heard concerns from students and faculty that the program lacks academic rigour and does not prepare its graduates for graduate school or the work world. I could offer a simplistic rebuttal and say that we are well prepared because we go on to accomplish great things, or that in today’s world the challenges of finding employment in one’s field is just as difficult for the economics grad. However, I would argue that this misses the point.

McGill distinguishes itself from other institutions in that it values the art of learning for its own sake. An Arts degree is not a professional training program. It is an exercise in intellectual curiosity. Also, how many times are students told that McGill “doesn’t hold your hand” and “won’t baby you”? This do-it-yourself model can be intimidating at first, but in the end it is highly rewarding because our accomplishments are our own.

When I was enrolled in the Humanistic Studies Program, it was my responsibility to build my curriculum and choose appropriate courses with the help of my advisor. I never felt that this meant my program lacked rigour. If anything, it felt quite the opposite. My program required me to think critically even at the planning stages of my schedule. If Humanistic Studies creates additional challenges for students, we should not shy away from them. They should be seen as further opportunities for students to take greater ownership of their education and to be responsible for what they study.

I could have been lazy and abused the flexibility of the program, but I wasn’t, and neither are many of the students in the program. With the utmost respect for the Curriculum Committee, I would suggest that the focus of a review of Humanistic Studies should be on improving the current program, and not on disciplining students who are supposedly looking for an easy way out. If they do not use Humanistic Studies, they will find another way.

Dismantling Humanistic Studies because some students are unable to use it properly will ultimately penalize some of McGill’s most outstanding students and deny them the opportunity to excel in a unique and enriching program. If McGill gives students the freedom to take their education into their own hands in their individual courses, why should we not also have this freedom in our choice of programs?

Sarah Berger Richardson is a Law I student, a BA ’06 Humanistic Studies graduate, and a co-founder and former president of the McGill Humanistic Studies Student Association. She can be reached at