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Staff Editorial: Your “STEM school” is showing, UMBC

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for clarification.

In a triumphant email to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s student population, administrators announced that the District Courthouse at the campus’ edge had been purchased and would be turned into a space to service “high-demand academic programs [including but] not limited to computing, cyber-security and engineering,” according to Vice President of Administration and Finance Lynne Schaefer.

This confirmed what UMBC’s humanities and social science students have known for ages: that our university prioritizes STEM over all other disciplines. 

Just looking around at our campus, we can see it. The Fine Arts elevators sat broken for months, a recurring phenomenon that has become something of a meme on our campus but is in actuality ableist and neglectful. And yet, on the coattails of the construction of the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences building, UMBC once again chooses to dedicate a space to STEM.

If you want further evidence of our institution privileging STEM, just follow the money. The Arts, Humanities and Social Science total budget was $39,796,930. The Engineering and Information Technology and Natural and Mathematical Sciences had a total combined budget of $46,064,518. The Meyerhoff program receives an additional $1,211,588.

And the budgetary increases from the FY 2019 budget to the 2020 budget are not equal across disciplines. There was a 6.75% increase in the College of Arts, Humanities and the Social Sciences budget from 2019 to 2020, while there was a 10.34% increase in the STEM budget.

Within the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, there are 23 undergraduate majors offered. Within the College of Engineering and Information Technology, there are six majors offered on UMBC’s campus. There are nine undergraduate majors offered within the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. 

Based on that breakdown of majors per college, there should be a huge number of buildings dedicated to disciplines under CAHSS. But gazing around our campus, we can see the discrepancies in campus investments. 

There are five buildings dedicated to the 23 undergraduate majors in CAHSS, while there are seven dedicated to serving the students enrolled in the 15 majors in all of STEM. Some may argue that the sciences bring in more money due to higher enrollment in those fields, but the issue itself is cyclical. If UMBC continues underinvesting in the arts and social sciences, the programs will shrink, and less people are likely to enroll as CAHSS students. 

As of the most current data, there are 3,744 undergraduate CAHSS students and a combined 6,369 undergraduate students in the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and College of Engineering and Information Technology. That is not, as some may think, a reason to focus more on STEM students, because it reflects the fact that potential CAHSS students are realizing that this school is not for them. UMBC needs to actively work toward shaking off the reductive label of “STEM school,” if our institution cares about collaboration and progress.

On our campus, the word “interdisciplinary” is utilized so often and in such a cavalier manner, that it basically has no meaning, especially if the university is indicating that studying STEM disciplines is more valuable. It is not enough to simply say that CAHSS students are valued, those statements need to be backed with financial support. 

This brings the conversation back to the District Courthouse. UMBC needs to reconsider what academic programs they house within the halls of the courthouse, considering UMBC has an excellent political science major that could benefit from being in a building specifically made for discussions of politics and law. It would send a significant message (beyond the mundane campus-wide emails), that UMBC cares enough about CAHSS to give their students the space to make and create, the same way they’ve given those spaces to STEM students.