Published Monday, Sep. 07, 2015 3:00AM EDT
Who would have thought it would come to this? Academics around the world are having to explain why there is value in studying history, English, philosophy, psychology, creative arts and the other subjects that collectively make up what is referred to as the liberal arts, or the humanities and social sciences. It is the equivalent of masons having to justify mortar and plumbers having to justify pipes.
The exhilaration of the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries has been replaced by the nervousness of what appears to be an Age of Justification in the 21st century. Moderm society’s love of innovative gadgets and apps, pronouncements that youth can now be taught on the Internet (and possibly become high-profile entrepreneurs to boot), and social media outpourings that give falsehoods as much airplay as truths, have created a cocktail of rhetoric for critics who are sure that a liberal arts degree is a worthless investment.
The Age of Enlightenment was about the growth of literacy, and the expanding awareness of diversity and knowledge in cultural, literary and scientific thought. The Age of Justification appears to have as its worrisome centrepiece the belief that the value of something exists only when viewed through a prescribed lens at the current moment.
We all agree that there should be good rationales for public expenditures. But there are problems if, in trying to justify something, we fail to take into account all the relevant information.
First, a liberal arts degree is a great economic investment. This year the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa published an analysis of the annual earnings, over 13 years, of 1998 graduates. The data showed that earnings of social sciences graduates doubled over 13 years to $80,000, the same average earning of math and science grads.
The data also show a worrisome gender-based difference, with men out-earning women by 15 per cent to 20 per cent across all disciplines. Over the 13-year period the average annual earnings of a man with a humanities degree reached just over $80,000, compared with $75,000 on average for a woman with an engineering or computer science degree. Such findings deserve more research, of the kind our country’s social scientists and humanists are increasingly engaged in.
Provincial university systems also track graduate performance. In Ontario today, two years after graduation, employment rates for all university grads average 94 per cent, and 92 per cent for those in the humanities. Ontario university grads earn on average $1.1-million more over their lifetimes than other postsecondary graduates, and $1.5-million more than high-school grads. University does make financial sense.
Second, as a multicultural country playing in the global arena, Canada needs a citizenry that learns and studies human differences, social behaviours, and cultural traditions. It needs a citizenry that encourages respect for human rights, and encourages artistic creation and appreciation of the arts. The humanities and social sciences engage in these intersections, and contribute to what makes us human.
At the University of Windsor, our Cross-Border Institute is looking at technological, legal and public-policy issues involved in moving people and goods from one country to another. Our research and education programs to prevent sexual violence against women are getting at one of the biggest realities any society must confront. Both undertakings address matters critical to Canada’s future, and rely heavily upon insights from the social sciences and humanities.
Third, the perceived crisis in the value of liberal arts must be viewed through the lens of globalization. Enterprises, from manufacturing to service-sector jobs, continually migrate to lower-cost countries. This reduces the prices of goods and services and expands markets, but it also puts people out of work.
The suggestion that the best anodyne for this is STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, math) and more skilled-trades graduates misses the reality that liberal arts have as their foundation the encouragement of communication, writing and out-of-the-box thinking. If you visit universities across Asia, you’ll find that liberal arts programs are taking off.
For example, the National University of Singapore and Yale University have partnered to open a liberal arts campus in Singapore. Across China, Japan, South Korea and other countries, new partnerships focused on liberal arts are emerging. Increasingly around the world, the liberal arts are not being seen as passé, but rather as essential. Our world depends upon and needs STEM expertise, but what it really needs is STEAM, with the arts included.
We undervalue the liberal arts at our peril. In his 1902 book Human Nature and the Social Order, sociologist Charles Cooley proposed the concept of the looking-glass self, which states that humans acquire their sense of self through social interactions and by what others think of them. Mr. Cooley would likely be intrigued, and feel that his concept has been verified, by the addiction of peering into cellphone screens. Humans are indeed social creatures.
A degree in the liberal arts, with its focus on the broad spectrum of human endeavour, has never been needed more. It is one of society’s best investments in helping to ensure that our self-reflections are broad, and that in this Age of Justification, we do not forget the importance of enlightenment and reason.
Photo Credit: Nick Brancaccio/The Windsor Star
Aug 30, 2015 – 6:19 PM EDT
The University of Windsor is offering a certificate program designed to steer local professionals and students through the murky waters of international trade.
The process of getting goods across the border is more than showing a passport and declaring whether there are weapons, tobacco or large amounts of cash on hand, said Bill Anderson, the director of the Cross-Border Institute at the University of Windsor. Companies often have to work through a maze of regulations and paperwork in order to ship to the United States and can find the task intimidating.
Anderson said the Border Management and International Trade Certificate will enable students how to work through those challenges and pass that knowledge on to local businesses.
“Obviously, if you’re talking to someone from (a company like) Chrysler, they have experts in getting goods across the border,” Anderson said. “Smaller firms don’t have that expertise on hand, so they run into a lot of problems.”
In order to attract working professionals, the course is being offered in a traditional classroom setting on weekends or through the Internet. It takes one month to get through each of the eight modules, Anderson said.
“We’re trying to appeal to the people who are out there already and would like to become the person in their organization who knows about the border,” he said.
Alicia Pomeroy is one of those young professionals enrolled in the certificate program this fall.
Pomeroy graduated from the University of Windsor in 2009, earning her chartered accountant designation in 2013. She’s currently working in the accounts payable department at the university though she has an eye on one day branching out.
“I’m taking the courses for my future,” Pomeroy said. “With globalization, opportunities for international trade are only going to increase.”
She enrolled in the class last January and is more than halfway through to her designation as a Certified International Trade Professional with a federally sanctioned professional organization called the Forum for International Trade Training.
“I’m enjoying the program, it’s a lot different than any of the undergraduate programs I took in business,” Pomeroy said. “The courses are interactive and are based on class discussion. You still get the foundational knowledge, but a lot of learning comes from discussion.”
Pomeroy said the program mixes practical skills about proper procedures with theoretical talks on issues related to moving goods across the border.
“It’s not just about studying for an exam,” she said. “You’re retaining the knowledge and applying it to your daily life without realizing you’ve technically learned something.”
As students leave the program, they’ll be able to help businesses tap into the multibillion-dollar trade that’s already crossing the border, Anderson said.
Ontario exports into Michigan alone were valued at $45 billion and represented 27 per cent of the province’s $166 billion in total exports to the U.S in 2014, Statistics Canada reported.
Knowing how to get goods across the border can only benefit small and medium-sized business, said Matt Marchand, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“We are a trading area,” Marchand said. “Windsor-Essex is one of the most important trading areas in North America. This program is a great opportunity to expand on this as we go forward.”
Anderson said infrastructure like the Herb Gray Parkway and the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge will only further the border’s importance to the region.
“Businesses in Windsor and Essex County have to be prepared to move goods and people across the border,” he said. “We’re remote when it comes to Ontario, but very well placed to go after big markets in the Great Lakes states. We need to use the border and not let it be an impediment.”
Aug 06, 2015 – 5:25 PM EDT
The University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute is hoping to make life simpler for those shipping goods across the U.S. border with a program aimed at predicting bottlenecks at the border long before they occur.
The institute received funding for the project from the federal government (FedDev Ontario) and has been collecting data from remote sensors at the Ambassador Bridge since May.
“What we’d like to do is to design a program that can tell you what the border is like now, but also what it’ll be like in a couple of hours,” said Prof. Bill Anderson, director of the Cross-Border Institute.
“With that type of information someone trying to get products across the border could see a projected delay and change their plans to avoid a bottleneck.”
Anderson said university researchers have been working on getting the study up and running for a couple years. The five solar-powered, wireless remote sensors attached to poles along Huron Church Road are transmitting real-time information on every truck leaving and getting on the bridge.
The institute’s researchers are plugging that data into mathematical models on traffic flow to look for patterns.
“It’s an IT intensive research centre for traffic in the border region,” Anderson said. “The main reason this can be useful is so much is dependent on movement across the border, particularly by truck.
“I think it’ll be extremely beneficial to the automotive industry, with its just-in-time delivery system that interconnects plants on both sides of the border. It’ll also helps the agricultural industry dealing in perishable goods.”
The project cost about $100,000 to get up and running. Anderson said it’ll take about a year before the system will have collected enough data to make some definitive conclusions.
In addition to helping the transportation industry and the customers it’s serving, Anderson said having more information will benefit border agencies. Such information could help in planning staffing-level needs or react more quickly to avert situations that could lead to traffic snafus.
“Ultimately, we’re looking to integrate this with other information already out there,” Anderson said. “We’re working with Transport Canada on using GPS information from trucks to help give us a better picture further away from the border. We believe we can give truck drivers as far away as London an idea of what they might be heading into.
“For trucks coming from the GTA, that might mean taking the Blue Water Bridge instead of the Ambassador Bridge or the reverse.”
Anderson said the information will be communicated instantly through any computer or mobile device.
“We welcome anything that improves transparency and predictability at the border,” said Jennifer Fox, vice-president for trade and security for the Ontario Trucking Association.
“Having predictability at the border is what breeds efficiency. It’ll help in planning different routes, when to load and off-load and knowing where the delays are.”
Fox said the OTA is particularly pleased to hear that the information will be easily accessible.
“Communication is critically important,” Fox said. “If it’ll be that readily available, it’ll provide some real gains.
“It won’t be a cure-all, because truckers are still beholden to get goods to their customers when they need it, but this sounds very interesting.”
Anderson said now the study will focus only on trucks, though the equipment can also track cars.
He said there have been talks with Michigan’s Department of Transportation about having remote sensors on American soil and accessing truck information on the U.S. side.
The ultimate goal is to create an information corridor for traffic flowing through Michigan and Ontario by plugging in truck monitors already in existence along highways leading to the border.
“They (Americans) haven’t signed an agreement to anything yet, but we’re all interested in making things flow smoother across the border,” Anderson said.
“This actually is a pretty simple idea to improve things and reduce costly delays.”