ASPEN, Colo.—The Chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, formerly spent years as a professor at Columbia University. In an Aspen Ideas Festival* panel on the state of the humanities, he summed up the difference between Ivy Leaguers in New York City and graduates of the institution he now runs. "You know, the tradition at Columbia is that you read Aristotle and then you go to Goldman Sachs," he said. "And the dream at Berkeley is to do social work and then go work for Google or Facebook."
He added, "All the stereotypes have a lot of truth to them. What I do find interesting is that at Berkeley, about 70 percent of students are taking some computer science across the curriculum. And this, I think, is a national phenomenon. At Stanford I think it's 90 percent, but that's Stanford. But we're actually trying to introduce data science and data analytics into the core arts and sciences curriculum."
He also noted the decline in English majors at his rival institution:
At Berkeley we often compare ourselves, or at least we look across the bay, at Stanford... and it turns out that this year, there are only 60 English majors at Stanford. So even in a place where you can sort of assume that students are going to get jobs, they are just leaving the humanities in droves. And I was struck because that isn't happening at Berkeley. Students are staying with it, they are staying with their passion, they're constantly doing what their passion leads them to do. A lot of Berkeley students will graduate from college and go into public service. More teach for America volunteers than any campus in the US. There's a very strong ethos of public service or following your dream.
But you know, they want to get jobs and they need to get jobs. So I think what we see increasingly are reflected in the numbers. There's going to be growing pressure for students to think about a double major. In fact, there is an explosion of double majors. You'll see a lot of students who will major in philosophy and economics. There are a lot of students who would love to be able to major in computer science or engineering and something in the humanities.
* The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute are co-hosts of the Aspen Ideas Festival.