In September 1985, a major student conference was held at the University of Waterloo. Organized by the now defunct Canadian Studies program, the conference was supported by a number of faculty members associated with the Centre for Society, Technology and Values (CSTV), including director Larry Haworth.
The National Student Conference on Science, Technology and Ethics brought together more than 40 undergraduates from across Canada. David Suzuki presented the keynote address to an audience of 4,700 (no, that’s not a typo) at the University’s Physical Activities Complex.
At the end of the conference, delegates issued a communiqué, addressed to university administrators and provincial education ministers. In it, they protested that “the value of critical thought has been supplanted by an emphasis on the technical, mechanical and managerial skills needed for the marketplace.” They claimed that they left university “with a very limited conception of ourselves and the world around us.”
What did these students fear most? “Moral distance.” Their solution: “the implementation of a more broadly based undergraduate program.”
In the closing resolution, they stated: “We feel that all Canadian students in their respective disciplines should not only be encouraged but required to break the myopia of narrow disciplines…. We strongly urge you to encourage and/or implement programs to answer this need expressed by Canadian students.”
How should this resolution be understood? The author of the CSTV Newsletter of January 17, 1986 said this: “The resolution urges that students in science and technology programs receive greater exposure to the humanities and that students in arts programs similarly become much better prepared in contemporary science and technology.”
CSTV was founded in response to a need—and not one expressed only by instructors and researchers. The students didn’t feel that they were getting what they needed, either. In 2017, many students feel exactly the way those students did in 1985.
CSTV doesn’t see many Arts students in its classes, so we aren’t privy to humanities-based angst. (We don’t see many Science students, either. We’d be most happy to see many more of each, because each group offers valuable perspectives.) Most of the students in STV courses are from Engineering, Math, and Applied Health Sciences—so not quite the divide seen when the Centre began.
This isn’t a cheap plug for STV courses. These classes fill up every term, most with waiting lists—some with LONG waiting lists. And taking STV courses isn’t the only solution or even necessarily the best.
The most joyful undergrads I see every year are the students who join the University Choir. (Actually, any choir. The a cappella groups on campus seem pretty happy, too.) Bottom line: ALL students are people, with a whole host of interests and talents and abilities. Let’s find ways to nourish the entire person.