An unnamed engineering lecturer at the University of Canterbury (UC) was criticised after showing students a PowerPoint presentation in which a slide displayed the words: “If engineering was easy, they’d call it Arts instead.”
The slide was brought to the public’s attention after Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Auckland (UA) Luke Goode released a photograph of it on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Dear Canterbury Uni NZ Arts colleagues: apparently this is how your Engineering colleagues think it’s appropriate to talk about you and your students to their new students,” he wrote to accompany the photo.
The Twitter thread sparked debate from students and educators, some appalled at the engineering lecturer and others defending him.
If art was easy, they’d use better colour contrast with the words “Engineering” and “Arts”.
— Chris Trottier (@atomicpoet) February 22, 2018
Many argued society would crumble without the influence of arts, however, others claimed Goode was overreacting to the slide.
Goode acknowledged the slide was likely displayed in jest as “harmless banter” but added later: “in the context of an ideological war on critical thinking coupled with the anti-intellectualism that infects [New Zealand], it infuriates me.”
Allowing the Twitter storm to die down, Goode waited a day before going back to the microblogging site to clarify his stance that neither degree path is necessarily “harder”. The issue, he said, lies in the fact society values science-based subjects higher than the arts.
“I’m sorry if any person or institution felt singled out for criticism. It was just an example of a much wider problem of the way non-science subjects are devalued in our society,” he wrote.
“The arts include diverse subjects across the humanities, social sciences and languages. But the controversy revealed how widely the arts is misunderstood as just the study of art.”
He found it both “depressing and darkly amusing” to see the huge response the tweet created.
“Unfortunately the tweet generated much futile bickering about which academic subjects are ‘harder’ and which students are ‘smarter’. The real issue I was trying to raise was the importance of mutual respect for the different skills and contributions of all subjects.
“Dialogue and collaboration across disciplines is vital for creating a smarter society. As academics, myself included, we should all be working harder to facilitate that,” Goode concluded.
An anonymous student told Stuff the slide was clearly a joke.
“It was said very much in jest, and as a nod to the friendly rivalry between the different disciplines,” the student said, adding the lecturer remarked he would have been unable to pass a BA as easily as he passed engineering.
“The whole scenario has been blown way out of proportion and no one’s to blame,” the student said.
The lecturer has not been publicly named nor has he commented, however, Stuff reported the university is not taking the matter lightly.