Opinion: Why business needs the humanities: Focusing on STEM degrees has its own economic cost

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Students and pedestrians walking along Gould St. on the Toronto Metropolitan University campus on Jan 22.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ira Wells teaches in the Vic One program of the University of Toronto.

Imagine you are 17 years old and bound for university. You were born in 2006, two years before the economic meltdown. You are smart, industrious and, if we’re being honest, a little freaked about the future. Your life has played out against the drumbeat of disruption, economic precarity, skyrocketing real-estate prices, a youth mental health crisis and a global pandemic.

You’ve heard that AI is coming for the jobs. You know a “career,” singular, is a relic of the boomer past. And you know – because this has been drilled into you since entering your first classroom – that STEM skills, especially coding, will be your meal ticket. The humanities – art, literature, philosophy, history – are interesting subjects, sure, but stuff you can explore on your own time (or not). Your parents have probably made this clear.

You are far from alone. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAA&S), the traditional humanities subjects of English, history, philosophy and foreign languages and literature amounted to 4 per cent of postsecondary degrees in 2020. At many name-brand American institutions – Tufts, Notre Dame, Boston University – humanities graduates have declined by half since 2012.

According to Rob Townsend, director of the humanities, arts and culture program at the AAA&S, “we’re reaching a kind of existential tipping point for a lot of departments that could lead to their elimination.”

Things aren’t much better in Canada. As a share of all postsecondary students, humanities enrollments have dropped by 50 per cent over the last 30 years, according to data from Statistics Canada. Even as overall postsecondary enrollments have dramatically grown, the humanities have continued to shrink.

“Between 2010-11 and 2020-21, enrollment in humanities was down 27 per cent,” states the 2023 annual report of Higher Education Strategy Associates, “while social sciences increased by 17 per cent, business by 16 per cent, health by 26 per cent, engineering by 43 per cent and science by 47 per cent.”

Traditional thinking once held that the health of the humanities tracked with the economy. Yet as Nathan Heller observed in a much-discussed New Yorker article, “The End of the English Major,” that has

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Opinion: Twitter was once a valuable business tool; X is now a mess

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SpaceX, Twitter and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk, left, during his visit at the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, on June 16, and the new Twitter logo rebranded as X, on a screen in Paris on July 24.ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

Rob Csernyik is a 2022 Michener-Deacon fellow and a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

The recent past when using Twitter played a lucrative economic role in my career feels like a distant memory. For instance, in 2020, I tweeted a story idea out to my followers, expecting little. Instead, more than 400 people liked the post and among the comments was a message from a magazine editor. Using fewer than 280 characters, I secured a story commission for a national publication and a four-figure paycheque.

Recently, after a year of Elon Musk’s flights of fancy, the platform now called X doesn’t feel like the same place that steered me toward two long-term freelance gigs as well as one-off gigs that have made a material difference to my income. It’s not the same place where it felt like clever entrepreneurs could build their brand or profile as well as their business.

Instead, as the community and engagement my account once had slow to a trickle, I am also consistently tagged in the imaginary moneymaking schemes of crypto scammers. This fantasy is the most frequent “business opportunity” that I cross paths with there today.

A lot of long-term users have been quick to eulogize the worlds they built on the erstwhile Twitter, rushing to replicate them on similar apps. But filling voids of community and conversation is one thing, and replacing professional opportunities is another entirely.

That’s why I’m mourning the economic usefulness of Twitter, as the platform is still informally known. I can keep in touch with people in myriad ways, yet I can’t pull work out of thin air. The prospect of professional opportunities kept me logging in and without them, the appeal is gone.

Mr. Musk’s decisions, from the rushed revamp of the verification system to limits on what account holders can do without paying subscription fees, have been fickle and roundly criticized by users. They have also negatively affected his investment in the platform. Reuters recently reported that monthly U.S. ad revenue declined by more than half every

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Opinion: Small business pandemic loans must be repaid in full, even if companies risk going under

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A person walks in Kensington Market in Toronto on April 15, 2020. New Democrats and a business group are calling on the federal government to extend the deadline for small businesses to repay loans they received from a pandemic support program.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Gus Carlson is a U.S.-based columnist for The Globe and Mail.

Just as there’s no crying in baseball, no “I” in team and no place like home, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Like so many sensibilities tested by the pandemic, however, this basic tenet of free-market economics – and point on the moral compass that guides the conduct of most reasonable people – is under fire, and unjustifiably so.

Consider the pushback by a coalition of businesses on the repayment of pandemic-era interest-free loans of either $40,000 or $60,000 from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Ottawa says businesses that repay their obligations by Dec. 31 will have either $10,000 or $20,000 forgiven. After that, there will be no forgiveness and interest will accrue at the rate of 5 per cent.

Many lenders would say that’s a pretty good deal – maybe not a free lunch but a nicely discounted one. But it isn’t sweet enough for some business owners, who are asking Ottawa to extend the interest-free provision or even forgive a greater portion of these loans. This is needed especially, some businesses say, because the enterprises that stepped up to the CEBA trough are more likely to be owned by women and marginalized groups.

To be sure, the dilemma is something of a Gordian knot. Balancing the needs of the few with those of the many is never an easy task. And with some businesses that took CEBA loans facing extinction if the repayment terms aren’t eased, it’s a matter of the many picking their poison for the government – prop up the program or face a heavier unemployment burden.

Extending CEBA deadline would help marginalized businesses, groups say

For some, the moral dilemma on the part of Ottawa is real. One small-business owner told The Globe and Mail last week that she was wrestling with the decision of whether to repay her loan or invest in her company to take advantage of improving market conditions. Unlike some businesses, she at least seems to have a choice – even if there is only one

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Opinion: We are being asked to tip on everything these days. We shouldn’t

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Tipping prompts are becoming more ubiquitous and are no longer confined to full-service businesses such as restaurants and bars, but are becoming more common in self-service or minimal-service locations.STEFANI REYNOLDS

Gus Carlson is a U.S.-based columnist for The Globe and Mail.

Some people call it “tip-flation.” Others refer to it as “guilt tipping.” Still others consider it retail extortion.

Whatever the label of choice, for anyone who has been on the losing end of a stickup by a server wielding a hand-held credit-card reader prompting a tip or a self-service kiosk giving you a not-so-subtle digital squeeze, the practice is, at the very least, annoying.

A more critical view, though, is that this phenomenon is a reflection of the continuing labour crunch and companies’ self-serving way of solving it: Instead of paying more to attract workers, they are off-loading that task to their customers.

Aggressive digital tip-trawling is becoming prevalent not only in full-service locations, such as restaurants and bars, but in self-service or minimal-service locations such as coffee shops, corner stores, gas station mini-marts, dry cleaners and even supermarket self-checkout areas.

In some cases, the exercise is so absurd, you might feel you are part of a hidden-camera prank. How much do I tip if I pour my own coffee, put the cream in the cup myself, stir it myself, slip the ribbed cardboard heat-protection sleeve onto the cup myself, snap the to-go sippy cap on myself, walk to the checkout myself and insert my debit card into the machine myself? The spinning card reader on the counter will happily help me with suggested options – anywhere from 10 per cent to 30 per cent. Cue Allen Funt.

Or, if I am feeling contrarian, I can choose the “no tip” option, which is sure to bring scornful looks from behind the counter and whispered suggestions that I am a shameful human.

The practice of auto-tipping proliferated during the pandemic, when employers and consumers were eager to support their local service workers and when digital payment options enabled compliance with social-distancing guidelines and buoyed no-contact service. But it never went away. And at this point, there is no known vaccine for it.

If anything, the practice has picked up steam. Square, the payment-processing company, says that for establishments with only counter service tips have increased 17 per cent, largely because of the use of

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Enterprise News, Footage, Evaluation & Opinion

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Investor sentiment suffered a jolt following a promote-off in global markets after US President Donald Trump threatened to impose extra tariffs on Chinese language items, which Beijing vowed to retaliate. Content copyright © Journal Media Ltd. 2018 Registered in Dublin, registration number: 483623. Registered office: third floor, Latin Corridor, Golden Lane, Dublin eight.

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