There are few degrees which generate as many unfunny “jokes” as a Bachelor of Arts.
When I began my study in 2015, I heard them all - repeatedly - for the three years it took me to double major in English literature and media studies.
How a BA stands for “Bugger All”, how I would end up asking “do you want fries with that” while my Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) peers were busy solving the secrets of the universe and making hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But nothing could be further from the truth. My Bachelor of Arts degree opened doors for me.
It gave me solid, concrete skills like writing and research, yes. But it also taught me more abstract skills.
It taught me to grapple with complex concepts of race, gender and culture - to look outside of my own experience and develop empathy and an understanding of other people throughout history and into modernity.
Over the last three years, the world has moved away from absolute truth. Objective facts no longer hold the same weight they did, and the internet means conspiracy and lies are at our fingertips, all day, every day, all over the world.
With our feet now firmly in the “post-truth” era, with new divides opening among people every day, I would argue that studying arts and humanities is more crucial than it has ever been.
My BA taught me how to critically analyse media - to understand the source of an argument and think about where that person may be coming from, what their aim in writing that was, and to whom they were trying to speak or convince.
It taught me how to fact-check, how to read between the lines of an argument and pick it apart, and it taught me to empathise with people whose views differed from my own.
But the humanities are much more than that - think about how you choose to enjoy yourself. What do you consume, other than food?
You consume media. Books, television, music, films. Art galleries, libraries, the news. It’s all media and it’s all humanities.
Humanities open the doors to enjoyment. The people who create these things are experts, and if you choose to study it yourself, it gives you a deeper appreciation for their craft.
Often, people don’t even realise what they’re consuming, how it got there and who made it. For example, this morning Nick Mills opened his Wellington Mornings show by reading an article I wrote about the proposal to cut jobs and programmes from Victoria University.
Soon after, a caller rang up and began to critique BAs, citing all the same “jokes” I’ve heard for years - completely unaware that the show had opened with the work of one of these burger-flipping, “bugger-all” students.
Of the 59 programmes up for review at Victoria University of Wellington, the majority of them are humanities-based. The humanities have already been drastically underfunded, and you only have to visit a campus to see it.
Humanities lecture halls are hidden in the bowels of elderly buildings while science and engineering get gleaming glass and steel structures erected brand new seemingly every two years.
I am not trying to criticise Stem majors – obviously what they do is important, and only a fool would deny that it was. But I am saying that Stem will always be fine. They are not the ones we need to be concerned about, because they are not at risk.
People can see where the money is with Stem - the humanities offer more than money in the pocket, but sadly monetary value holds more weight than the cultural value offered by the arts.
Dougal McNeill, the branch president of the Tertiary Education Union, told NZME yesterday that with the job losses and programme cuts, the students will be the ones who suffer from a lack of diversity and richness in their education - but that loss will bleed through to society as a whole.
Without the arts, our lives lose richness and colour - and that is why funding them at the root is so crucial.