The relevance of Art and Humanities in a Science and Technology University
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology which started as the Kumasi College of Technology in October, 1951 began formal operations in January 1952. The College began with the establishment of School of Engineering and Department of Commerce in 1952 with a later establishment of Departments of Pharmacy and Agriculture; General Studies; Town Planning and Building and the Faculty of Science.
In 1958, as Kumasi College of Technology made strides, a decision was taken to give the institution a Science and Technology orientation. This therefore necessitated the relocation of the Department of Commerce to form the present day University of Ghana Business School.
Today, more than half a century later, KNUST does not only have an entity similar to the erstwhile Department of Commerce in KNUST School of Business, but has also introduced disciplines like Law, Sociology and Social Work, Economics, Religion, History, Political Studies, English, French and Akan. These disciplines and Art together constitute about 30% of the student strength of the University.
This state of affairs has made proponents and supporters of KNUST’s Science and Technology orientation question the existence, expansion and relevance of the Humanities and Art in such an institution. The question to ask then is, is the fear of these people real and justifiable? To answer these, it is imperative to find out what a University is and what it is set up to do.
A University is an institution of higher learning and research which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects (Wikipedia). On the objectives of modern Universities, the 1963 Robbing Report on Universities in the United Kingdom, offers four main objectives essential to a properly balanced system viz, instruction in skills, the promotion of general powers of the mind so as to produce not merely specialists but rather cultivated men and women, to maintain research in balance with teaching, and to transmit a common culture and common stands of citizenship.”
It is pertinent to note that, for a university to be truly international, it must offer programmes in both the sciences and humanities. Even though a university may have its own bias, the inclusion of other disciplines in its curricula makes it fulfil its objective of providing holistic education.
Most world class science and technology universities offer the humanities, including religion and divinity. In fact, most of them began as either Colleges of Theology as in the case of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Divinity Schools as in the case of Emory and Harvard in the USA. Even the world acclaimed technical university, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs undergraduate and post graduate programmes in Philosophy and Religious Studies. Tokyo University, which is essentially science and technology biased, has a Department of Philosophy and Religion in the Faculty of Letters.
In Ghana, the universities are expanding their operations by adding on disciplines which were not originally spelt out in their mandates, in response to the international precedence set to ensure holistic training. The University of Ghana, for instance, which was basically for liberal arts, has introduced engineering and pharmaceutical sciences while the University of Cape Coast, which was originally mandated to train teachers for second-cycle institutions, now has a School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Law, and offers a Doctor of Optometry (DO) programme. Ironically, it started a Doctor of Optometry programme before KNUST did same. As is noted above the University of Science and Technology as we have it today started as a Technical college with Art, Business and later included Agriculture in the 1960s. The later inclusion of the Humanities and Social Sciences at KNUST thus follows the wisdom of the original objective of the University and the global trend and so should not be deemed to be an odd situation.