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Rick Scott, Education & Liberal Arts

Posted by Peter Brian Barry on

Peter Brian Barry

Peter Brian Barry

Current Florida governor Rick Scott infuriated anthropologists following reports Monday that he is calling for university programs in anthropology should suffer decreased funding if not outright elimination. Why?

The Republican's rationale predictably appealed to jobs on the grounds that "If I'm going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I'm going to take that money to create jobs… So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state."

More generally, funding should be directed towards technology and engineering and science departments and away from less "jobby" departments like anthropology, psychology, political science and, well, philosophy.

Anthropologists quickly complained that Governor Scott doesn't understand their work and what they do. The media quickly picked up on the fact that Scott's own daughter has an anthropology degree and found work. Florida Republicans quickly fell in line.

Academics in the humanities and social sciences just as quickly condemned the proposal and, frankly, rightly so. It is hard to know where to begin to criticize this terribly confused and shortsighted attempt to weaken with higher education. But it is worthwhile to try.

First, why think that eliminating programs in technology and the sciences and eliminating programs in the humanities and the liberal arts, for example, will create more jobs? At best, graduating more engineers creates a surplus of engineers, not employed engineers. Hoping that we will create more jobs by first creating more potential workers is putting the cart before the horse.

Second, why think that eliminating the humanities and liberal arts from higher education will create more employable workers, anyways? If the best and most employable potential engineers, for example, only studied engineering then we should expect current trade schools and technical institutes to be graduating the best students and that they should have better track records for getting their students jobs compared to institutions that do teach the humanities and liberal arts.

But that just isn't how things work in the real world. Students from trade schools and 2-year technical programs who lack education in the humanities and liberal arts have significantly worse job prospects and have a much worse comparative lifetime earning potential—all of this has been verified over and over again by research that Governor Scott is apparently oblivious to.

Further, it is quite common for employers to insist that they want job candidates with developed skills in critical reasoning and comprehension and analysis that get taught only in—you guessed it—the humanities and liberal arts.

Finally, what would the students who graduated from a university that was only concerned with funneling money into technological and engineering departments look like?

Would they have developed the sort of reasoning and logical skills possessed by students of philosophy? Could they appreciate and be ready to actively participate in our political institutions in the way that students of political science can? Would they have an appreciation of our current social institutions and our historical legacy crucial to understanding who we as citizens are in the way that students of anthropology and history can? Doubtful.

If we think that it is part of the mission of public education to prepare students to be active participating members of our democratic republic, then the Republican attempt to defund programs of higher education stands squarely in opposition to that mission.

If we only want institutions of public education to generate truck drivers and air conditioner repairmen then cut away, but at the least we could stop calling them colleges and universities.

In any event, a serious concern with enhancing education in mathematics and the sciences—and there is nothing wrong with that—doesn't call for cutting funds for education. It calls forenhancing education, for funding such programs and funding them at much earlier stages—say, during elementary and secondary school.

The Republican attack on education in Florida may find roots in other states, including Michigan. But it is a short-sighted attack. Maybe Governor Scott and his cronies need to go back to college. Here's hoping that the classes that they need so desperately will still be taught.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.


Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

Each week, he's joined live in the studio by journalists, academics, and experts. Along with viewers at home, they tackle the local, national, and global issues that matter most.