Gov. Rick Scott's Liberal Arts Masterstroke

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: October 17, 2011 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

It's about time somebody had the cojones to challenge the liberal arts crowd on the veracity of degrees that aren't working in the 21st century workplace.

And wouldn't you know, that somebody would be Rick Scott. Whatever you say about our governor, the man knows how to let a sacred cow out of the barn.

"How many more jobs do you think there are in anthropology in this state?" Scott asked a gathering of businessmen at a luncheon last week. "Do we need to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology? I don't. I want to make sure we spend our money where people can get jobs when they get out."

Attack liberal arts degrees? Oh, my, how dare he?

Scott was making a fairly obvious point: Liberal arts majors aren't what business today needs. Majors in science, technology, engineering and math -- that's what the state needs to lure and feed more high-tech businesses.

But as soon as the governor made his point, the sky opened up and rained brickbats.

Never mind that the governor's daughter, Jordan Kandah, has an anthropology degree herself, or that the governor was only using anthropology as one example of liberal arts fuddy-duddyism among the state's colleges and universities. Out came the American Anthropological Association in protest. In a sharp statement to Scott, association president Virginia Dominguez wrote, "Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation's top science fields."

Out came the usual suspects in the press, too. The St. Petersburg Times, for example, gave its "loser of the week" to a trio: Plato, Shakespeare and James Madison. The Times said, "Sorry liberal arts majors and professors, but Gov. Rick Scott made it clear last week he has little use for you. In the name of job creation, he wants Florida universities to focus much more on science, technology, engineering and math."

Let's be honest here.

All the governor did was launch a long-overdue dialogue with the Florida business community and state colleges and universities. He believes higher education could do a better job calibrating its focus with the 21st century job market's. And, boy, could it ever.

Who doesn't know at least one college grad with an abstract liberal arts degree, shouldering six-figure student loans and few job prospects? Where were those tenured heads of the philosophy or the fine arts departments when the student loan collectors came calling?

The universities have done liberal arts students a huge disservice. What stress might they have avoided had they been urged to make students more marketable.

A South Florida businessman told me this after Scott's luncheon address: "I have never had a recently graduated college student -- and we've hired dozens over the last 10 years -- come to us with even marginally proficient skills in Excel, even though we and most other businesses use that program every day. The governor is right."

We're big on outcomes in education here in Florida. So, how come we terrorize the seventh grade teacher making $37,000 a year on FCAT outcomes, but the tenured professor making a six-figure salary has no accountability for the outcomes of his final work product in the real world? Shouldn't college professors be held to the same standard?

Does the state have any studies or benchmarks that show how graduates of Florida universities do in the job market after a year, five years? How does each discipline do -- liberal arts and otherwise? Scott got the conversation started. Let's not let it drop now.

This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (10)

T Ganski
3:50PM NOV 1ST 2011
Did you know that a university known as among the best in the world for engineering degrees requires undergraduates aspiring to a EE degree to take liberal arts courses. That school is MIT. Same with Harvard. Now, I fully expect an erudite person such as yourself, will likely dismiss those schools as "elitist"; however, most parents want their children to go to the best schools poosible, so those two schools are the yard stick by which all others are measured. So, the question becomes, do you want the best and the brightest to be attracted to state universities in Florida, or do you want to drive them to develop their talents in other states. It is short sighted to be dismissive of liberal arts elements of higher education. Would most engineers, business and science majors like to avoid taking liberal arts course. Probably, but why is that. I posit that most want to avoid those course because they are rife with ambiguity. The other thing that is rife with ambiguity is life. Also, liberal s\arts forces people to think in ways and about things they might not otherwise think about. This has the tendency to open their minds to other possibilities. Innovation comes from expansive thinking, so liberal arts is as important to a technical degree as the coursework in the discipline of choice. Since innovation drives the development of new businesses, then we want innovation. If we want innovation, then we want liberal arts. Otherwise, we can just close all the Fl universities, and turn them into vocational schools.
4:57PM OCT 17TH 2011
As someone who just graduated with a group of mostly engineering major friends who cannot find work in the state of Florida, while our peers in public relations and communications are well into their careers, I beg to differ. Instead of just assuming math + science = jobs, maybe the policy-makers in this state should actually do some research.
M Brawer
10:21AM OCT 17TH 2011
Your opinion on this issue is so fact and logic free, like the Governors, that this is as far as I will dignify it.
Kevin Stewart
9:45AM OCT 17TH 2011
Since when did a course of study in the liberal arts become equated with LIBERALS. By this leap of logic all science and technologically inclined folk are republicans or conservatives and all are employeed?

Oh so I see since there are no jobs in the field elimenate the field? Whats wrong with Florida? Heck whats right with pundits who punt logic around like idiots... Dumb question right? Guess since I have a liberal arts degree from the University of Mississipi, my pell grant was wasted. Darn, I knew I should have majored in math theory!
Kevin Stewart
9:49AM OCT 17TH 2011
Opps too many misspelled words....even my home State of Mississippi. Here they come....
Dorine in FL
9:27AM OCT 17TH 2011
Good for Scott! With OWS protesting having to pay their tuition, I say it is fair to expect them to learn the basic skills that they will need to market themselves for any type of job, even if it isn't in their field. Liberal arts has long been a scam where students earn a college degree that is so specialized that it is useless in real life but costs just as much as one that will get them employed anywhere.

I also wonder why these kids have time to protest? Are their classes so easy that they don't have to study? Are professors encouraging them to participate, and if so is there a grade involved? Are our colleges teaching our kids what they need to beccome productive members of society or are they indoctrinating them with an ideology that is diametrically opposed to that of the constitution?
Andres Mamontoff
8:42AM OCT 17TH 2011
If Governor Scott wants to stop providing scholarships to good students he should do it across the board and not by handpicking which field will benefit the state more according to his judgment. All professions are equally important. I voted for him because I believed he would make good decisions during his term. I am starting to wonder if he is going to get my vote the next time around. I would like to clarify for the ultra right supporters that liberal arts does not mean democrats.
David Kearns
7:33AM OCT 17TH 2011
I tell you what I know Stacey: the election that put him into that office was very likely rigged. There are 38,000 suspect ballots in Hillsborough County; we have the fake retirement and rehire of our double dipping secretary of state who is Florida's Werner Von Braun of electronic voting. We have a governor following a play-book written by Koch think tanks. Collateral kill is liberal arts courses. People who offer a cowardly salute fascism are often its first victims
Davidus Romanus
7:27AM OCT 17TH 2011
How about not using tax dollars to fund college? Then the students and faculty would be accountable to each other, but we could keep politics and tax dollars out of the equation. Don't tell me that without tax dollars, people couldn't afford college. I know enough about history to know that you used to be able to work your way through college if you were enterprising enough. It's only since the gov't started helping people pay for college that it's become too expensive to afford without a student loan.
5:51AM OCT 17TH 2011
Since "we are big on outcomes here in Florida" that should mean the next elecetion will be an utter rejection of Rick Scott and the Republican Party. The Party of nihilism and the vehicle of economic destruction. VERO, Vote Every Republican Out.

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