OPINION: The UNF Globe’s Misquote Shows the Importance of the Humanities

Noah Meyer

If you’ve walked around campus, then you are most likely familiar with the globe statue that sits near the social sciences building. The globe stands in the center of a fairly well-trafficked system of sidewalks, surrounded by flowers and adorned with the quotes of literary giants.

The statue stands as a monument to an era of international communication and travel, as well as global understanding and empathy. Upon its side lay the words of the tragic Anne Frank, the erudite Hegel, the civil rights hero W.E.B. DuBois, and lastly, Mark Twain.

When one looks at the globe, they might imagine seeing the whole world with their own eyes, a sentiment Twain himself expressed in the preface of “The Innocents Abroad,” the conclusion of which is source the Twain quote on the globe. In fading metallic print, the globe quotes Twain stating, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

The quote sounds like a nice slogan about the eye-opening qualities of travel, however, it is taken entirely out of the context of “The Innocents Abroad,” as well as the themes and concepts Twain explored in his work. “The Innocents Abroad” is, in simplest terms, a satire of the genre of travel-writing and the eye-opening accounts that came back from tourists exploring places such as Europe and the Middle East.

Twain himself was critical of the notion of “finding oneself” in travel overseas, when much of the world one “sees with their own eyes” is in fact clouded with the preconceived notions and beliefs of the traveler. Most of the pilgrims that set sail with Twain on the Holy Land excursion detailed in The Innocents Abroad were entirely incapable of seeing the world with their own eyes, and instead interpreted things through the lens of the travel-writers and guides they read.

The quote comes in the conclusion of a book filled with the “prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” that Twain supposedly decries. The presence of the quote begs the question of how it got there in the first place. Twain’s quote is widely circulated on websites that traffic in “inspirational quotes,” but it seems ludicrous that an institution of higher learning would ignore the context and significance of a quote from a world-famous author just because it sounds nice.

Perhaps, in an age where politicians are calling for the defunding of liberal arts programs, there should be no surprise that a quote’s context would be ignored because it sounds nice. Florida’s own failed presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio stated, “We need more welders and less philosophers,” and Gov. Rick Scott stated, “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state,” both arguing that the humanities should be defunded in favor of more “productive” pursuits.

President Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her children have never attended a public school or university, yet are taking the charge on taking away protections for students scammed by for-profit colleges while state funding for public universities has declined over the last decade.

If it isn’t already clear, these politicians could care less about public universities or your education, and there’s nothing that demonstrates that more than the fact that a blatant misquote that sits on a statue in the middle of campus, a problem that could have solved by simply asking an English professor.

Like the Twain quote, the UNF motto, “No one like you, no place like this,” is yet another vague platitude that makes one feel warm and fuzzy as everything an academic institution should provide and stand for is continually drained away. It doesn’t take long for a student to jokingly point to the motto, which is plastered everywhere, and say, “no one likes you,” a sentiment that better portrays the current government’s stance on public education than the motto does.

As the cost of higher education rises and wages lay stagnant, vague platitudes are all a university system under attack can offer to students that are increasingly encouraged into “useful” fields such as engineering and business. Telling students that there is “no one like you” is ironic considering the motto is individualist nonsense directed at the student body as a whole. Twain’s quote is taken entirely out of context to serve as inspiration porn, and so is UNF’s motto.

Both the Twain quote and UNF motto patronize students and create the facade that their college experience is unique and important, while schools are increasingly becoming more of the same as attacks on humanities programs grow and more students funnel into business and engineering. As funding is cut for universities across the board and student wants are ignored in favor of what the market desires, there is no you, and every place is like this.

In some way then, the UNF globe represents public education at large. A fading, but splendid, structure where words are stripped of meaning and used as vapid inspiration, all surrounding a world that lies hollow. For that, the globe’s creator deserves credit. A world without the humanities is already here, and it sits right here on campus.

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