Governor suggests decreasing funding from Liberal Arts majors

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By Melody Hopkins and Rebecca Ely

Gov. Rick Scott has suggested moving funding to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, majors and away from others. Specifically targeting anthropology, Scott questioned the neccessity for liberal arts majors in Florida.

“You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people that can’t get jobs in anthropology?” Scott said during an Oct. 11 speech to the Northeast Business Association. “I don’t. I want to make sure that we spend our money where people can get jobs when they get out.”

Scott is considering modeling Florida’s higher education system after Texas’, championed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Potential changes in Florida include the way professors are paid, limits on tenure, and finding a way to increase student interest in STEM fields.

Some UNF anthropology professors see liberal arts as crucial to the workforce.

“We live in an increasingly transnational and globalized world, and success in any work place in this day and age requires cultural literacy,” said Suzanne Simon, UNF assistant professor of anthropology. “Rick Scott seems to have a fairly provincial understanding of how the global economy works.”

Janet Owen, UNF vice president of Governmental Affairs, said Scott is focused on students getting jobs when they graduate, not cutting programs.

“He has started a healthy conversation, even though he may have angered a lot of people or threatened others,” she said.

Students in the anthropology program within the department of sociology conduct field studies and work with Community Based Transformational Learning initiatives on campus. Field work and work with CBTL positions sociology and anthropology students to aid in the initiative to create jobs, but that would require continued support, Simon said.

Owen, while supportive of the jobs focus, hears plenty of support for the liberal arts.

“Liberal arts majors are great communicators, great critical thinkers and are usually those who excel in any kind of profession,” she said.

It’s always interesting to hear about liberal arts majors who go on to become Fortune 500 CEOs, Owen said.

“He’s suggesting a university education is equivalent to vocational school,” Simon said of Scott’s view of higher education as strictly a jobs creator. “If the point is to get a job upon graduating, then anthropology is absolutely essential.”

Even though STEM departments stand to gain from Gov. Scott’s suggestion, professors who teach in these fields aren’t clamoring to receive the funds stripped from elsewhere in the university system.

“It would presumably benefit the STEM fields,” said James Garner, physics professor and chair of the UNF physics department. “But it would be at the cost of other areas of the university. It would be one part of the university against the other part.”

In-fighting among faculty would be just the beginning of serious ramifications that could come from redistributing funds, Garner said.

Krista Paulsen, associate professor and chair within the sociology and anthropology department, fears the effect further budget cuts would have on UNF’s liberal arts departments wouldn’t be a good one.

“For several years, UNF departments have been in a tight budget climate. The last few years we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve spared major budget cuts, and further cuts would bring a set of challenges with them,” she said.

Samantha Orban, a graphic design major at UNF, is concerned about the fiscal health of her own major and others.

“It would take away from the quality of equipment and resources available to students,” Orban said. “I know UNF has been developing its programs over the years, and I don’t want to see the quality of any program suffer because they’ve come a long way.”

Despite his comments suggesting the unimportance of the liberal arts, Scott has family ties to the major. His daughter holds an undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary. She was a special education teacher before enrolling in an M.B.A. program.

Whatever Scott and Tallahassee lawmakers decide to do, UNF stands by its programs.

“UNF is focused on offering high quality liberal arts programs, and we will continue to do that,” Owen said.

Cici Aguilar contributed to this report.