Gov. Rick Scott on Anthropology

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Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s prodigal son, is at it again. This time he’s lampooning the liberal arts – we’re assuming it’s because of the word “liberal” – and demonstrating his profound ignorance of culture and society.

“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,” Scott told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune Oct. 11. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

Later, in a radio interview, Scott, whose daughter majored in anthropology at the College of William and Mary, said, “It’s a great degree if people want to get it. But we don’t need them here.”

Similar comments from Scott provoked a vehement response from the American Anthropological Association, which issued a letter to Scott calling his comments “short-sighted” and “unfortunate.”

“Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields,” said Virginia Dominguez, the president of the association.

In a Mother Jones article about Gov. Scott and anthropology, Adam Weinstein suggests eliminating programs in anthropology and psychology would permit a political bonus for Scott:

“As opposed to conservative-friendly disciplines like economics and business management, liberal arts produce more culturally aware and progressive citizens, inclined to challenge ossified social conventions and injustices. Eliminate cultural and social science from public colleges, and you’ll ultimately produce fewer community organizers, poets and critics; you’ll probably church out more Rotarians, Junior Leaguers and Republican donors.”

Scott’s opinions, citing liberal arts degrees such as anthropology and psychology as hopeless job prospects, are part of a push to emphasize STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — degrees to better meet Florida’s workforce demands.

For years, business communities have been pushing for a de-emphasis on liberal arts degrees. Florida in particular, they argue, doesn’t produce enough STEM graduates.

A report, “Closing the Talent Gap,” conducted by the Florida Council of 100, a pro-business advocacy group, said the state needs 100,000 more such graduates by 2015 – an ambitious goal that university officials say the state cannot achieve because the success a student has in earning a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field relies heavily on the math and science courses a student takes while in K-12.

A solid foundation is unlikely, considering Scott has already provoked legislation to curtail grade school funding.

Colleges and universities argue that liberal arts degrees are sought out, in part, because students demand them. It would be a mistake for a university to suddenly stop offering degrees in English, for example, because they risk losing those students and the tuition they pay. Moreover, liberal arts degrees help subsidize more expensive science and engineering degrees.

But isn’t anthropology a much needed science? Anthropologists seem to think so.

“The National Science Foundation has put anthropology in with the STEM disciplines, which shows [Rick Scott’s] ignorance,” said Susan deFrance, the interim chair of the University of Florida’s anthropology department.

“People work for different corporations because they know anthropologists have insight to consumer behavior, and why we buy certain things and why we do things,” deFrance said.

To be fair, Scott was making a practical point: Liberal arts majors aren’t what business today needs. However, what business today needs does not necessarily measure up to what people need from today’s businesses.

Sure, there are plenty of college grads with abstract liberal arts degrees shouldering six-figure student loans with little-to-no job prospects.

But that is just it. There aren’t as many jobs for liberal arts majors because money is divisively allocated to corporate outfits that only care about net worth and profit gains at the expense of our long-term gains. In fact, according to 2011 salary data from PayScale, a company that tracks employee salary information, the major with the highest median starting salary was petroleum engineering, at $97,900. Go figure.

This isn’t a partisan debate. If it was the other way around and any state governor was lambasting STEM programs, it would be an outrage.

This issue is about more than what colleges need in terms of support. It’s about an elected official discouraging people from pursuing any given field because it won’t fit into his particularly biased agenda.

More importantly, Scott could have just done what he was going to do and funnelled more funding into STEM programs; he didn’t need to announce it. The fact that he did showcases his Orwellian-manifesto to obstruct progress in critical thinking fields.

Scott’s statements show a grandiose lack of leadership on his part.

Republican purists, who back Scott as long as he touts conservatism, should be dismayed. Scott’s principles are far from conservative. Scott wants your children to work in a cog factory masqueraded as an office building for 70 hours a week without benefits. That’s not conservatism. It’s modern enslavement.

Indeed, we could use better STEM programs to attract students – the free-market way. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we need a better education system altogether. If not for the sake of job creation, then for the sake of not ending up with another bombastic slug for a governor.

Quote of the week:

George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”