Rick Scott vs. anthropology

By | 10.12.11 | 11:26 am

Gov. Rick Scott (Pic via flgov.com)

In a recent interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Gov. Rick Scott says that one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session will be higher education reform. Though Scott has previously been vague in discussing how he wants to change the state’s college system, he is now offering up some ideas: cutting funding for liberal arts education and degrees that, according to him, don’t offer a good return on investment.

Via the Herald-Trib:

Leading Scott’s list of changes: Shifting funding to degrees that have the best job prospects, weeding out unproductive professors and rethinking the system that offers faculty job security.

The governor has been discussing the ideas in interviews across the state as he previews a soon-to be released 2012 legislative agenda. Scott also is paving the way for the changes by making them central to his appointment process for new university board members.

Scott said Monday that he hopes to shift more funding to science, technology, engineering and math departments, the so-called “STEM” disciplines. The big losers: Programs like psychology and anthropology and potentially schools like New College in Sarasota that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum.

“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 said. “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.”

Scott reiterated his message during a Tuesday luncheon, saying: “Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t. I want to make sure that we spend our dollars where people can get jobs when they get out.”

On Tuesday, 11,000 members of the American Anthropological Association fired back at Scott — writing in a letter that the governor is “unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualisms, the African American heritage and infant learning.”

Susan deFrance, the anthropology head  at the University of Florida, told the Herald-Tribune that Scott seems to be wildly out of touch with what it is anthropologists actually do.

“I think he’s stuck on the stereotype that we’re all going off to do field work among primitives with no relevance to the modern world,” she told the paper. “I’d like to think if he made himself aware of how anthropology contributes to resolving the socioeconomic problems he’s trying to fix, he would rethink his position.” USF’s Brent Wiseman called Scott’s thinking “very old-fashioned and narrow.”

Scott has been flirting with the idea of higher ed reforms for months, and has specifically referenced Texas’ changes as a source of inspiration. During his Monday interviews, Scott said he had discussed many of Texas’ policies with all of his university appointees. As previously reported by The Florida Independent, the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” being used as a template for higher ed reform in Texas have countless critics. Many argue that the competitiveness and reputation of top tier schools will be diminished as a result of the reforms.

Professors in Florida have similar worries, fearing that slashing liberal arts programs, upping class sizes and reducing tenure could end up diminishing the reputations of state schools.

The emphasis on math, science and business over liberal arts degrees wouldn’t necessarily lead to an enormous boon in job creation, either. Currently, liberal arts majors comprise about 4.7 percent of undergraduates in the state, and Scott shouldn’t count them out on the business front. In fact, several of the country’s most well-known CEOs have relied on their undergraduate liberal arts educations to get where they are today.

Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner never took a single business course, instead earning a double major in English and theater. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina received her undergraduate degree in medieval history and philosophy, before going on to receive her MBA and master of science in management.

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