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The End of the Liberal Arts at Public Universities


Allow me to join Paul and Scott in making this a day dedicated to higher education here at LGM.

Rick Scott opens the logical next front in the conservative war on the liberal arts:

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.”

And in fact, the future of the anthropology department at Florida St. is in doubt, to the extent that it is no longer accepting applications from graduate students and possibly not allowing undergraduate majors as well, but I’m not sure about that point.

Of course, the real issue for Scott and other conservatives is that the liberal arts might teach people to think for themselves. Republicans know they are fighting a war on any part of American society that might create liberals. They have taken over the churches, the airwaves, and television news. There’s not much left–academia and Hollywood. Academics are easy to fight because we don’t fight back very effectively.

And the public believes that liberal arts majors are worthless. With the cost of education rising so rapidly, students and their parents are wary of the liberal arts majors because they want a direct return on their investment. The fact that there’s little evidence suggesting that liberal arts majors are permanently unemployed is besides the point.

We are probably moving toward a day where majors like history and sociology are mostly restricted to liberal arts schools, where the children of the wealthy can major in what they want, knowing that they will always be taken care of. Everyone else will be in what is essentially trade school.

I am by no means confident that tenure will exist when I come up for it in 6 years or that if I get tenure, the University of Rhode Island will have a history department for the rest of my working years. Rhode Island supports higher education much better than many states, but eliminating liberal arts departments is absolutely on the agenda of conservatives. And I don’t see much evidence that conservatives don’t eventually get what they want.

Or maybe I’m just too gosh darn pessimistic.

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