Professors and students speak up on their point of view as a debate for education funding is sparked after North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s inflammatory comments over the radio Tuesday, Jan. 29.
In an interview with Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of Education, William “Bill” Bennett, McCrory singled out liberal arts in the university system for receiving state funding that will not help produce jobs.
McCrory said, “We pay based upon how many students we have and not on the results of how many jobs they are getting people in to.”
When he won the election in the fall, McCrory inherited the fifth most unemployed state at 9.2 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
McCrory, a vocational advocate, wants to focus governmental education funding towards training in fields that will have readily available jobs when students graduate.
UNC Chapel Hill student Emily Booker, wrote in a blog post for the Huffington Post, “I picked up public relations at UNC’s top-ranked School of Journalism and Mass Communication, thinking it would better prepare me for the job market.”
Professor of American History at UNC Charlotte John David Smith does not think it is only liberal arts students who face a bleak job outlook.
“It’s not limited to North Carolina and it’s not limited to people with a liberal arts background. These are challenging times for all people,” said Smith.
Smith has been a professor at UNC Charlotte for nine years. Before that, he taught at other universities around the country, including 22 years at NC State.
“I think those who make the case that we need to look at the job market and then use that as the vehicle to restrain liberal arts education are going about this completely wrong,” said Smith.
“We need to teach students to be adaptable, to be flexible, to read and analyze.”
McCrory informed Bennett in his radio interview that he’s instructed his staff to begin writing legislation that will change the basic formula for how the state divvies tax dollars for education purposes.
Lauren Henderson, a UNC Charlotte communications major with a focus in Mass Media, is thankful McCrory has not changed funding for the liberal arts while she is a student.
“What if they cut funding while I was here and my dad had to send me to a private school and pay $30,000,” asked Henderson.
“[Communications] is a legitimate field to be working in and learning about.”
According to some, the most offensive of McCrory’s comments came when he suggested, “The educational elite have taken over our education where we’re offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.”
“I see nothing elite about what we do at our state universities. To assume that knowledge is by nature elite is not correct,” said Smith.
“It seems to me to be an unfair criticism of the professoriate.”
Michael Roberts, dean of the College of Sciences at Coastal Carolina University, sent an email to the colleagues at his school valuing the liberal arts as a way to “think, reflect, and draw conclusions about a complex, changing world.”
“My exposure to a variety of disciplines and points of view, and the debate on those disciplines-all hallmarks of the Liberal Arts approach toward education- played a more important role in my success than any detail I learned about cell structure in college,” said Roberts.
“We should educate not to create solely a population of well-trained technically proficient workers; but educate to create a population of thinking, feeling, creative humans. Only in this way will we have the insights to handle change.”
Concluding her blog post fueled with criticisms of McCrory’s initial plans for North Carolina education, Booker said, “It is our minds that enrich society, not our careers.”
Although elected to the state governor office last November, McCrory now is beginning to take stands on state issues, including education.
Advocates for a liberal arts education in North Carolina hope the debates now sparked over the issue show what they believe to be the importance of a liberal arts education.
“I can’t predict the future with funding but I put my confidence that the powers at be in North Carolina will recognize the importance of broadly trained people for the best interests of the state and its citizenry,” said Smith.
McCrory’s office did not respond to attempts made by the Niner Times to inquire on his current stance towards liberal arts and the future of state funding for education.