In a radio interview last month, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory vowed to change the way the state funds higher education in its public universities and community colleges. Through directing funds to fields that supposedly offer better employment prospects, McCrory desired to shift away from fields that offer “no chances of getting people jobs.” He cast the responsibility of teaching these disciplines—specifically singling out gender studies and Swahili—to private institutions, stating, “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it... I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.” Like many public university students across the state, we strongly disagree with the extremity of McCrory’s comments and the role it implies for private universities such as Duke.
Firstly, McCrory’s comments are problematic in assuming a causal relationship between certain disciplines and low employability. What McCrory does not take into account is the critical and multifaceted thinking obtained by studying these disciplines and liberal arts in general—thinking that makes one a more productive employee. Moreover, McCrory’s comments look suspiciously politically motivated. If students graduating from non-technical fields have higher rates of unemployment, why single out gender studies? In fact, according to a Georgetown study, the majors associated with the highest unemployment rates included film video and photographic arts, fine arts and graphic design. We certainly do not endorse cutting these fields. We simply point out that McCrory is not following his own numbers-driven approach to ‘optimizing’ higher education. Targeting gender studies suggests a veiled conservative agenda. McCrory’s arguments fail by their own standards.
Secondly, McCrory has disturbing opinions about the purpose of higher education. Perceiving jobs as the ultimate end to education ignores the reality that education and jobs are often a means to more meaningful ends, such as intellectual engagement, fulfillment and happiness. Do we attend college to improve our employment prospects? Without a doubt. But college’s main goal is to produce well-informed citizens who can think critically about society to become effective leaders.
Finally, McCrory’s comments raise concerns about relegating specific disciplines specifically to private institutions. All students, regardless of income, have the right to humanist knowledge. Already, access to education differs between private and public institutions. McCrory suggests the types of coursework offered should differ, too. Relegating technical disciplines to public universities and the humanities to private universities would exacerbate class divisions. UNC’s mission includes enhancing access to learning, but McCrory would reduce access to a vital type of learning: learning about what it means to be human. McCrory would make an education in the humanities an exclusive privilege of those with financial means.
Unemployment is a cause for concern. But McCrory’s plan is not the solution. McCrory ignores the wide-ranging benefits of the liberal arts on employability—he himself was a liberal arts graduate of Catawba College—and, more importantly, ignores a primary responsibility of a state’s public education system: to educate the public to be well-rounded, civically minded citizens. McCrory would augment the divide between public and private institutions but neglects the valuable contribution that these disciplines add to our citizens and society.