Dear Gov. McCrory,
Though I’m fortunate enough to hail from Ohio, the greatest state in our union, I still keep abreast of what’s going on in North Carolina—my second, wonderful home state. As a Republican, Duke student and political science major, I was disappointed to listen to the radio interview you gave a couple of weeks ago, during which you expressed an interest in defunding certain areas of study at North Carolina public universities. The sound bite the media grappled on to was your declaration, “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it.”
I listened to the interview in its entirety, rather than just picking and choosing the choicest bits. I am guessing (hoping) this comment doesn’t express a malevolent view of the academic field of gender studies. Rather, I think it is a poor phrasing of your larger belief that public tax dollars should only fund areas of study that produce jobs for students. I’d like to respond to this larger sentiment and the potentiality of defunding certain academic disciplines, rather than the specific gender studies statement itself.
First, I feel that your comments shortchange the value of a liberal arts education with respect to job growth. It has become almost trite to say that the liberal arts teach you how to think. Yet this is undoubtedly true in my experience. I can point to many skills I’ve garnered as a result of my study of political science—writing and verbal argumentation as just two examples—but more than anything I’ve learned an analytical method of thinking. I’m certain that other fields of study, gender studies included, teach other diverse ways of thinking.
Learning how to think differently has never been bad for job creation. Our nation’s history is filled with businesspeople who have had the temerity to see beyond the status quo. The liberal arts are entrepreneurial in nature. They teach a student how to ask questions and identify problems. A businessman can’t answer questions he doesn’t know to ask. A businesswoman can’t solve problems she never knows to identify. Should you want North Carolina to be filled with people who all think the same way and do the same things, it makes sense to limit fields of study. If you want a dynamic and creative economy, limiting knowledge is not the way to achieve it.
Secondly, by exalting employment as the end-all, be-all goal of education, you’ve neglected to recognize the plethora of other ways in which academics generate value. Pursuing an area of study for which you have passion certainly garners utility for oneself through intellectual enlightenment. That is the most basic example. But academics also inform discussion, break down barriers, allow for a more knowledgeable citizenry, promote the arts and inspire dreams. In 1983, Aaron Sorkin graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre, one of the majors you might consider defunding. But how many future public servants do you think Sorkin inspired with his production of “The West Wing”? Could we possibly quantify the value of that inspiration?
Finally, I’m afraid I’m going to have to violate the 11th Commandment and, as a fellow Republican, call you out for contradicting conservative principles. We are the party of individual liberty, opportunity and localized authority—or so we like to say. Yet you advocated in your radio interview for government to take a selective approach to the allocation of university funding. This, in effect, is the government using its power to control what people can and cannot study—a restraint upon individual liberty and opportunity. And it takes power out of the hands of the public universities themselves, which are in a better-localized position to determine where to allocate the funding they might receive. Think about it, Gov. McCrory, you are advocating the limitation of access to knowledge. That smacks of the actions of a 1984 communist state of yesteryear, not a free-market, job-growing society predicated on personal freedom.
In closing, I’d like to say that I’m personally a fan of yours. I’ve heard from Republicans and Democrats alike that you were an excellent mayor of Charlotte, and I thought you ran an efficient and effective campaign for governor. It’s my hope that these arguments might challenge your pragmatic governing side. As Republicans, let’s augment academic liberty, entrepreneurial spirit and inspiration—not dampen it.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Thursday.