Don’t Know Much About Anthropology: Rick Scott Censures the Liberal Arts


Who needs the liberal arts? At a time when unemployment in the US is nearing ten percent, the last thing we need is more English majors, more creative-humanities-philosophizing-artsy types, or so Governor Rick Scott of Florida said in a Monday radio interview with a right-wing radio host. Students need education “in areas where they can get jobs,” in the so-called STEM disciplines because, says Scott:

“You know, we don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on. Those type of degrees. So when they get out of school, they can get a job.”

In another interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Scott spoke about shifting funding at Florida’s public universities to the STEM areas, at the expense of academic disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Again, he justified his proposal on the basis that students in STEM fields get jobs after graduating:

“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. 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.”

As a professor of Classics — ancient Greek and Latin — at a small, urban college whose students are often the first in their families to go to college and who are already working just to stay in college, Governor Scott’s statements are not surprising to me. Latin, ancient Greek and Roman law aren’t exactly the sorts of classes students at my college are inclined to take. I’m overjoyed if one of the graduating seniors in a given year is majoring in Classics (some years, none are). I have enrollment “targets” to meet. While I do hear of a handful of job openings for Latin teachers, there are few and far between. Nothing says “liberal arts,” “not practical” and even “useless in the real world” than Classics, especially compared to programs in IT, criminal justice and nursing.

It’s hard to be idealistic in such a setting, and yet one must be. Mother Jones points out that plenty of “notable Americans” (Carly Fiorina, Clarence Thomas, Diane Sawyer, Mario Cuomo and Sally Ride) have majored in decidedly non-STEM-ish disciplines and that plenty of recent research reveals that what you major in is not as much a predictor of long-term income as often presumed.

Even more, study in the liberal arts has long, and some might say infamously, been associated with notions such as “the unexamined life is not worth living” and “questioning authority.” A liberal arts education trains students to ask status-quo shaking questions like “why is it that the winners of wars and conquests tend to write history?” and “if slaves possibly comprised as much as 25 to 40 percent of the population of ancient Rome, why do we know so little about their lives?”

Says Mother Jones:

As opposed to conservative-friendly disciplines like economics and business management, liberal arts produce more culturally aware and progressive citizens, inclined to challenge ossified social conventions and injustices. Eliminate cultural and social sciences from public colleges, and you’ll ultimately produce fewer community organizers, poets, and critics; you’ll probably churn out more Rotarians, Junior Leaguers, and Republican donors.

Of course we need accountants, IT specialists and engineers. But in this age when we value innovation and creating new technologies and new answers to old problem, don’t we need just as much to teach students to “think differently”?

Wasn’t it a calligraphy course that Steve Jobs audited at a certain liberal arts college in Oregon that was one of the inspirations behind the Macintosh’s graphic interface?


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Photo by Gage Skidmore


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy6 years ago

I am beginning to believe it is the objective of the economic and political power structure to create an ignorant electorate. Those who are not taught to think can be manipulated more easily to spend their money on things they don't need and to vote for people who have demonstrated they will do more harm than good. I don't know if this is really a conspiracy but at times it sure seems that way.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.6 years ago

Finally the state of Maryland made a computer programmer out of me at public expense when I had student loans, medical bills, and no career, it seemed.

Right now with 12 years experience I am between Web developer jobs. I don't think I have a shot at any usual local service sector jobs out there. I am overeducated which means I could be dissatisfied waiting to find a job that pays three times as much, and then leave. Dad said college graduates during the Great Depression were the ones who succeeded in getting the few jobs available. This doesn't make any sense.

Maybe I ought to try anyway. I will say this. 40 hours a week at the minimum wage $7.50 an hour is about what the District of Columbia pays in unemployment, maybe $300 something to $350 a week. It is comparable to what I had from Virginia last year too.

Christopher M.
Christopher M.6 years ago

You need a good base of general studies loaded with history, social sciences, and at least token amounts of literature, philosophy, music, and art. But if you are going to trust a doctor with your life, and you are likely trusting professors with your future too, they should encourage students to study job producing majors.

Not to say my professors conducted malpractice, but sociology proved not to be in my best interest.

And one former sociology professor encouraged me to not pay my medical bills? Maybe that is malpractice. I didn't listen to him I listened to my parents who always pay their bills.

I have a Master's and if I was a sociology professor I would encourage students to use sociology as part of an education but not as a career. We have too many f**king sociology degrees out there already.

I agree that liberal arts makes people question. My Latin teacher said General Westmoreland did not want college graduates in Vietnam because they ask too many questions. Some people desire little robots, yes. Would love to see sociology and liberal arts go away, turn college into tech school.

But when a grad school classmate asked me "Aren't you here to be educated?" I replied, I am educated, I went to college. I was there to get a piece of paper and perhaps some additional rounding on how to conduct research and analysis. Partly technical but mostly political. Sad.

It almost got me a job, but 36 interviews failed. Finally the state of Maryland made a compu

Thomas Liddle
Thomas Liddle6 years ago

I'm going to concede that he has a point. America needs more people better equipped to tackle the hard technological problems we face transitioning into the future. That means engineers, scientists, chemists, biologists and technology oriented health care professionals. That said, every one of them should have to take a low level philosophy course. If everyone was trained in big picture thinking, and a little empathy and altruism, maybe we could avoid a repeat of Mitt Romney, where someone amasses a fortune at the detriment of an entire nation, (through things like lucrative consulation fees on destructive outsourcing plans), and figures he's done a good deed. A few philosophy classes early on, and a little LSD might've resulted in the perceptual changes necessary to avoid the moral quagmire of undermining the entire marketplace for personal gain.
The fact is, as we transition into this new technological age, we are already changing what it means to be human, as evidenced in the book "ibrain", and Ray Kurzweil's biop "Transcendent Man". This makes the study of humanities, ancient and modern, ever more pressing. If he had taken some more humanities courses himself, perhaps he'd realize that the truely prudent course of action is to incentivize one, sure, but not at the detriment of another already beleagured discipline.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Discouraging to say the least. Thanks Kristina.

Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago

And it continues .............. Sad

Mick R.
Mick R6 years ago

Seems like any number of idiotic things are being done in the interest of "creating jobs". The voters need to start voting based on what the politican has done not on what he said he has done.

Bruce G.
Bruce G6 years ago

I would also add that the 'humanities' are the study of what it is to be a human being. When we take that away, we loose the opportunity to understand who we are. We become a society of tool users with no sense of identity or cultural purpose. We are taught to ignore our natural compassion and have no issue with putting ourselves and our happiness above the human rights of others.

We loose our moral autonomy and, viola! We allow ourselves to be ruled by greedy corporations and are willing participants in imoral actions by corporations, because 'it's our job.' We no longer have the moral authority to say no to any order handed down to use by our employers.

The immoral behavior of corporations has increased directly with the reduction of humanity courses in high school and college!

Lilithe Magdalene

A society with only those kinds of jobs sounds like a boring, soulless, automaton culture. Count me out - I'm going where people are following their BLISS!!