ActivismSkepticism

FL Governor Suggests Turning State University Students into STEM Clones

 

Floridians beware! Rick Scott, Florida’s governor, wants to make STEM clones. Unfortunately, this is not an article about some awesome, novel stem cell research. Instead, Scott wants to take money away from liberal arts and put it into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

Scott specifically discussed taking money away from programs such as psychology and anthropology. His reasoning is to put more cash into the state university system for careers that will directly impact the state’s economy. Also under fire is New College of Florida, the state’s honors college (with an extremely liberal reputation), that focuses on liberal arts education. As a New College of Florida alumnus with a degree in a STEM discipline, it is necessary for me to call out the stupidity of this particular decision. A comprehensive education surrounded by well rounded students results in an equation for success. This much I learned from my liberal arts education. Eliminating the diversity variable would hinder the state university system, not to mention send some of the state’s great non-STEM students elsewhere.

I am definitely an advocate for a larger scientific budget, but not at the cost of variance. It is not the state’s job to dictate a person’s academic major. Creating individuals, not clones, is what college is often about. Here is an opportunity for Floridians to call their legislators to kill Scott’s January agenda.

Jacqueline

Jacqueline

Jacqueline, a true Floridian, wandered up to the tundra of Athens, Georgia to receive her PhD in computational quantum chemistry. Returning to her roots, she is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in Tampa in the field of computational biochemistry investigating the wonders of penicillin-like drugs. When she is not slaving over the computer, her varied interests include international travel, Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, fancy food, (American) football, and Belgian quadrupels. She is also the founder of EligibleReceiver.com, a football blog with an exclusive female writing staff. Check out her sports ramblings there or follow her on Twitter @jhargis9.

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51 Comments

  1. October 14, 2011 at 11:19 am —

    Another excellent Skepchicks post, this is why I read this blog before any others on a near daily basis.

    As one who lives in Florida about one third of his time, I can only say that I am not at all surprised in a cutback in funding for the humanities.

    I graduated with a CS degree in 1982 (I’m an old fucker) from a fine institution in the US northeast. My alma mater had lots of liberal arts requirements and I took a bunch more for the intellectual expansion that such provided.

    After moving to FLorida, I started recruiting CS grads from U. Florida. The Gators are a top twenty public college for engineering. These kids were killer engineers. Unfortunately, none had ever read Faulkner, none understood poetry, none could tell you the differences between Hopper, Warhol and abstract expressionists and none could tell you who Emmanuel Kant or Voltaire were.

    I’ve no evidence to demonstrate that people with a greater grasp of the arts and philosophy are more successful but I cannot imagine a life without such.

    Meanwhile, I can’t understand how one with a liberal education can exist without a solid education in math and sciences. I cannot imagine a world in which I didn’t have at least an dilettante’s understanding of physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. but I hear artsy people actually make fun of the geeks who are good at math.

  2. October 14, 2011 at 11:22 am —

    I got my computer science degree from a college of liberal arts and sciences. I wonder if this blunt instrument of withdrawing money from liberal arts would even have the desired effect. The cool thing was I even got to take and enjoy classes like Anthropology when I wasn’t nerding out over Lisp programs.

  3. October 14, 2011 at 11:27 am —

    Not to mention that both Anthropology and Psychology are bloody sciences. As much as psychology annoys me by clinging to outdated nonsense, it’s a valid field of scientific study. As is anthropology. You can’t claim to support “science” and then gut one kind of science to fund another.

  4. October 14, 2011 at 11:34 am —

    “I graduated with a CS degree in 1982 (I’m an old fucker) from a fine institution in the US northeast. My alma mater had lots of liberal arts requirements and I took a bunch more for the intellectual expansion that such provided.”

    I graduated in 1984. A slightly less old fucker. I got into CS right after it became insanely popular. All the CS classes tended to fill up with non-CS majors. Seniors got priority regardless of their major. Until I got to be a senior I only had one or two CS classes per year. This means I took a lot of different classes to fill up the hours and damn near got an English degree in the process. I studied Psych, Marxism, Anthropology, Anthropology through Science Fiction (awesome), Science Fiction Writing (with James Gunn), Astronomy, and even the The History of the Medieval Papacy. I can’t say it made me a better engineer, but I can hold my own in most conversations.

  5. October 14, 2011 at 11:53 am —

    Great article. This issue is a great example of why educational institutions should not be run as though they are a business.

  6. October 14, 2011 at 12:34 pm —

    I would hope and expect that careful consideration is made in this situation. I don’t know the dynamics involved in this particular case. I am okay with state universities focusing in on certain fields. If there is a need for more scientists it makes sense that universities are going to make adjustments in what degrees they offer and what departments they are going to put funding toward. Universities are businesses too. They are going to seek out their special niche and fulfill it. Maybe there is not the demand for persons with liberal arts degrees as there has been in the past. If the university and those vested in the situation, such as the governor, are looking to fill-in the science education niche, the money has to come from somewhere. It is the responsibility of the university’s management and stakeholders to consider all options when considering where to invest in the university. As for the idea of the clones, I don’t think so. I think it is important to note that a university degree means that you have to take so many credits of math, science, language/communication, humanities not to mention some core classes in your field of study.

  7. October 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm —

    This seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the proposal. How much money is being shifted? Is he eliminating all funds to liberal arts?

    Are the STEM sciences underfunded now, and this is correcting an imbalance?

    It does make sense that we would want to encourage hard sciences and mathematics at a time when students are woefully behind in these fields. While the point may be well-taken that we, if possible, don’t want to do that at the expense of other legitimate pursuits, is there evidence that the proposal discussed would actually do that?

    I’m all for encouraging science, technology, engineering and mathematics, because these are areas where most college students today are ridiculously uneducated. With respect to mathematics, for example, many people are almost proud of being horrible at math – you’ve seem them – the folks who can barely add and subtract, and not only aren’t embarrassed by it, but laugh about it and proclaim proudly that they are so awful at math. Folks would never joke and laugh about being illiterate, but claim innumeracy and it’s something to laugh about.

    Shouldn’t we know what the funding shift is going to be first, before we make an immediate judgment that this is a bad thing?

    • October 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm —

      Yeah, being a biologist and knowing how dismal the prospects are at doing anything other then research at a school or hospital, I’d really like to see more money being poured into both the education and research across all boards.

      Too be honest, I’d be in favor of boosting hard sciences by any means, even if it meant gutting out psychology and anthropology. But don’t worry psychology people, you could always get into neuroscience :)

  8. October 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm —

    Bias Alert! I have an MA in CompLit.
    As our advances in science and technology improve the granularity of our understanding of “how shit works”, a true polymath needs to be ever more the expert in more fields to really appreciate the human condition. Our academic answer to this is to promote specialization. We are encouraged to focus our energies on a single discipline.
    This may be great for getting a job and this may be an efficient way of allocating scarce educational resources. It also seems to be a way to truncate our ability to live whole, wise, and meaningful lives specifically because we emphasis specialization in knowledge that moves little green slips of paper around (thank you Douglas Adams).
    Don’t steer people towards science at the expense of liberal arts! Make a firm grounding in the scienes AND liberal arts a prerequisite for graduation. And don’t do it so you can produce the next crop of corporate drones. Do it so the children going into college come out as knowledgable, broadminded adult citizens.
    THEN let them become corporate drones and experience the vibrancy of life drain from their pores, turning their souls the same dull gray as their cubicle walls.

    • October 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm —

      I’ve keep running across the claim that somehow a liberal arts education at the collegiate level makes a person more well rounded, and I haven’t seen a shred of evidence for it. More often than not liberal arts education seems to be more an excuse to dick around at a high dollar cost.

      I know anecdotal evidence is a little weak, but I’d like to use my experience to argue against liberal arts education. I earned a B.S. in chemistry and physics from an engineering school. My classes were pretty much all in science and mathematics with pretty much no coursework in ‘liberal arts’. In no way do I feel like I missed out in ‘well-roundedness’ from a rigorous education. In no way do I feel like a “cubicle drone” or that I’m lacking in my understanding of history or politics relative to a B.A. in chemistry.

      I’m now working on a Ph.D in chemistry at a famous liberal arts university (an Ivy league institution even). The undergraduates here in chemistry and chemical engineering know what they want from life and are often very frustrated by being forced to take coursework well outside their field. Their ‘core’ coursework is more of a chore than any mind expanding experience.

      Like it or not, college is a huge investment and in the liberal arts it is not an investment that pays off for graduates (See: “The College Payoff”, Carnevale, Rose & Cheah). With those economic figures, it’s reasonable for a responsible state institution to consider shifting funding to fields that monetarily pays off for their students. Personal growth is nice and fuzzy sounding, but living and raising a family requires cold hard cash.

      • October 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm —

        We are both stuck with the same problem: we don’t really get to know what would have happened if we had followed a different educational path. The best we can manage is to say “the education I got seems to have gotten me where I am and I’m feeling pretty good about it”.

  9. October 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm —

    The details of Scott’s plan are unclear at this time. Perhaps there is a better way to drum up interest in STEM fields. Supplementing the STEM budget prior to college education could be a better solution. Most people have an idea of what they want to study in college even if it is as vague as humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, business, etc. Impacting students before this could have the desired effect of increasing pursuits in STEM fields. I don’t believe hindering liberal arts education is the best way to do this. Also, many students who receive degrees in liberal arts education do go into fields that directly impact the economy. Examples include students who pursue medical or law degrees or anthropologists (since that was one of Scott’s specific examples) contribute to excavating tourist sites, Florida’s primary industry.

    • October 14, 2011 at 2:53 pm —

      //The details of Scott’s plan are unclear at this time//

      Yes, but you made a good point in bringing it up for people to tell their legislators what they think about it, one way or the other. Early input even in the absence of any specific plans will help shape the policy drafts.

      I am personally mixed on this issue. There are a lot of liberal arts programs which a lot of people treat as fuckoff majors they don’t do anything with and then just end up owing the state $15-$80k in debt that will never be repaid. At the same time, things like geography, architecture, etc. do lead to productive careers if the student is REALLY into them.

      Thus I think it maybe would be fair to have a process where the student has to explain what they actually plan on doing in the more existential non-STEM fields (Literature, PoliSci, etc.) to get their loans and reduce the number of students who can be admitted with those majors.

      On the flipside though, there are some liberal arts majors which have good career prospects. Things like:
      – Library Science
      – Social Work
      – Education
      – Technical/Patent Writing
      – Etc.

      But if impractical things like sociology, journalism, business, etc. are drawing a disproportionate amount of students in who the stats show aren’t getting jobs, then sure, providing less loan money for these majors, lowering the # of students that can be accepted may be a good idea, and requiring plans to be articulated should maybe be considered.

      However, the gubernator hasn’t yet provided any figures or plans. Nor has he pointed out other places where government waste could be cut back. So if I was a Floridian I’d be expecting him to really show that there’s a problem and clearly justify his plans/rational for changing things. Such is the duty of public servants.

    • October 15, 2011 at 12:59 am —

      I just felt that the unflattering picture with the green eyes, and the immediately lambasting of his plan seems to me to be uncalled for prior to knowing the details of the plan.

  10. October 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm —

    In Washington we have a similar very liberal small state college and I never hear any talk of doing away with it. That could be because of the general liberalness of this state or that the students at Evergreen State are asked to pay the same ever increasing tuition as students at any other state four (5 or 6) year college. On the other hand there is a small “experimental” college within a college at the university where my wife teaches and that little bastion of alternative thought and organic tie-died hemp clothing truly is a waste of money in that all the other liberal arts departments at the university are much more efficient and cost effective.

    • October 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm —

      Yay for my Alma Mater! Evergreen rules, Reed drools! GO GEODUCKS!

      • October 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm —

        Nothing like an uppity bivalve. ;-)

      • October 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm —

        Do they still not give out letter grades? Bunch of goddamn hippies, if you ask me! :)

        • October 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm —

          Yeah, written evaluations instead of letter grades. It’s actually a pretty good system. Students end up getting actual feedback rather than an impersonal rating. Like… “Natalie demonstrated great enthusiasm during seminar discussions and keen insight into the material being discussed, but lacked commitment and follow through with her written assignments”. It helps guide you towards addressing your weaknesses and working on them…and your transcript ends up saying a whole lot more about who you are as a student and thinker than a series of letters can (provided someone actually bothers to read it).

          They actually do have science and maths departments, though. It’s a liberal arts college, but it’s not ALL humanities. The environmental science program in particular is really quite good and well-respected, actually. I think they even run a masters degree program in it. And there was an AWESOME math professor there named Brian Walter who I really loved. Once every other year or so he does this great interdisciplinary program called “Calculated Fiction”, with my favourite teacher ever, Steve Hendricks, which teaches math, math theory and creative writing / lit. theory alongside one another, using literature like Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino, “Flatland”, Georges Perec, Borges, etc. That’s the kind of awesome you can only get at a weirdo interdisciplinary hippy college like Evergreen. ;)

          I mean, it does have lots of hippy-ness, and lots of woo (one summer, my friend Andy discovered that a little meditation class was being taught by a member of the Ramtha cult and being used as a recruitment tool), but I’m genuinely totally happy with the education I got there. I think the interdisciplinary model is really, really useful, and although it’s not as good for producing experts and specialists, it’s terrific for producing good, well-rounded thinkers.

  11. October 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm —

    Please not to be taking money away from the humanities. I may be one of those STEM students, but I know full well the value of a liberal arts education. I do not like the idea of living someplace with no art, literature, music, or introspection. The liberal arts are incredibly valuable.

    I also get the impression by STEM, what is meant is sTEm, as they only care about training technicians to operate machinery and not actually think about how things work.* They don’t really want scientists who work to discover the way the world works and they don’t want mathematicians who decipher the language of the universe. Supporting STEM is all well and good, but I do feel it is antithetical to say you support one intellectual endeavor at the expense of another.

    *Note: I am well aware that there are many intelligent and worldly engineers, technicians, and technologists. But I am not convinced this is how they’re seen by anti-intellectual politicians.

  12. October 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm —

    Given Rick Scott’s anti-anthropology bent here, I find it kind of funny that his daughter has an anthro degree.

    http://www2.tbo.com/news/breaking-news/2011/oct/12/1/gov-scotts-daughter-has-anthropology-degree-ar-271476/

    • October 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm —

      That may make conversation around the dinner table at Thanksgiving a bit chilly!

      “Pass the mashed potatoes, please.”

      “Fuck you, Dad!”

  13. October 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm —

    Personally I would support this move. How many people get a bachelor in something liberal arts and don’t do anything with it. The economy right now simply doesn’t need people with degrees in history, psychology and so on. If you look at many small countries with a large amount of economic success (Germany, Norway, Sweden etc.), their univerity budgets are focused on science. It would of course be lovely if every one could study whatever they want for fun, but the reality of it is that people get these degrees without much real-world applicable knowledge and many thousands of dollars in debt.

    • October 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm —

      I understand I am about to present a data set of one (1) but here is my experience:
      I’m one of those people who got the Liberal Art degree and did nothing with it. I’m 13 years in an IT department of a manufacturing company. I am comfortably paid, competent at my job, and my salary, while having absolutely nothing to do with my responsibilities, means I make about $15,000 more than I would with just a BA or BS (which pays about $10,000 more than no degree). My liberal arts degree has helped me in the real world.

    • October 14, 2011 at 4:12 pm —

      I really couldn’t disagree with you more. Liberal arts degrees (and other degrees for that matter) teach people how to write effectively, how to reason/logic/argue, how to present yourself. While I know some people who got degrees in subjects like history, etc, and they didn’t end up using their degrees directly, they got hired on the basis of being a graduate, which is valuable in itself.

      • October 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm —

        Yeah, exactly.

        In today’s world, for most people, the point of college isn’t to get training for a specific career, it’s to learn how to write, read, think, argue, etc. on a certain level. The specifics of what you study isn’t as important as simply proving yourself capable of study.

        If EVERYONE ended up studying STEM fields, you’d end up with far more people with such degrees than there are available job opportunities. Like…look at what’s happening to all the people graduating from law school these days. That’s a very practical, career-oriented degree, but now they’re specialized for a field in which the applicants far outnumber the positions. Many of them would have been much better off just getting an English or History degree, where there options would have stayed open, their resume would have a big happy “ADAPTABLE” sign all over it, and they wouldn’t have the massive debts.

        STEM degrees are awesome for the people who are genuinely invested in their field and want to dedicate their lives to it and think they’re capable enough to score a job in their field. But for the rest, getting a highly specialized degree just ends being self-defeating. It ends up meaning you know how to do one thing really, really well, but only know how to do that one thing. A liberal arts degree shows you’re capable of doing a whole bunch of different things.

        In short, it’s just kind of a specialization vs. adaptability thing. In this economy, both are necessary. And same for building a future society. We need ALL kinds of thinkers, students, minds, all kinds of different specializations (including the “useless” field of…psychology? What?), and people who are adaptable and can address a variety of different challenges.

        And of course we’ll need the arts too.

        • October 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm —

          First of all, law is not a STEM field.
          You seem to be suggesting that people who studied STEM are so specialized that they are incapable of doing many of the jobs that you claim only a history or english major could do due to their “adaptability”.
          I would like to make clear that not all people that get STEM degrees are deeply invested in their careers. Many of them, particularly a large portion of engineers, do a lot of grunt work that most liberal arts majors are simply not capable of doing. They aren’t inventing new engineering wonders nor curing cancer. A liberal arts degrees shows that you can write essays about things that most people don’t care about. I would be interested to know when a liberal arts major (particularly with only a bachelor’s degree) would be more capable than someone with a science degree doing a particular job?

          • October 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

            “Most people don’t care about”?!

            If most people didn’t care about the humanities, than the entire issue you’re claiming is a problem wouldn’t exist.

            You think people are, as a general rule, more interested in how to design a hydrofoil than, I don’t know, poetry, language, art, psychology, history…?

            Someone with a liberal arts degree may (MAY) be more capable than someone with a STEM degree in any job where the issue requires considering multiple perspectives, making subjective interpretations, defending a position that can’t be experimentally tested, making any kind of presentation where style, aesthetics, appeal, that kind of thing, are more important than accuracy, and so on. There’s lots of things liberal arts students get trained in more than STEM students do.

            It’s not that having a STEM degree makes you incapable of any of that… but having a liberal arts degree doesn’t make you incapable of doing science/math/tech stuff, either… it’s just that degrees make you better at things.

            Come to think of it, I could actually flip your secondary school thing around: Don’t they teach science and math in secondary school? Why bother learning it in college or uni? ;)

      • October 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm —

        You don’t learn that in secondary school? That is very unfortunate. Not to mention that in the States, one must pay a large sum to recieve “broader skill sets” (which basically means only people with money become educated)
        A science degree teaches you all of that too because not only do you have to present or communicate a scientific idea properly and in a logical way, but you also have content to communicate.
        I am also not sure how cutting back on liberal arts will hurt the work force. If anything, the US needs more trained workers producing something (technicians, scientists, engineers…). This system of having a large amount of people that know very little about something is simply not sustainable. The POINT of getting a higher education is to be a productive and useful in a specific field. And to be honest, by getting a degree in liberal arts and doing very little with it, all you are doing is helping the banks.

        • October 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm —

          I’ve met plenty of people who understand science very well but have a really hard time understanding and dealing with “soft science” issues, and some even develop a habit of writing off that stuff as “irrelevant” or “useless” before even really having a grasp on what it is.

          There are lots of things that aren’t hard science but are completely necessary for understanding ourselves and building a functional society. Sociology, psychology, linguistics, history, gender theory, human sexuality, semiotics, law, philosophy, ethics, cultural studies, etc. If you think any given scientist can understand these things as well as people who’ve specialized in them, well let me tell you all about my take on special relativity…

        • October 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm —

          And yeah… college does provide a more in depth education on how to read, write, interpret and present ideas, etc. than secondary school does.

      • October 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm —

        Basically, if the point of getting an education is not for getting a job, then what is it for?

        • October 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm —

          An education.

          • October 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

            You have failed to provide a concrete example and have simply stated that it is possible that a liberal arts person may be better a job.
            Please give me a concrete example of a current-day job in the American economy in which someone with a liberal arts degree is necessary for solving an everyday real-world problem that someone with a science degree would not be capable of.

            You have also indirectly argued against yourself. Of course a professional socialoligist understands sociology better than a non-sociologist. Of course a professional historian understands history better than a non-historian and will apply his expertise to history. That is not the issue at hand. Your claim is that people with a liberal arts degree are better prepared for many situations in which “considering multiple perspectives, making subjective interpretations, defending a position that can’t be experimentally tested, making any kind of presentation where style, aesthetics, appeal” are required.
            The initial subject of this post was not to get rid of liberal arts all together, but rather decrease funding for them (which I assume directly affects the amount of people that end up with a degree in liberal arts). This will not affect the amount of people researching these topics, but rather affect the numbers of those that get a bachelor’s degree in those subjects and enter the work force.

            So the point of getting an education is for getting an education? And the point of eating is to eat? That is a very simple form of circular logic.

          • October 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm

            @amiinde:

            You said: “The initial subject of this post was not to get rid of liberal arts all together, but rather decrease funding for them (which I assume directly affects the amount of people that end up with a degree in liberal arts). This will not affect the amount of people researching these topics, but rather affect the numbers of those that get a bachelor’s degree in those subjects and enter the work force.”

            Do you seriously think that decreasing funding for “liberal arts” does not mean for *all* liberal arts, but only for Bachelor’s degrees? Further, how can decreasing the amount of people earning Bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts *not* affect the amount of people researching these topics? If there are less people going into anthropology classes as undergraduates, where will graduate programs draw their students from? Also, if you think that the goal is to just “decrease” funding and not get rid of liberal arts education, you’re not paying attention. Decreasing funding to already under-funded programs is exactly how you get rid of them.

            “Please give me a concrete example of a current-day job in the American economy in which someone with a liberal arts degree is necessary for solving an everyday real-world problem that someone with a science degree would not be capable of.”

            Here is an example: a student trained in cultural anthropology will probably be much better at conducting market research interviews than someone trained in physics. You cannot seriously think that all degrees provide students with the same skill sets? And that’s the key thing: Employers are looking at skills more than degrees. A person with a well-rounded education who has skills in quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, who can write and communicate well, and who can think critically is much more employable than “person with BS in Math” or “person with BA in Anthropology.”

            “So the point of getting an education is for getting an education? And the point of eating is to eat? That is a very simple form of circular logic.”

            How is getting an education for education’s sake circular logic? There are a few people in my program who have had decades of experiences in other fields who have come back to school just to expand their horizons, not because they are training for a new career. Believe it or not, some people value education for reasons other than a means to an end.

        • October 15, 2011 at 6:52 am —

          Eh?

          What about understanding history, politics and economics to become a more informed voter and citizen? What about learning more about psychology, how humans interact and disrimination to become a more aware citizen and activist? What about understanding global history, global eonomics and current events to be better able to handle and address issues like immigration and war?

          I’d call all that important.

  14. October 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm —

    I graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology (which is a social science). I never really used my anthropology degree in an immediate sense*, and I went back & did post-grad in Geography (specializing in Geospatial Information Systems/Science). Having said that, anyone who says that you MUST qualify in something practical/work-related is missing the point. Getting an education is more valuable than just what kind of job you can get out of it. Going to university teaches you broader skill sets than “how to get a job”. By being short-sighted, and cutting back on liberal arts, you’re actually hurting the work force.

    *I actually did end up using my anthropology degree in one of my previous jobs. Just goes to show that your career can take you in funny directions.

  15. October 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm —

    I’m always wary of blog posts and discussions like this which do not reference the primary material or news story – so here it is: http://htpolitics.com/2011/10/10/rick-scott-wants-to-shift-university-funding-away-from-some-majors/

    On the second page of that story you’ll read that his proposals were influenced by Governor Perry’s proposals in Texas: http://www.texashighered.com/7-solutions

    The main issue of the story and this blog post – “cutting” funding for liberal arts and putting it into STEM – is just part of that larger issue but lets look at it critically. Most of the time when you hear about government budget “cuts”, they’re really talking about decreases in proposed future spending, not actual cuts. That may or may not be the case here.

    Another commentor here said that universities shouldn’t be run like a business. That a fair position, however the other side of that coin is: as long as universities are funded by the state, politics will drive their funding instead of sound business practices. That is I believe a factor here. Faced with a projected budget shortfall of $1.57 billion dollars (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-11/florida-revenue-projected-to-trail-2012-budget-estimate-by-2-5-.html)the governor is doing the prudent, responsible thing by looking at alternatives and trying to establish spending priorities.

    Note that we’re also not sure exactly what the education budget will look like. I did some quick research and found the 2011 fiscal analysis in brief here: http://www.flsenate.gov/UserContent/Session/2011/Publications/FiscalAnalysisInBrief.pdf

    Based on my brief read, it looks like overall appropriations have been relatively flat the last couple years. Put the last two facts together, and something has to give, and Florida may actually have to give less money to higher education. But without digging farther I can’t say that’s a fact yet.

    I’m not going to suggest I have an opinion on this issue one way or the other – and I don’t live in Florida so the issue doesn’t directly effect me – but I will suggest that Floridians take some time to actually study the issue in detail, much more detail than has been presented here, before calling your legislator and telling him to kill an idea you don’t fully understand.

  16. October 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm —

    I agree with the OP, good post, whilst taking note of the cautions presented by majortom.

    Just wanted to say that in times of severe economic cutbacks such as my own State of South Australia experienced 15-20 years ago, it seems to be a standard fascist ploy to divide and conquer by setting the victims at each others’ throats.

    Thus at that time, the notion of “contestibility” was introduced, which meant that for instance, the major hospitals of the State became competitors for limited funds.

    Although there had always been academic rivalry, there used to be a great deal of cooperation and sharing of data when it came to research. That cooperation became frowned upon and was replaced by an isolationist mentality and a cutthroat competition for survival.

    The negative effects of this mentality persist even today and have only recently and partially been overcome by a messy and expensive “shotgun marriage” of equivalent divisions across all institutions (i.e. at right angles to the previous barriers).

    The money wasted on rebuilding projects as a result of these mergers and demergers has been astronomical – but that is seen as OK because it comes out of a separate budget (Recall Monty Python and The Machine That Goes Ping).

    It amazes me that the discredited Voodoo Economics of the Thatcher/Reagan era is still alive and kicking decades later in the 21st century.

  17. October 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm —

    I can’t speak to whether Scott’s idea is a good one; I think liberal arts classes are extremely valuable, but I’ve also think that in some circumstances liberal arts are overemphasized. At Ohio State, many many STEM students (including myself) take five years to graduate due to burdensome general education requirements. I took some very enjoyable lib arts classes, and some awful ones. I certainly did learn a lot, overall.
    Another thing I can’t speak to is how severely lib arts departments would be effected by the cutbacks, or how much STEM depts would be helped. A few years ago, when I was an undergrad in geology at OSU (a respected, large program, by the way), they eliminated all undergraduate geology field trips. You cannot learn geology without field trips. When I think of the frivolous stuff my roommates were doing in their liberal arts programs, I do have to wonder if the university had their priorities straight. I know (hope) not all lib arts programs are like that, but I don’t think we should dismiss Scott’s idea based on the notion that reducing liberal arts in favor of STEM will produce emotionless automatons.
    In fact, I am rather insulted by the suggestion that emphasizing STEM at the expense of liberal arts will produce “clones”. That really perpetuates the stereotype that science is inhabited by cold, unfeeling, out-of-touch robots who are unable to connect with humanity on an emotional level. And that STEM education will create these robots unless we can counteract the soul-deadening effects with liberal arts.

    • October 15, 2011 at 3:14 am —

      Yeah, I think I agree with you about the problems with the “clones” thing. I don’t really know enough about the main topic here, or feel I have enough information, to make any hard statements about it. But as a general thing, I definitely get bothered when people devalue any given field of education or characterize it as producing soulless, unfeeling clones / nerds, or, for the liberal arts, being a useless waste of your education that doesn’t have any real value to society or the economy, won’t get you a job, and that “no one cares about”. Like some people here have been saying, even. I think we, as individuals and as a society, need to be able to appreciate, understand and see the value in both.

      Or even to take it beyond “both”, we need to appreciate and value ALL the various “hard” sciences, the “soft” sciences, the humanities / liberal arts, the fine arts, AND the performing arts. Not to write STEM off as stuffy geeky stuff that takes the beauty and emotion out of everything, or say the “soft” sciences are wishy-washy, relativistic and can’t teach us anything of value, or that a liberal arts degree is a waste of time/money, that a fine arts degree is an even BIGGER waste of time/money, or that a performing arts degree is just an excuse for a very lovely four years of incredibly hot gay sex. ;)

      Heck… I even think athletics deserve to be valued in our higher education world. Maybe not to the extent that they are at places like Duke, UNC, Boise State, Arizona State or whatever, but… you know what I mean.

  18. October 14, 2011 at 9:51 pm —

    Some Anthropology students from USF have put together an online presentation explaining how their anthropological education has directly impacted the economy of state of Florida: http://prezi.com/vmvomt3sj3fd/this-is-anthropology/

    I think many people do not realize the versatility of an anthropology degree–especially graduate degrees.

    As for some of the commenters above who think that STEM jobs are much more practical or useful than social science or humanities, I’ve yet to hear how a math major is more job ready than an anthropology major. Does it not depend on the type of job? Surely y’all cannot be thinking in such narrow terms. We should be advocating for broad and well-rounded educations for all students, exposing them to as many different disciplines as possible.

    Finally, why do we need to take funding from Liberal Arts/Social Sciences/Humanities for STEM? Why not take it from the obscene amounts of funding that go towards sports? =P

    A nice summary/roundup of this ordeal from the anthropology community can be found here for those interested: http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/10/11/florida-governor-anthropology-not-needed-here/

    • October 15, 2011 at 12:11 am —

      I’d argue that psychology and much of anthropology rightfully belongs with other sciences. The distinctions between the very “soft” sciences and traditional STEM are often blurry, because in reality all sciences are complexly interconnected.
      I think a big reason that degrees don’t prepare students for the job market is that degrees aren’t really necessary for the job market. Tens of thousands of dollars in debt is a lot for self-improvement and expanding horizons.
      I think there are a lot more relevant job opportunities for STEM than liberal arts majors. This isn’t to say that those who enter lib arts are wasting the time. However, I do know more people who entered lib arts because it seemed like the easiest way to get college over with. Most in STEM had career goals in mind.
      Having a bunch of don’t-really-care students in the majors must frustrate the students who want to be there.
      The problems with higher education are a lot deeper than money.

      • October 15, 2011 at 3:00 am —

        “I think there are a lot more relevant job opportunities for STEM than liberal arts majors.”

        With all due respect, that’s your opinion, not a fact. Most of what you’re saying about liberal arts vs. STEM is anecdotal. I know a lot of people who enter liberal arts majors with career goals in mind (clinical psychology, forensic anthropology, become a professor, a teacher, and on and on), and I have met a few students in STEM majors who don’t really care about their major, either, but see it *solely* as a means to an end (i.e., a job). None of this speaks to the *actual* usefulness of liberal arts or STEM degrees. A college degree is as useful as someone makes it.

        • October 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm —

          Well, it’s not really an opinion, it’s speculation. There is an answer, I just don’t know the answer. The criteria for what count as “job opportunities”, of course, is an opinion.
          I didn’t mean to suggest that my experience was representative of all in the liberal arts and STEM.
          I wonder if anyone has conducted research on whether certain majors are more likely to pursue careers in their major field. It would be fascinating to see not only the breakdown among various lib arts and STEM fields, but also between men and women, between straight-from-high-school and non-traditional students, and among groups of varying career certainty upon entering college (I.e., students who are 99% certain on their goals, 50% certain, 5% certain… How likely are they to follow through with their original goal, and how likely are they to enter their major field?). This really sounds like something that has to have been researched. I am very curious now.

  19. October 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm —

    We have achieved Arthur Clarke’s magical world: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

    How many people do you know who can explain the workings of their cell phone? Their car? Their toilet? I mean beyond “push this button” or “turn that key”.

    For most, these things are the province of wizards.

    The governor just wants more wizards.

    • October 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm —

      How many STEM people go into jobs that require them to work on cars or toilets, exactly?

      I think your proposition is a bit flawed. We live in complex societies that require specialization. No one can be a generalist in these types of societies–there is too much complexity. There are plenty of things that people cannot explain that require specialization (technological or otherwise). It does not mean people think any of those things are “magic,” just that they do not need to understand how they work because there are other people who do.

      Of course we as a society want more students going into STEM majors–but why at the expense of other majors? Why, exactly, are STEM majors so much more important? Plenty of people in liberal arts and social science majors go into technology, so I fail to see why there is this priority on STEM majors as opposed to well-rounded educations.

  20. October 16, 2011 at 2:48 am —

    EXTREME BIAS WARNING: Astrophysics major at Florida Tech

    I don’t know if I agree or disagree with what the governor is trying to pull here – I haven’t agreed with pretty much anything he’s done thus far and I didn’t vote for him. But if this little stunt results in a slightly-less astronomical debt when I graduate, I’m all for this. But as a former english major, I realize that having a well-rounded education is worthwhile (“What do you mean I have to take science classes – I’m gonna be an english teacher, and I’m absolutely sure of that!” *eyeroll*).
    But what nobody’s mentioned is that here on the Space Coast we’ve got all of these former NASA employees around jobless. Any undergrad STEM degrees will be competing with them for jobs, especially here. The unemployment rate here is probably (I’m too tired to look it up atm) at rates only seen in California right now. I’m leaving the state and going to grad school, because if I stay in Melbourne it truly is a BS degree.

  21. October 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm —

    I also have to take a dig at the well-roundedness comment. I don’t think getting a BA means you like reading books from multiple sections of a library, or the conjugate scenario.

    I do agree that liberal arts colleges shouldn’t be attacked in this way. We could do with more STEM across all disciplines though, but that should start at a much younger age, and for the purpose of developing a scientifically literate society.

    • October 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm —

      If you are referring to my well-roundedness comment, I should clarify. I do not mean to say that a BA is a more well-rounded education than a BS. What I mean is that we should be advocating for all students to have well-rounded educations that include exposure to as many different disciplines as possible. Decreasing funding for liberal arts decreases the opportunities students have to get that well-rounded education.

      I agree we could do with more STEM in education (though I’m not sure it needs to be a part of every discipline), including in elementary and secondary education. But we could also do with more social science, too. Kids come out of high school without a clue about sociology or anthropology, they cannot use maps, and they do not understand basic economic principles. Yes, we need a scientifically literate society, but we also need a culturally and socially literate society. We should not sacrifice one to build up the other.

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