Liberal Arts Education and the 'Know-Nothing' Bandwagon

As my undergraduate career at UNC comes to a close this semester, I've often reflected on the advantages of a liberal arts education. Because of the university's "Connections & Approaches" requirements for general education, I've taken classes I would have never given a second thought, and have walked away with a wealth of cultural, scientific, language and mathematical knowledge.

Though everyone at UNC gripes about the "World Before 1750" and "Philosophical Reasoning" requirements, classes like "Introduction to the New Testament" and "Modern Political Theory" open students to diverse writings and theories of Paul the Apostle, Machiavelli, Betty Freidan and hundreds of other renowned texts and philosophies.

Which is why I and many of my peers were horrified when newly-inaugurated governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory blasted liberal arts higher education on a conservative talk show this week, taking specific aim at UNC-Chapel Hill, the flagship school of the public university system in the state.

McCrory, after stating he wanted to base state school funding on job creation rates, said "It's not based on butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs." The governor plans to overhaul funding to emphasize vocational training and to end subsidies to majors that don't produce jobs.

McCrory slammed a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, Swahili and gender studies, stating, "If you want to take gender studies, that's fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don't want to subsidize that if it's not going to get someone a job."

I see the argument-- North Carolina has faced persistently high unemployment numbers, seen the dissolution of the textile, furniture and other industry, and, like most states around the country, sought a balanced budget involving tough funding choices. After entering college as a political science major, 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.

However, education is so much more than vocational training and short-term job creation. It's about the development of critical thinking, writing and communication skills that have advanced the innovation of the country for hundreds of years. These abilities are transferrable across all careers and are the foundations of modernism and the 21st century labor market in the United States.

Perhaps the most laughable part of the interview was when McCrory said, "I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs."

The educational elite have taken over our education? Is there a problem with this I'm not seeing? Is having industry professionals establish curriculum a bad thing?

My astonishment quickly turned to blood-boiling anger. It's taken me 36hours to realize the full scope of my indignation -- the governor offended me as a UNC student, as a social science major, as a North Carolinian and as a public-education-supporting Democrat. It is our minds that enrich society, not our careers.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol said he was disappointed to see Governor McCrory jump on the "know-nothing bandwagon," and I agree. Public school systems offering liberal arts educations across the country have produced and cultivated countless great minds, and preserving this opportunity with reasonably priced public universities is a societal must.