North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) set off a firestorm this week when he declared "educational elite" have taken over colleges,
and lashed out over what he says are worthless courses that offer "no chances of getting people jobs."
In a national radio interview Tuesday with Bill Bennett, U.S. Education Secretary during the Reagan administration, McCrory said there's a major disconnect between what skills are taught at the state's public universities and what businesses want out of college graduates.
“So I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt," McCrory said, adding, "What are we teaching these courses for if they're not going to help get a job?"
McCrory said he doesn't believe state tax dollars should be used to help students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study for a bachelor's degree in gender studies or to take classes on the Swahili language.
“If you want to take gender studies that's fine. Go to a private school, and take it," McCrory said. "But I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job."
Bennett added his own take, which seemed to echo former presidential candidate Rick Santorum's controversial statements about higher education.
"We've really created this elitist cult of hierarchy where people who know how to do things, do things with their hands are looked down upon," Bennett said
The first term governor said he'd propose legislation to change the higher education funding formula in the state "not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs.”
Yuna Shin, a North Carolina community college instructor teaching German and women's studies, said her students took offense to "being called 'butts' rather than students."
"They also pointed out that the governor seems to be thinking that the jobs are there just waiting for them if they take the right classes," Shin wrote in a blog post. "But where are the jobs, governor? Would the jobs magically appear if the college were to teach only job training classes?"
UNC student Emily Booker wrote in another blog post she had "blood-boiling anger" over McCrory's comments.
"The governor offended me as a UNC student, as a social science major, as a North Carolinian and as a public-education-supporting Democrat," Booker said. "It is our minds that enrich society, not our careers."
McCrory's comments earned a harsh op-ed co-written by Jonathan Riehl, a political consultant, and Scot Faulkner, a former Newt Gingrich aide and Reagan administration official:
As a political philosophy, conservatism is grounded in intellectual thought and deliberation. The governor’s statements about education are therefore not only counterproductive but also anti-conservative.
Ironically, the notion of colleges and universities as factories for job-performance smacks much more of leftist, socialist societies where individuals were not valued for their knowledge or perception but for their ability to perform tasks. As a philosophy, conservatism has in fact battled this idea for hundreds of years. The governor is apparently not familiar with this history. Perhaps his education was not liberal enough.
Several other editorials in North Carolina newspapers bashed the governor's remarks.
Other Republican governors who have proposed very similar higher education reforms saw the same backlash as McCrory.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) -- who McCrory mentioned he speaks with regularly -- proposed tying funding to performance, and said "that means not only degrees, but are young people getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott floated the idea of charging less for STEM majors, causing one student group to call him "one of the worst governors in the history of mankind."
It's not clear that employers are actually shunning liberal arts students. For instance, a 2012 survey of 225 employers issued by Millennial Branding and Experience Inc. found businesses seeking out liberal arts majors almost as much as engineering students.
On Thursday, McCrory told the Winston Salem-Journal he was sticking by what he said on the radio, but insisted he "never mentioned liberal arts in a negative way."