Rick Scott to Liberal Arts Majors: Drop Dead

From Mother Jones:

Florida’s unpopular tea party governor, Rick Scott, wants more of the state’s youths to pick up college degrees… but only if the degrees are useful to corporations and don’t teach students to question social norms. “You know what? They need to get education in areas where they can get jobs,” Scott told a right-wing radio host Monday morning. He continued:

“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.”


  1. What the fuck does he think an anthropologist is? I’m sorry, that is some science too, but he probably thinks that science is guys in lab coats standing around with beakers.
    Next time they have to put a road or building in a possible historical area (St. Augustine anyone?) you bet they’ll be calling on an anthropologist (AKA archaeologist) to remediate the site.

    1. Hahaha! You think they give a damn about historical sites that aren’t directly related to the Revolution? If they want to build a highway through St. Augustine, they’re going to build a highway through St. Augustine.

      1. Yep, my father in-law is an archaeologist and my brother in-law has an anth degree and my wife minored in anth. But I still bet he thinks science is Dexter’s Laboratory or the like.

  2. Is he under the impression that all Anthropology majors are unemployed? All the ones I know of have jobs.

    This is an excellent reelection strategy, though. I have known a lot of right-wing engineers, and only one who I know was a liberal. Engineers that I’ve worked with. At my job. That I have despite having graduated from a liberal arts college. With an art degree.

  3. Here come the thumbs down…

    Okay, let’s remember that I’m an engineer. Let’s also remember that we’re talking about state dollars, and I am opposed to wasteful public spending.

    So, if the state is going to, essentially, subsidize education, I don’t think it’s a surprise that a government would treat that subsidy much the way that agricultural subsidies are treated (or should be)- that is, you use the money to entice farmers to grow crops that will help meet needs and create stable markets. You also do not give subsidies to farmers who are growing crops that do not meet needs and serve to create market chaos.

    Let’s look at our needs. We need a lot of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists to help us revolutionize the way we get our energy, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and address our mounting (and daunting) problems within the healthcare, aeronautics and communications industries. These degrees are often very difficult to complete and (from my own anecdotal evidence) tend to draw students on a much lower income scale because they depend on raw talent and a strong worth ethic, meaning that all those “bros” who are majoring in a generic business degree to go to work for their grandfather’s company aren’t going to cut the mustard.
    While I recognize that French Literature or Religious Studies degrees are important, those degrees don’t do anything to solve our technological crises. Why subsidize a degree that does not meet a need? It’s not like he’s saying “In Florida, no one is allowed to major in anthropology.” What he’s [ineptly] saying is “In Florida, we need to allocate our public dollars to meet public needs, and currently, our needs are in engineering, mathematics, and the physical sciences.”
    Also, stop dumping on engineers as right-wing fanatics (or nerds), or I’ll be forced to dump on your degree fields.

      1. Well, you opened your remarks with the assumption that you’d get thumbs down, so I assumed you knew why we’d all think you’re stupid.

        Anyway, tl;dr.

      2. Are you actually curious about the other point of view and willing to change your mind? Or do you just like starting arguments and are disappointed that nobody’s arguing back?

      3. Sarah: I’m genuinely curious to know what part of my statement is objectionable. The “mean girl” part of my brain really wants to say “oh, they’re just pissy that *dun dun dun* someone might agree with this asshat.” And, to be fair, I really do think he’s an asshat, and I’m shocked to find myself in agreement with pretty much anything that has dropped from his jaw. I was all prepared to lay down some tea party hate…until I read the article. And I have to agree with B, at no point does Scott say any of the inflammatory things that the article does, and it’s unfair to put those words in his mouth. Moreover, I don’t find his general idea objectionable. I find it rational and, frankly, thoughtful.

        The nagging “you know you’re not always right” part of my brain is willing to concede the point that I am wrong if someone could present a rational case opposing my point. I’m willing to consider that my own personal bias toward the sciences and belief that more people need to be educated in the physical sciences (rather than liberal arts) have tainted the way I see this issue. Perhaps the Milwaukee employment situation is radically different from Florida and I’m applying the data from my locality to one that is dissimilar. Perhaps there is a need for my BAs that I did not know about.

        I’m not surprised to get a comment calling me stupid rather than making an actual reply, and frankly, it allows me to smugly walk around the office thinking that I have proof that there are simply not enough people out there with the educational tools necessary to think rationally without having to present insults as arguments. Also, love tl;dr. I suppose it IS easier to not inform yourself and come to emotional conclusions like a certain political group supporting the aforementioned governor. [Sheldon Cooper Laugh]].

        I’m being long-winded (I know), all this to say: I’m not trying to be a troll, and I’m not going to insult anyone on here- I just would really like to have a frank discussion about higher education policy and its ramifications on current economics and society.

        I am not a troll, please feed. [[friendly “aw shucks, don’t we all hate Fox News” feeble smile that has no emoticon]]

      4. As I’ve said, I’ve known a lot of engineers and I’ve heard a lot of them express these ideas before. I don’t know if it’s because they have that engineer personality, or because they did not get a liberal education themselves, or if it’s just the tendency a lot of people have to think that what they chose for their life was the best way for everyone, but they cannot understand why anyone would waste their time with the liberal arts when they could be studying something that would make them more money. Surely they were duped or were too lazy to study something something hard. I went to a liberal arts college, and looking at my fellow graduates I find it hard to believe. All are employed that I keep up with, and I don’t see how you could say they aren’t benefiting the states they live in or that they fulfill no need in society. I did not pick my college or my major to make money, but I think both made me see the world differently from an engineer. Even if you think (for some reason that I do not understand) that universities exist primarily to generate money for the student or the state, and that the only priority society ought to have is technology, innovation, even in science and engineering, takes all kinds of thinkers, not just engineers.

      5. Sarah: I think the problem here is a lack of understanding. No one [here] is saying that you have a useless degree. No one has said that we don’t need different types of thinkers. I think everyone with a BA is feeling a little sore because they don’t understand what we mean. We mean: our society needs MORE engineers/mathematicians/scientists. No one is saying that we can’t have any philosophy degrees. Obviously that would create some kind of irritating Vulcan society that wouldn’t enjoy art/literature/free thought. Your degree is important, and it meets a need. But it doesn’t meet all the needs, and it seems a little silly to read that Florida wanting more engineers/mathematicians/scientists to solve it’s problems means that there is some kind of a threat to the liberal arts.

        And, it’s true that a lot of engineers are dickwads. Trust me, I am a woman in the field, and if you want to talk about one of the last bastions of subtle sexism and classism, look no further than my office. Yes, there is a lot of talk among some of my colleagues that is not flattering toward people in some degree fields. I think surviving some of the upper math and physics classes in college does that to a person- I have yet to meet someone who passed Calc II who isn’t a total pain in the ass (myself included). However, we’re not all total dickwads. Some of us are very active in outreach programs to bring technical and scientific knowledge to disenfranchised youth. Some of us are active in Engineers without Borders. Some of us work on projects that are meant to help people in real need. But frankly, even the bleeding heart liberal sweeties come across as asshats to people who are unfamiliar with our thought process and jargon.

        No one, other than Mother Jones and those who are too closed-minded to have actually read the statement, is saying that the liberal arts need to go away. We are saying that there is a need, and we need to encourage people to fill it.

        P.S. Thanks for the reasoned reply, I appreciate having a dialogue about this. Also, I didn’t pick my major or college to make money- I design and build prosthesis with a goal of decreasing cost and increasing bio-integration.

      6. There are a couple of contradictions that I see.

        “No one [here] is saying that you have a useless degree”
        “more than a few people around here with toilet paper degrees”

        “Your degree is important, and it meets a need.”
        “Why subsidize a degree that does not meet a Need?”

        “But it doesn’t meet all the needs, and it seems a little silly to read that Florida wanting more engineers/mathematicians/scientists to solve it’s problems means that there is some kind of a threat to the liberal arts.”

        He’s not coming up with new money for the universities. He’s a Tea Party Republican, after all. They don’t like new spending. He is getting the money to do this from the budgets of the liberal arts departments. That is absolutely a threat. If they were slashing the budgets of Engineering departments to pay for something else, you’d have a right to feel threatened, too.

        There is an anti-intellectual strain in the Republican party and the Tea Party represents the worst of it, as far as I can tell. These are ignorant people who think that money is more important than knowledge. The idea that anyone would make a different choice is bizarre and threatening to them. I get that you are not one of them, but they are the ones who hear the governor say that Florida doesn’t need any more anthropologists and say, “hell yeah, bunch of eggheads!” I have known these people. I strongly suspect the governor is one of them. They could not tell you what an anthropologist does. Encouraging kids to go into engineering is one thing, but I don’t think that is what is really going on here.

      7. I want to start by addressing an earlier remark you made about not getting liberal education, and I would like you to understand that we do have to take liberal arts classes to complete our degrees. Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, Spanish, Women’s Studies and Art were all a required part of my education.

        Discussing your points:

        Contradiction #1
        I apologize that someone (who is not me) made a reference to toilet paper degrees. I don’t think there is such thing. I do think that there are degrees that have fewer practical applications. I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask some of those unemployed degreed people, they might tell you that their degrees are worth less than toilet paper (a chemical engineering friend of mine who is unemployed has said such a thing…but that’s a different story, he doesn’t have a job because he’s impossible to work with…)

        Contradiction #2
        It’s not a contradiction to say that your degree is important and meets a need, and to pose a thought experiment about how one might go about subsidizing education to encourage certain results. I’m sure there are people here in MKE who would love to purchase locally grown papaya, but you don’t see any government agencies tripping over themselves to financially help that idea. Moreover, I’m not sure how pointing out that your art degree does not meet all needs is a contradiction at all. It meets some need, even if only to intellectually satisfy you, but I promise that it does not meet all the needs. I didn’t say that engineering/math/science meets all the needs- but I did point out some specific needs that need to be met, and that cannot be met without the technical knowledge that comes from said mathy/sciencey degrees.

        Moreover, re-allocating money is something that happens everywhere. Sure, the liberal arts are losing dollars, and yes, any education funding that loses money is sad. BUT, the minute we have national crises involving the need for more philosophers to tackle crumbling philosophy, I’m all for taking money out of the sciences and flooding philosophy. Hell, you want an example of a science that needs to lose a few dollars (please don’t throw things)- Forensic Science. CSI (and all others) have made this field super popular, and now we have a bunch of people with these degrees who can’t get jobs because there are so damn many of them. Let’s reduce these programs in favor of International Studies programs (since I would argue that there is an eminent need for people with those degrees, especially coupled with politic science or economics degrees).

        There IS an anti-intellectual strain within the conservative movement in that they use it for political purposes (to decry liberals as over-educated people who are out of touch with “normal” Americans…they actually really want lots of business-savy people running shit and staying in charge). I don’t see how it is valuable to say that engineering, mathematics and science falls in with anti-intellectualism, unless you count us as unintellectual- and I take a lot of offense to that. It’s that kind of attitude that alienates people without degrees as well.

        And money is important. Anyone who has witnessed the giant disaster in our economy over the last 3 years should understand. We need lots of money churning around to finance education- including your education. This isn’t a choice between being a warm and wonderful human and being a malicious money hungry asshole.

        Anyone coming out of school (no matter the degree) can tell you all about the importance of money. My student loans are just as expensive as an art major’s student loans, but my income potential puts me light-years ahead on the ability to pay off that loan and become financially stable.

        Also, can we please inject the idea that “need” is different from “want.” I want to live in a society that has art, music, and someone to think interesting things and then put it on NPR. I need the bridges to not give out when I’m near them. I think it’s unfair to say we “need” more people with Hebrew degrees and that their budgets are as equally important as people with electrical engineering degrees.

        “They could not tell you what an anthropologist does. Encouraging kids to go into engineering is one thing, but I don’t think that is what is really going on here.”

        It’s true that they probably don’t appreciate or understand what anthropologists do. I think very few people do- and fewer really understand or appreciate what engineers do. And you’re right- the money isn’t going into recruitment (technically), it’s going into updating and upgrading labs, materials, and staff- which means that the kids who are looking at engineering degrees are going to go to the school with the best equipment and reputation, and they will come out of said school prepared for real-world challenges.

        The people of Florida (and the US as a whole) are facing a crucial moment: our dependence on fossil fuels has crippled our economy and environment, our infrastructure is decaying and often unsafe, and our economy is faltering because too few of our people are able to meet the evolving challenges of technology. For this reason, we need to reallocate the funding to Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering to prepare ourselves for the future. We are going to need Liberal Arts majors- after all, who will write the books, defend the law and liberty and inspire this nation? But we do not need them in the same number as those responsible for creating advanced technological solutions.

      8. I don’t think science is anti-intellectual. I think governors who see universities as money making machines are.

        If you take the view that the arts and humanities are nice to have and all, but that we should cut their funding until the current crisis is over and save them for when times are good and we can indulge them as the cute hobbies they are, you will never, ever stop cutting their funding.

    1. Yeah, we NEED people who ended up getting your degree, which required “raw talent and a strong worth ethic.

      Meanwhile, “those “bros” who are majoring in a generic business degree” are seemingly worthless…and, apparently, probably didn’t have to have raw talent or a strong work ethic, right?

      Gee, I can’t imagine why anybody responds negatively to your posts..

  4. I guess I don’t see what the fuss is about. According to the article, he never said “Drop Dead” to Liberal Arts Majors, and he never said to get jobs “useful to corporations and don’t teach students to question social norms”. He said get an education that can get you a job.

    Recently, I was talking to a friend who was trying to get people to sign a petition to forgive student loans. He was bemoaning the fact that he has an art degree, and he has a really hard time paying back his student loan on the money he earns (as an artist). It was hard for me to sympathize with that since certain degrees have low earning potential, and I think he should’ve known that – rather than getting the degree and then asking for his student loans be forgiven.

    1. I totally agree. I think there are a lot of colleges out there perpetrating a complete evil by not being fully clear about income potential and the employment rates of some fields. Yes, we all need to get a well-rounded education that teaches us to think (which is why I think all people should have to take psychology and philosophy as cattle classes), but there are a lot of doe-eyed youngsters out there who have no idea that they are wading into unfriendly waters. My lovely, wonderful, bright, enthusiastic, beautiful and intelligent younger sister has an English degree. She graduated with honors and was the treasurer of her sorority. She went to a good school and has a lot of contacts. She also waits tables because she can’t find a job in her field. The teaching positions have vanished (thank you VERY MUCH, Gov. Walker), [[note, if you do not see the sarcasm in that, god help you]], the entry-level librarian positions have gone to people with masters degrees in library science and all those jobs out there that require that you have a degree (but don’t care which one), are fewer and farther between than you might expect- moreover, they pay less than her job waiting tables.

      So, while the members of the family that had work experience and life experience outside of college were telling her that her BA was not going to do anything other than sink her into the pits of debt, her college counselor happily spouted off all of “potential” careers she could enjoy. Unfortunately, that counselor never rolled out the little spreadsheet that showed that her income potential was basically equivalent to that of a shirt-folder at The Gap. Said counselor also didn’t bother to mention the abysmal percentage of people in that degree field WORKING IN THE FIELD, simply saying that some ridiculously high number of graduates were employed within 12 months of graduation- nevermind that most of those people were employed as receptionists and busboys. Of course, her job is to sell college, not actually help you make good life decisions.

      Of course…for every person who majors in philosophy, I get a little more job security…

      1. @d. From looking at all the thumbs-down that you’re receiving, I suspect there are more than a few people around here with toilet paper degrees who are just pissed because you speak the truth. I have a friend in her late twenties with a masters degree in English. She was lucky enough to get a job in the field that she wanted to be in. Unfortunately, she also had to work evenings and weekends in a grocery store because she couldn’t afford to live on the income from her main job.

      2. Jimmy: I think I have a lot of thumbs down because people think that I’m saying “Engineers rule, English majors drool.” Which I am not. I don’t think you should disallow people to major in fields with low income potential or poor job placement rates, but I do think you should be honest about the information. I think that if my sister had heard from an “expert” in job placement and income potential, she would have chosen a different investment of her education dollars. Don’t get me wrong- she got a great education, and we can spend hours talking about literature- and her insight is invaluable. But, my dear sister doesn’t get to enjoy her education much because she is toiling to pay off her loans.

        I think people identify strongly with their education- it reflects who they are, how they think, and what they love (in most cases). Unfortunately, it gets to be too emotional for a lot of people, and they are perceiving offense where none was intended.

  5. I really dislike the ‘disliking’ of d’s comments that’s going on here. She’s making bloody good points (though I don’t agree with everything) and is genuinely engaging with the issues. She certainly hasn’t earned the ‘stupid’ sobriquet (way to shut down debate, MacCrocodile).

      1. Sorry d but you haven’t got my choler up enough to argue over the points where I do maybe disagree – and many of your comments suggest those disagreements would be pretty minor anyway. I’d love a discussion over a beer (meaning that idiomatically, don’t take it as a come-on) but I’m sitting this one out. Only commented at all because it’s good to see these points being made (and argued cogently) and dismaying to see such knee-jerk negativity in response.

      2. outeast:

        I understand. I think a lot of this is very nuanced and people are taking things personally that aren’t personal. I also think there is a lot of “all or nothing” reasoning here that is too reactionary, as well. Let me know when you want to have that internet beer and we can chat in a non coming-on-to-you-because-that’s-weird kind of way.

  6. My son-in-law Brian was an English major at UCSD. I spent many hours on the phone and online with tech people at T-Mobile trying to get my router to go wireless (it came with T-Mobile at Home). No one could help me, as they no longer sell the product. Brian spent less than half an hour fiddling, and got the wireless up and running. He said, “There’s no substitute for a liberal education.”

  7. D and Sarah, these lines are for you. I hope I am not too late for the discussion, nor too long to be read.
    Sometimes, people who deal with matter tend to believe that the same logic they apply on it can be applied to the different type of object that is the human being. In fact, the extreme complexity of society (wich is, even for a reductionist, which I am not, formed from an enourmous number of brains, that are by themselves very complicated and hard things to understand) is the fact behind social sciences being based on a different kind of thought discipline, i.e. erudition. That is, generalizing, the reason why Liberal Arts, Economics etc. are considered “pre-paradigmatic sciences”. Exhausting their meaning is by itself impossible, one has simply to abide or not to their arguments, risking always to be partial. Being so, sketching the need for philosophy and culture in a society is simply impossible as well. One can not grasp it; nevertheless, we must defend it at all costs, fiercely, against the risk of seeing it lost.
    One kind of fact that these disciplines help unveiling is that assumptions like “I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state” (Walker’s) simply move around more stuff that, at a first view, they seem to do. One thing is that, when one abide to this kind of assumption, the consequence is supporting policies that does not address the problem in any way, and only use this discourse to cover for a different kind of action.
    Scott Walker is a genius of the old task of dividing people who have the same interests for the benefit of another group. His objective is not placing more money in the correct fields of study, but simply place less money in education and research as a whole. In one word: to enable increase of profit shares through tax reduction for the rich. Walker, with the support of an immense number of people who believe in his “reasonable arguments”, cuts spending in education not because it is too expensive, but only because it is the task given to the U.S. government by its sponsors, disconnecting the elite from its responsability to turn over the profit they make over the general work, allowing thus to the capital be exported and the general condition of the economy to worsen. Although this idea that I expressed can not be proved, there is indeed facts that can be called upon as evidence of its correction. One of them is that through all the period of crisis, the profit of big corporations in all sectors are record.
    The years after the great war formed the greatest generation of americans because there where strong taxation over capital (over 90%!), a hard grip of the government over financial speculation and investiment in all fields of knowledge. To my view, Sarah and D should be side by side defending the reinvestiment of profit in societary needs, not debating on the 4% that trickle down.

  8. um… hate to digress from the raging debate but…

    Has anyone told the Governor of Florida that one of his biggest employers is Walt Disney? And I have a feeling that they employ a LOT of arts majors.

    I’m always amazed that people think that the good ole U.S.A. needs engineers and math majors but can do without English majors and Liberal Arts majors, but they forget that one of the biggest employers, moneymakers, exporters, tax-generators is the FILM/TV industry.

    1. No kidding. One of the USA’s top exports is entertainment — movies and TV that we sell to overseas markets. It’s a far larger part of our trade that corn, wheat, jeans or whatever.

      Regarding the article: Rick Scott’s stance of “if it doesn’t get you a high-paying job, it’s a worthless pursuit” treats a college degree like a trade school diploma.

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