You couldn’t make this up…
February 1st, 2013

You couldn’t make this up. This story hit the fan this week:

North Carolina governor proposes funding PSE based on students’ ability to get jobs: North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told a national radio audience Tuesday that state community colleges and universities should be funded based on how well they do at placing students in the labour market. McCrory said he has instructed his staff to draft legislation “in which we change the basic formula and how education money is given out to our universities and our community colleges, not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs.” University of North Carolina president Tom Ross says the 16-campus system is already revising its funding formula to include measures relating to student achievement and academic and operational efficiencies. Still, he has reservations about gauging university success solely based on students’ and graduates’ employment rate.

Further to this, the NC Governor dumped on the “educational elite” on —what else?—open line radio for offering courses in subjects such as gender studies that don’t lead students onto clear career paths. Who needs the liberal arts, he asked. We need engineers and mechanics.

Not surprisingly, reaction from faculty, and the UNC president was swift, strong, and strident. McCrory himself earned a BA in political science and education from an expensive southern college, and so one wonders whether he thinks it was all a waste of time. I’d be checking those college credentials, for sure. What is it with these people who turn on their own degrees? Wonder if he donates to their advancement fund.

I can’t imagine anywhere in the world where these sorts of statements would be uttered in public by an elected official. Can you imagine anyone saying this in France or Germany? Or Canada? But in the US, polarized as that nation is between Republican governors like McCrory and, say, California Democratic governor Jerry Brown, extreme positions are more common.

Of course, the foundation of a liberal arts program is its critique of society, culture, tradition, and official history. Take away that capacity and you have a nation of narrowly educated morons. I am overstating, but you know what I mean. Do we want our universities to be strictly labour market rigged? Anyhow, how does this McCrory fellow even know where gender studies graduates are working anyway?  Because they are.

This kind of talk-show ranting is worrisome on so many levels, not the least of which is the thinly veiled attack on president Obama who has long been accused of elitism for holding advanced degrees from the Ivy League. As if that were a bad thing…. I have commented on the shame of all that before. It never ceases to amaze me that one of the most advanced countries in the free world should also contain such ignorant, anti-intellectual attitudes about education. That’s why they call it an open society, I guess. It’s a society in which more cartridge ink is spilled on whether Beyoncé lip synched the national anthem during the presidential inauguration than on any post-secondary education debate, ever.

Now, none of this means I am going to miss the Superbowl half-time show…. I might live in the ivory tower but a liberal arts degree also gives me an appreciation of good spectacle.

NG

Dr. Noreen Golfman is Professor of English and Dean of Graduate Studies. Her post secondary education included study at McGill, University of Alberta, and University of Western Ontario. She has been teaching and writing in the areas of Canadian literature and film studies for most of her career. She is the president of the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences, founding director of the annual St. John's International Women's Film Festival, and director of the MUN Cinema Series. Dr. Golfman's blog 'Postcards From the Edge' will be updated every Thursday.

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