Governor Scott’s Shortsighted Proposal

Dr. Michael M. Crow. ASU image.

Dr. Michael M. Crow. ASU image.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) has proposed reducing state aid to educational programs that are not in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.

This is a bad idea.

I support Michael Crow’s (president, Arizona State University) position that our graduates must have the “ability to understand the complexity and interrelatedness of our cultural, economic, natural, political, social, and technological systems.”

We cannot predict precisely what jobs will exist in the future.  Our educational objectives should therefore be aimed at the person, not a particular job market.  Only in this way can we prepare graduates for a future we cannot see.

I welcome your thoughts.

Dr. Crow’s statement from

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for reductions in state appropriations for particular academic disciplines so that public universities can focus resources on producing graduates in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. This shift, he claims, would better serve the state by spurring job creation. For some reason, he seemed especially concerned that Florida universities might be producing too many anthropologists. He was quoted as saying: “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. … I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.”

At the end of the day, the objective of our universities, both public and private, should be to create teaching, learning, and discovery environments capable of producing learners of the highest caliber. Differentiated learning platforms must accommodate the immense variability in types of intelligence and creativity that have made the United States the dominant source of innovation worldwide. Within this context, it is critically important that students develop the ability to move from subject to subject and problem to problem, and from environment to environment and opportunity to opportunity, in ways that unleash and utilize their innate capacities and creative potential. Such mental agility will allow them to establish new business enterprises, scientific or technological capabilities, social initiatives, and creative endeavors in every sector of the economy. It may come as a surprise to Gov. Scott, but the perpetual innovation that drives our economy could even be inspired by anthropologists.

The objective of public universities should not be to produce predetermined numbers of particular types of majors but, rather, to focus on how to produce individuals who are capable of learning anything over the course of their lifetimes. Every college student should acquire thorough literacy in science and technology as well as the humanities and social sciences. Every student should have an understanding of complexity and sustainability and decision-making matched with a general awareness of entrepreneurship and business. From this breadth of experience, students gain the perspective and focus necessary to succeed in any academic field and subsequent career trajectory. Given the multiple dimensions and global interconnectedness of many professional sectors, the trend toward choosing two or even three majors is entirely appropriate. Needless to say, the challenge is to design universities that have the capacity to produce such individuals who are also ready to work within the contexts of initially narrower assignments.