At last, what we have all been waiting for – a narrative of decline that isn’t just one more pity party for the classics, the humanities or liberal education. The narrator is the Governor of North Carolina, elected last fall amid the rebirth of the Know Nothing Party in what used to be the leading state of the “New South.”
Governor McCrory, you may remember, got national attention from an interview with Bill Bennett in which he revealed his vision for higher education in North Carolina: “[My funding plan for higher education is] not based on butts in seats but on how many of those butts can get jobs." In other words he wanted to cut back funding for courses that did not directly lead to entry level jobs. Outrage followed. His blinkered vision had led the governor to grasp the third rail of North Carolina politics, the affection Carolinians of all regions, classes and education levels feel for their university. They don’t want a politician with no expertise in educational matters setting the direction for UNC.
Confronted with the outrage Governor McCrory seemed to back off, but did he learn anything? In opening remarks to a recent conference of CEOs he is reported to have said, “There is a discrepancy between what we’re teaching and what employers need … What’s happening is the tech courses are leaving and the liberal arts are coming in.” Now there is a narrative of decline or rather, Ducky Wucky, of the falling of the sky. Can you imagine anything worse? After all the efforts to advance the STEM disciplines (and no others), after all the right wing poor mouthing of liberal education, all the “Jobs, jobs, jobs” talk, all the wringing of hands about the effects of the recession on ill-prepared college graduates, etc. etc. “the tech courses are leaving” and those dreadful liberal arts are taking over.
Move over, Mr. Gibbon. Here is the real decline and fall!
How could this possibly happen? All the pressures are in the other direction. Is it conceivable that students have glimpsed something that the learned governor has missed –that a college education ought to include a deepening understanding of history, and philosophy, great art and literature, global cultures and personal values? It ought to develop capacities for written and oral expression and for critical thinking and analytical reasoning. It ought to remove blinkers. Only in that way can college held students be ready for rapid changes in the economy, personal challenges, and leadership roles in society.
Did you miss something, Governor?
Thanks to Jean Houston for calling to my attention a letter by Karen T. Davis in the Raleigh News and Observer on August 27th.