Good bye Karl Marx, Judith Butler, and Shakespeare! Public universities may cease to offer courses in the liberal arts if Governors Pat McCrory of North Carolina and Rick Perry of Texas have their way. Both Governors support legislation that would shift funding away from university departments that “have no chance of getting people jobs.”
In Texas, Governor Perry has proposed reforms that prioritize professors with large classes and grant money. He also ambitiously seeks to provide four-year college degrees for a sum total tuition of $10,000—without weakening the quality of instruction!?! Talk about a miracle. But the real miracle, according to the Governors, is finding employment with a liberal arts degree. As Governor McCrory famously announced in a radio interview: “If you want to take Gender Studies, that’s fine; go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
For all their business-savvy, Governor McCrory and Governor Perry seem to misunderstand the value of a liberal arts education. They seem to believe that we live in an organized and predictable world. If only! As Forrest Gump says, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. A college degree in a practical, career-driven field like Physics or Business does not ensure you a job. For all we know, a degree in Gender Studies or English may open the door to something unexpectedly satisfying and lucrative. Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, agrees: “Many of the kids graduating from college these days are going to hold a number of different jobs in their lives, and many of those jobs have not yet been invented.”
Liberal arts education teaches us how to think critically and creatively. This kind of innovative thinking makes you stand out in a crowded room of unemployed hopefuls; it can make or break your chances at a successful future. In fact, liberal arts education enables us to invent the jobs of the future. Don’t believe me? A survey of 155 CEOs by the Conference Board shows that 97 percent of employers want to hire creative and analytical employees– two skills inherent to a liberal arts education. Students at liberal arts colleges or studying the liberal arts today have a top shot at getting hired by those 155 CEOs tomorrow.
The Governor suggests that I go to a private college for a liberal arts education. Unfortunately, I don’t have a money tree growing out back. McCrory may believe that liberal arts degrees are vocational suicide, but the Governor does not get to choose my career. I get to decide how I live my life. If I want to take a class about the African Diaspora or Feminist Theory, then whose business is that but my family’s and my own?