News Column

N.C.'s Governor Needs Schooling

Feb 11, 2013

Degree in underwater basket-weaving isn't available at any of North Carolina's colleges and universities. But you wouldn't know it by listening to its new governor, Republican Pat McCrory, lamenting the "educational elite" who insist on "offering courses that have no chances of getting people jobs."

In a recent interview with radio talk show host Bill Bennett, who served as secretary of education during the Reagan administration, McCrory portrayed North Carolina's higher education system as failing to serve "business and commerce needs."

The governor said the state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation. "Yet I have employers who can't find qualified employees," he said. "To me, that means we have a major disconnect between the education establishment and commerce."

The governor said he would seek to realign state funding so that it's no longer "based on how many butts What McCrory has done, instead, is help turn the state's otherwise highly regarded colleges and universities into the butt of jokes.

The conversation with Bennett trod across familiar ground, with the two mocking degrees in "gender studies" from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and wondering "how many Ph.D.'s in philosophy" state taxpayers should subsidize. They echoed the sentiments of others questioning the value of such degrees.

But liberal arts remain a valuable part of America's education system, despite what its detractors claim. A recent study of 225 employers by Millenial Branding found that 34 percent of companies were recruiting students who majored in engineering and computer information systems and 30 percent were recruiting majors in liberal arts.

McCrory said he does believe in liberals arts programs. He should; he received degrees in education and political science from Catawba College, a liberal arts school in Salisbury, before going to work at Duke Energy. So should Bennett, who earned a bachelor's in philosophy from Williams College, a liberal arts school, and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas.

While there's certainly a need to promote vocational education and job skills specifically needed in today's changing labor market, the cause isn't served by bashing what Bennett nonsensically described as "an elitist cult" at universities and colleges.

At one point during the interview, Bennett quoted - without a hint of irony - the philosopher Aristotle as saying "power is the ability to be and to make things be."

Until McCrory gains a better understanding of the value and skills offered by different kinds of education, he would be wise to use his power to leave things be.



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