Florida Republicans not so fond of social sciences

Update: Oh no he didn’t alert: Governor Scott’s daughter has a degree in anthropology from William & Mary, AP reports.

Florida’s governor is not feeling the love for anthropology, and a powerful state senator isn’t so fond of psychology and political science majors. If they would only confuse stem-cell research with STEM degrees, we might make some progress.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida is beginning to lay out his agenda for higher-education reform, including putting more state money into degrees that he says are likely to produce more jobs, but in an interview with The Herald-Tribune, a newspaper in Sarasota, Fla., the most notable thing he said concerned anthropology.

Under the Republican governor’s agenda, the winners would include programs in mathematics and science, but at the cost of supporting the humanities, the newspaper reports. “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education, then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Mr. Scott told the paper. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”

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These statements may be based on ignorance. Then again, a lot of what Florida’s governor does is based on ignorance.  Anthropologists are not amused.

From Inside Higher Ed:

… (I)n a radio interview, (Gov. Scott) reiterated his view, saying of anthropology majors: “It’s a great degree if people want to get it. But we don’t need them here.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, anthropologists are not pleased with the sudden attention.

The American Anthropological Association has requested a meeting with the governor. In a letter to Scott, the association’s leaders said, “It is very unfortunate that you would characterize our discipline in such a short-sighted way…. Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, the African American heritage, and infant learning.”

A spokeswoman for the governor, asked by Inside Higher Ed about the request from anthropologists to talk about these issues and the scholars’ frustration with his comments, re-read Scott’s quotes about the value of STEM degrees, but declined to comment about anthropology.

Many anthropologists have been issuing defenses of their discipline and its relevance.

The emergence of anthropology as a target was something of a surprise to Florida academics. Last year, State Senator Don Gaetz, who has since been elected as president of the Senate for 2012, complained about other degrees in the social sciences. “When the No. 1 degree granted is psychology and the No. 2 degree is political science, maybe before we ask $100 million more of taxpayers we should re-deploy what we have,” Gaetz said. “That way we make sure we’re not sending graduates out with degrees that don’t mean much.”

Those comments led a group of psychology professors to prepare a report noting that just because the psychology major is popular doesn’t mean it is a bad degree. The paper noted success for graduates in a range of fields (not just psychology).

Florida academics have already been worried about the state’s governor, who has repeatedly expressed admiration for the push by Texas Governor Rick Perry to demand more information about how faculty members spend their time, and to focus evaluations of programs on their ability to land grants (with the latter criteria viewed by many as favoring the physical and biological sciences over the humanities and social sciences, where grants are fewer and smaller).

And some faculty leaders in Florida said that the governor’s comments reflect a general problem of politicians understanding the liberal arts and the role of academic leadership.

To read more, click here.

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