Gov. Rick Scott’s comments present major problems for college students

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October 20, 2011

11:17 PM

According to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, we don’t need any more anthropology majors.

Scott wants to shift state money away from programs in the humanities to programs in science, math and technology, where more jobs are being created. Incidentally, his daughter holds a degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary.

Professors at liberal arts universities, including those at the College, have made statements describing the benefits of a liberal arts education and the students with humanities majors who have gone on to spectacular careers. I agree completely that majoring in the humanities teaches students to think critically and interpret the world in a way that other majors do not, but I believe also there is a more subtly alarming aspect of Scott’s remarks.

The problem is that Scott should not be the one to decide what college students do with their lives. American college students are not mindless, lifeless objects that can be crafted to fit some ideal formula in the same way that authorities organize resources or balance the budget. What is the point of living in a democracy where we are free to make our own choices if we don’t, well, make our own choices? I understand that the economy is down, and that these unemployment is up, and these are major problems that require action. However, as a country, we’ve endured far worse and have somehow managed to recover and continue to prosper without giving up our basic ideals.

What are those basic ideals? In essence: the ability to decide your own life, and the ability to pursue something you are truly interested in. That’s partly why liberal arts colleges exist. What if someone had told Scott, while in college, to forget about politics and to go into science? I certainly hope he wouldn’t be pleased — nobody who changes the world does so by following a certain path because success is statistically more likely.

Yes, the advice to follow your passion sounds cliche. The cynics will argue that it is easy to state such lofty ideals, but that in reality, you cannot follow your passion if you cannot find a job. In response to this, I do not argue that it will be easy to go into fields with lower employment demands. However, there will always be a place in the world, and in the United States, for those with a thorough understanding of art, logic and human nature. There will always be poets, journalists, psychologists, philosophers, historians — and I would be troubled if this wasn’t the case. Some professions are simply timeless, and college students who learn such skills are invaluable. I hope that none are tempted to surrender their visions and desires of the future because someone tells them that another path would be more practical.

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