Florida Governor Rick Scott ( R ) upset anthropologists across the nation Oct. 10 with comments he made about the field on a radio talk show. The comments were made while he discussed his proposed plan to shift funding from liberal arts programs at Florida public universities to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.
Scott’s daughter, Jordan Kandah ’08, has a degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary.
“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,” Scott said on the show. “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.”
Contrary to Scott’s logic, researchers at Georgetown University and Rutgers University showed that the problem isn’t enough science and engineering majors, but that there are not enough science and engineering majors taking jobs in those fields. The study shows that more than half of science and engineering graduates go into other fields upon graduation, such as sales, marketing and health care.
Scott’s comments incited anger among anthropologists.
“It’s very unfortunate that you would characterize our discipline in such a short-sighted way,” President of the American Anthropological Society Virginia Dominiguez said in an open letter to Scott.
A spokesman for Scott told “Tampa Bay Online” that he was not criticizing anthropologists but rather noting the increased demand for STEM degree holders. Still, some College faculty members were offended by the governor’s comments.
“There’s so much that anthropology does that is applied and practical … [Because] business people are going to places like China and India, it would be nice to have a greater understanding of the people and languages in those places,” professor Barbara King said. “[But] I don’t want us to lose sight of the fact that it’s … important to have a discipline that has intellectual value … that we understand who we are and our past.”
King stressed the holistic qualities of the degree.
“My goal is not to turn them all into students who leave with an anthropology degree … but rather to think about what it means to be human, what our pre-history tells us about what it means to be human,” she said, regarding her introductory bioanthropology class. “I think that educating students to have an awareness of those issues both practically and intellectually is what education is about, not only how you commodify a degree.”
Tracy Jenkins ’12, a double major in anthropology and history at the College, agreed.
“We can’t just reduce everyone to an economic statistic or a biological phenomenon,” he said. “In a very abstract way, we’re trying to understand how people work, and if we can understand how people work, then we can interact with each other better. Having a sense of our history, having a sense of what culture is and how it works and an appreciation for other cultures … helps us not to get lost morally.”
Jenkins was critical of Scott’s plan to give prospective salary information to college students.
“On the undergraduate level, what your major is has very little to do with what you actually do when you get a job,” Jenkins said.