Higher ed needs more thoughtful approach

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 03:51 PM

It is distressing that our new governor, a man presumably of intelligence and practical wisdom, has revealed himself as a “Know Nothing” party spokesman with respect to higher education. By attacking non-job oriented disciplines in the arts and sciences, I believe that his approach to job creation in our State is both wrong-headed and shortsighted.

First of all, it is a great mistake to attack our public colleges and universities by introducing a measure that determines funding by the number of jobs in which graduates are placed. Perhaps our community colleges should be judged by that measure, but the rest of our higher education system is much too complex to be judged in that way.

Think of the great professional schools and research organizations that both lead to careers for graduates but also generate cutting edge knowledge that is the seed kernel of economic growth. All of our institutions in the UNC system have elements of professional preparation; e.g., business, nursing and law. Moreover, most professional schools require their students to have undergraduate preparation in the liberal arts and sciences.

Clearly, the governor is attacking those disciplines in the liberal arts that do not link students directly to jobs. Think of philosophy, history, art, political science, economics and religion as examples of the liberal arts. These disciplines exist to expand knowledge of our world and culture, develop critical thinking skills and prepare students for responsible citizenship. Would the governor eliminate them? Or is he attacking some of the newer disciplines or fields of study like Afro-American studies and women’s studies? It can be argued they contribute to our fund of knowledge, just as well as the older disciplines. Shouldn’t that be a matter for the faculties to decide, rather than the politicians of our state?

I find it interesting that the Governor, a graduate of Catawba College, majored in political science, one of the main social sciences in a liberal arts college.  That is not a field of study that leads directly to a job, unless, of course, one has a political career in mind as an undergraduate. He says he believes in the liberal arts. He should be pressed to explain himself more clearly and defend his position.

I would suggest that the governor take a more thoughtful approach and lean more heavily on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina for advice on how our higher education institutions should be funded, rather than shooting from the hip as he is reported to have done. He could also take a leaf from the playbook of former Republican governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean, who really understood education and the liberal arts.


Samuel H. Magill is a resident of Chapel Hill and a 1950 graduate of the University of North Carolina. For five years he was in charge of academic affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, DC. He served as dean of the college at Dickinson College and president of Monmouth University in New Jersey for 13 years.