N.C. governor attacks higher ed, proposes funding colleges by graduates’ jobs

Pat McCrory speaks to supporters as his wife, Ann, looks on at his election night headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2012, after being elected governor. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)
Pat McCrory speaks to supporters as his wife, Ann, looks on in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 6, 2012, after being elected governor. (by Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

There’s a new voice in the continued and rather tired trashing of higher education and the liberal arts by conservatives: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

Just a few weeks after he took office, more than 12,000 people have already signed a petition blasting his attack on higher education, in which he referred to college students as “butts” and said he wants to fund public community colleges and universities based on the number of students who get jobs after graduation.

McCrory, speaking recently on former education secretary Bill Bennett’s talk show, said that higher education had been taken over by the “educational elite,” and that too many college courses did not help students get jobs, according to the Progressive Pulse. After Bennett mentioned the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s gender studies program  — a subject that is a common target for conservatives — McGrory said that students who take those classes should “go to a private school and take it, but I don’t want to subsidize that if it’s not going to get someone a job.”

He said he asked his staff to write legislation that he can send to lawmakers to change state funding formulas for public institutions of higher education that would link the funds to the number of graduates who get jobs after they graduate. More specifically, he said funding should be “not based on how many butts in seats, but how many of those butts can get jobs.”

Tom Ross, president of the University of North Carolina, rushed out a statement which said in part:

….Of course, we understand that state resources are limited and agree that there must be many pathways to jobs in the modern economy.  We are completing a Strategic Plan that involved business leaders from across the state, the president of the Community College System, and legislators in our efforts to set degree attainment goals for our state that are responsive to the talent needs of the future economy.  UNC is already transitioning from a campus funding model focused solely on enrollment changes to a model that considers campus performance on key measures related to student success and academic and operational efficiencies.  We believe this funding model sets the right direction for our University and our state.

 

The University’s value to North Carolina should not be measured by jobs filled alone.  Our three-part mission of teaching, research, and public service requires that we prepare students with the talent and abilities to succeed in the workforce, because talent will be the key to economic growth.  We must also continue to serve the state through our agricultural and industrial extension programs, our Small Business and Technology Development Centers, our Area Health Education Centers, and through the many other ways our faculty and students are engaged in our communities.  Higher education plays a key role in ensuring a higher quality of life for all North Carolinians….

 

And a North Carolina teacher, Jen Job, started a petition on signon.org that more than 12,000 have already signed and that says:

Governor McCrory: Stop your effort to dismantle UNC system liberal arts programs. UNC includes top-tier institutions attended by students from all over the world, in part because of its diverse and rigorous coursework. Give UNC the respect it deserves and keep your politics out of it.

 

 

The background on the petition says:

Governor Pat McCrory has only been in office for two weeks, and already he wants to dismantle some of the most highly-regarded education programs in the nation. In an interview January 29, he took aim at UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s flagship university and one of the best in the country. Specifically, he said, “I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs,” referring to liberal arts courses. If someone wants to take a course such as “gender studies,” he said, “go to a private school and take it.”

I was an English major, one of the so-called “educational elite” majors to which McCrory is referring. I became a teacher and helped kids in North Carolina go to college themselves. Our so-called “subsidized” Gender Studies program McCrory wants to nix has staffed students in rape crisis centers, research centers, NGO work, businesses, and law offices, among other places.

Liberal arts courses don’t *train* students, they *educate* them, preparing them to think critically, adapt to new situations, communicate effectively, and innovate–all skills the next generation needs in this ever-changing economy. McCrory himself has a liberal arts degree, which apparently enabled him to become Governor! We need to stand up this hypocrisy now and protect the valuable institution we have at UNC, before we become an assembly line rather than a school.

 

One of the comments made by a petition signer — “Why do you want stop people from learning to think for themselves. Generally these people [liberal arts majors]  actually are much better in jobs than those who only learn narrowly.” — gets to an important point about school reform.

On the K-12 level and even in higher education, many reformers want to apply a corporate model to the public education system, which is a civic institution. It just doesn’t work. Most businesses can’t survive their own business models. Why does anybody think public schools will?

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | February 7, 2013