UPDATED: Gov. Pat McCrory said he would propose legislation to overhaul the way higher education is funded in North Carolina, putting the emphasis on job creation not liberal arts and taking specific aim at the state's flagship university.
"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," McCrory told conservative talk show host Bill Bennett, the former education secretary for President Ronald Reagan, during an interview Tuesday morning. (Listen to the audio here.
McCrory echoed a crack the radio show host made at gender studies courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, a top tier public university. "That's a subsidized course," McCrory said, picking up the argument. "If you want to take gender studies that's fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job."
The Republican governor said he instructed his staff Monday to draft legislation that would change how much state money universities and community colleges receive "not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs."
"Right now we pay based on how many students you have, not how many jobs you are getting people into," he said.
At the same time, McCrory seemed to contradict himself, saying he supported a liberal arts curriculum. "I do believe in liberal arts education," the Catawba College graduate said. "I got one."
Moments later, the radio host said, "How many PhDs in philosophy do I need to subsidize? ...That's my field."
"You and I agree," McCrory added.
On the campaign trail and since taking office, McCrory has made a point to emphasize vocational education that teaches skills rather than thinking. But his comments in the radio interview went beyond his message on the campaign trail, both in substance and tone.
Despite the state's high unemployment, he said some employers need skilled workers for specific jobs. "I'm going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt," he said.
Just how to measure a university or community college's job output remains unclear. McCrory didn't go into specifics.
Also in the interview, McCrory used the academic scandal at UNC-CH involving athletes to drive the point. "It's even hit our athletic departments. Sad to say, at Carolina, our great basketball program, they took Swahili on a night study course where they didn't have to do any work and got B-pluses," McCrory added. "What are we teaching these courses for if they are not going to help get a job."
UPDATE: McCrory's comments drew immediate fire from faculty across the UNC system, who stressed that higher education is about much more than job training.
A sampling of the reaction:
From Meg Morgan, a UNC Charlotte English professor and 40-year veteran of teaching: "If we want to create a society of non-thinkers, follow McCrory's line. If we want critical thinkers and world changers, we need to make them look at new ideas and change their lives (and others' lives) based on them."
From Lisa Levenstein, a UNC Greensboro associate professor of history: "McCrory’s assumption that a college liberal arts education will not prepare students for employment reflects a profound misunderstanding of the 21st century labor market. Today’s eighteen year olds can no longer predict their long-range career trajectories. Most of them will switch jobs every 4 to 6 years, assuming 5-7 positions over their lifetimes. A liberal arts education with its emphasis on highly-transferable critical thinking skills and effective writing and speaking is ideal preparation for this rapidly-changing workforce."
From Gene Nichol, UNC law professor and former dean: "It is hugely disappointing to see Governor McCrory jump on the 'know nothing' bandwagon to try to please Bill Bennett. He does Glenn Beck proud. McCrory's not the first, nor, sadly, the last politician we'll see demagogue about higher education. All he really proved is that he has no clue what liberal arts education is. It's thrilling to think he's out to set our curriculum."
Editor's note: Post corrected to fix error and updated with additional comments and a link to the audio.