I’ve been thinking a lot about Governor Pat McCrory’s recent comments regarding higher education. As a graduate of a UNC system university, it is an issue that hits very close to home for me. McCrory proposes to eliminate the liberal arts model across the state, and essentially transform some of the best colleges in the country (Hello, Chapel Hill. Looking at you, NC State). While we might not be Ivy League, these colleges are home to a diverse body of students and thinkers, and to eliminate that would cost not only the students, but also the communities surrounding these schools in big ways.
McCrory said last week in a radio interview, ““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.”
First of all, a liberal arts education challenges students to think in ways that they hadn’t before. A gender studies course forces them to consider new ideas about sexuality, oppression, and gender in ways they might never have been exposed to outside of that classroom. Art classes allow students to be creative. History courses and psychology can be useful in almost any field. I majored in music, and that taught me to think. In no way does my liberal arts education and music major make me less qualified to work in another capacity - it taught me many skills that would be incredibly valuable in any workplace.
Additionally, these learning communities on campus help effect change in the surrounding communities, in ways that engineering and math majors are ill-equipped for. I taught 3 classes of violinists for free via the ECU string project, and opportunity they did not have through the Pitt County Public Schools. Additionally, the students in Pitt County attend a play once a year for free through the school of Drama. There is a science field day hosted by the campus in the spring. Some of my friends in the history department created video interviews with historical figures to use in their classrooms. All of these things contribute to the community, and without the liberal arts courses and majors, they would not happen.
I am employed. I hold degrees in music education and music performance. I teach privately, I substitute teach, and I play with a few local symphonies. I freelance. I might not look employed on paper, but I make a good living. I imagine the school of music would have trouble proving that when they have to justify their existence to the board of trustees every year. This may be an excuse to cut the arts, but its effects will be more far-reaching than that. It will transform one of the best public higher education systems in the country into little more than a technical school. And if North Carolina goes through with this, the entire UNC system will be short-changed and lose its most able students to other states.