A petition hosted by MoveOn.org is circulating protesting comments made by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory about the curriculum in colleges and universities in the state. He made his remarks on Bill Bennett’s radio show, and they infuriated faculty members at Chapel Hill and elsewhere. Responding to Bennett’s question about what he plans to do with education, the Governor declared himself a “big vocational training advocate” and regretted that “the educational elite” have produced an undergraduate program filled with “courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.” Bennett cited “gender studies” with a laugh, and McCrory termed it a “subsidized course” and told listeners, “If you want to take a 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.” He added that he planned “to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs.” He insisted that “I do believe in liberal arts education,” but stated that the funding formula for higher education in the state must change so that it will favor more skills-based studies.
It’s a common sense position echoed by state leaders across the country, many of whom are pressured by big employers in their states to produce more graduates who can fill empty positions. The professors didn’t see it that way. UNC law professor and former dean Gene Nichol told the Raleigh News-Observer, “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.” The head of gender studies at Chapel Hill told Inside Higher Ed that McCrory’s attack was “kind of frightening, while a religion studies professor told the Charlotte Observer, “”I don’t know what kinds of jobs McCrory wishes for UNC graduates, but his comments certainly suggest that he has low expectations for UNC students and for the state of North Carolina, which is disappointing – and insulting.”
The petition itself states, “We need to stand up to this hypocrisy now . . .” and its lead statement reads, “Governor McCrory: Stop your effort to dismantle UNC system liberal arts 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 tone is juvenile, the fear overdone. It is easy to read McCrory’s utterance as simply an adjustment to off-campus conditions, not a “dismantling.” But the petition has collected 12,678 signatures, and McCrory’s words have made their way to the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and Forbes, each with critical comments attached.