The Users of the University

Jordan Fraade | Op-Ed Contributor, January 12, 2013, Truthout
Here’s a trick you can try at home. Next time you hear a pundit say that to preserve America’s competitiveness or dynamism, we must replace the liberal arts with something more “practical,” take a second to check what they studied. Thomas Friedman, who asserts that students should study engineering and science because “average is over”? Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis. Charles Murray, who advocates shifting huge numbers of students into vocational training? History, Harvard. Dori Jones Yang, an accomplished writer and journalist who nonetheless told parents to funnel their children into “practical” disciplines? European history, Princeton.

This fun exercise in ad hominem reveals something important. When you studied whatever you wanted to at a prestigious private university, it’s much easier to tell students to tighten their belts and think of “U.S. global leadership.” The latest example of this convenient self-exemption comes from Florida Chamber of Commerce spokesman Dale Brill, a self-described “liberal arts guy” who studied at Lenoir-Rhyne College, a private college in North Carolina. Sheepskin safely in hand, Brill now spearheads Florida’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform. Its latest recommendation for the state’s public university system: students in “strategic areas” (engineering, science, and pre-professional tracks) should have their tuition frozen while everyone else offsets the cost with higher tuition.

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The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the positions of UFF-UF.