Anthropology Under Attack

So the Governor of your state just publicly attacked your college major and declared it useless; what do you do?  Well, if you are an anthropologist from the state of Florida, you fight back.

Last week, Florida Governor (and Tea Party member) Rick Scott went on a popular right-wing talk radio show to discuss his state’s need for more college graduates from the so-called STEM subjects.  He then proceeded to use Anthropology as an example of a worthless liberal arts degree and stated: “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here”. Governor Scott claims that science, technology, engineering, and math degrees are in high demand and students should focus on “those types of degrees, so when they get out of school they can get a job”.

Florida anthropologists quickly fired back at the Governor.  Anthropology students, professors, and graduates from Florida’s universities sounded off in numerous letters and statements addressed to the ill-informed Governor.  The anthropology department chairs of the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, and Florida State University all issued statements condemning the Governor’s comments.  The heads of these universities and four others have decided to compile an anthropology “education packet” to inform the Governor what it is that anthropologists actually do.

The American Anthropological Association issued a response stating: “It is very unfortunate that [the Governor] would characterize our discipline in such a short-sighted way.” The AAA statement went on to address the Governor’s ignorance on the subject: “Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, African American heritage, and infant learning.” The AAA has also put together an online petition to have Scott meet with representatives from the humanities community so that he can be educated about their contributions to the state’s well-being.

Other responses varied from anger to disbelief that a public servant of such stature would speak out about something he has no knowledge of.  The Florida Public Archaeology Network issued a statement against the Governor’s characterization of anthropology, as did the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.  University of South Florida anthropology student Charlotte Noble put together a great online resource, This is Anthropology, showing the contributions of various USF anthropologists to the state of Florida.

In separate interviews Governor Scott has indicated that he wants to cut funding to liberal arts and social science programs in the state’s public universities.  Republican attacks on liberal arts funding are nothing new, but why single out anthropology?  Perhaps, as the AAA has asserted, it has something to do with the Governor’s lack of knowledge of the field of anthropology. Maybe Governor Scott is clinging to an outdated public-view of anthropologists as tree-hugging, touchy-feely types.  Or, more feasibly, he has a personal vendetta against the subject itself.  Why is this more feasible, you may ask?  Scott’s daughter has a degree in anthropology.

Just one day after the Governor’s comments, the Associated Press and numerous other sources revealed that his daughter, Jordan Kandah, obtained an anthropology degree from the College of William & Mary.

The fact that Scott’s daughter did not pursue a career in anthropology and is currently back in school working towards a degree in another subject may have something to do with the Governor’s recent attack on the subject.  This is not only a scary revelation (that the Governor would let his personal biases affect the policies of an entire state’s public education system), but it should serve as a warning sign to other states. Don’t let the outdated or uninformed opinions of politicians limit the potential of your education.

Related: US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Anthropology Job Growth “Much Faster Than the Average” at Neuroanthropology

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