Too-liberal arts

Rolph Recto’s Wednesday column fails to see the opportunity cost liberal arts education entails

Rolph Recto wrote a column on Wednesday that’s full of ironies on multiple levels. He takes a superficially relativistic approach to the value of different courses of study, but fails to see the overarching relativistic nature of the societal costs and benefits of different jobs.

Governor Rick Scott did not say that the state of Florida has no need for any liberal arts majors — he made a case against a marginal increase in the rate at which Florida educates such majors. The liberal arts, which used to consist of several traditional courses of study such as English, history and philosophy, now cover a much wider range of topics, many prone to strong political biases. Rolph points out that these majors, which include “Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies”, and “African-American Studies,” are critical in promoting “the study of different views and perspectives.” This is arguably his most ironic point, considering the overwhelming dominance that leftist ideology has in liberal arts classrooms.

Ironically, I cite sociology professor Neil Gross, whose study in 2007 found that of social science professors, almost two-thirds consider themselves either radical liberals, activist liberals or Marxists, and more than 87 percent voted for John Kerry. More than half of humanities professors reported themselves as radical, activist, or Marxist and more than 83 percent voted for Kerry. Of all the other majors combined, almost negligible amounts were reported as radical, activist, or Marxist, and there was a much evener [sic] balance of professors who voted for Kerry versus someone else. Nobel-prize winning economist and Princeton professor of public policy Paul Krugman last week entitled his weekly NY Times column, “The Ignorance Caucus,” in reference to Republicans. How about this for irony: Find a young aspiring Republican who chooses to take a class taught by Krugman.

Rolph proposes that majors of liberal arts are not necessarily unemployable. Students can always double major in an employable field such as engineering — and of course he is correct. But in assessing the value of a liberal arts major, the two are wholly distinct.

Rolph’s stance is simply that liberal arts majors have something to contribute to society, and therefore they should pursue their given majors. He is arguing about the relative economic costs to society of marginal increases or decreases in the number of student who follow different courses of study. Considering the overwhelming demand in our country for health care providers of all levels, engineers, and other problem solvers, the promotion of the study of technical fields in the country should be applauded — and yes, that necessarily comes, as it should, at the expense of liberal arts departments. The opportunity costs of the smartest among us choosing Plato over cardiovascular surgery is simply too great.

In the case of medical professionals, the nation faces a doctor shortage as millions of formerly uninsured Americans will soon have access to health insurance (though access to health-care providers could be another story). Rolph chose to cite President Barack Obama as his beacon of light for the liberal arts. Ironically, both professions that Mr. Obama has followed — law and politics — have far too many job-seekers for the number of positions available, and neither has economic value. Famed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson (the first person to successfully separate conjoined twins) gave a speech last week (in which Obama sat two seats away from the podium), saying, “We need doctors, we needs scientists, engineers … but here’s the thing about lawyers … what do lawyers learn in law school? To win, by hook or by crook … We need to get rid of that. What we need to start thinking about is, how do we solve problems?”

If my future boss needs a report, she can count on me to write it, despite Rolph’s belief that an English major is more qualified. In light of the fact that most English majors know nothing about mine or Rolph’s area of study (accounting and computer engineering), this point of Rolph’s is the ultimate irony of his piece. If the writing abilities of computer engineers are so incompetent that the boss requires an English major to write on something of which he has no knowledge, what is Rolph saying about the Cavalier Daily — or (possibly even worse) — it’s [sic] readership?

Gary Lyon is a graduate student in the Commerce School.

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