Weekly Briefing

More valuable than he realized?

wb8202013

Gov. McCrory apparently comes around on the worth of a liberal arts education

The world of politics can be a shallow and cynical realm – a place in which powerful men and women are loathe to admit a mistake or weakness (even when they know they’ve screwed up) lest they be branded as flip-floppers or hypocrites. That’s why it’s always especially inspiring when a prominent leader stands up, admits the error of his or her previous ways and charts a new course based on the facts.

Think of that ultimate anti-communist Richard Nixon opening the door to Mao’s China in the 1970’s or Ronald Reagan proposing the abolition of all nuclear weapons to Mikhail Gorbachev. Closer to home, think of Jesse Helms meeting with Bono to talk about AIDS relief, arch-conservative Congressman Walter Jones battling the war in Iraq or any number of one-time opponents of LGBT equality opening their hearts and minds.

Recently, it has become apparent that North Carolina is witnessing another such political evolution on an important matter. The issue is the value of a college education in the liberal arts and the person apparently wising up before our eyes is Governor Pat McCrory.

From ideologue to cheerleader?

As just about anyone who follows North Carolina politics will recall, it was just seven months ago that North Carolina’s new and wet behind-the-ears governor made his first big splash on the national scene by controversially attacking liberal arts education on the radio show of longtime far right politico, Bill Bennett. As Raleigh’s News & Observerreported at the time:

Gov. Pat McCrory said he would propose legislation to overhaul the way higher education is funded in North Carolina, putting the emphasis on job creation not liberal arts and taking specific aim at the state’s flagship university.

I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs,’ McCrory told conservative talk show host Bill Bennett, the former education secretary for President Ronald Reagan, during an interview Tuesday morning.

McCrory echoed a crack the radio show host made at gender studies courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, a top tier public university. ‘That’s a subsidized course,’ McCrory said, picking up the argument. ‘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.’

The Republican governor said he instructed his staff Monday to draft legislation that would change how much state money universities and community colleges receive ‘not based on how many butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs.’”

The Governor’s attack provoked a firestorm of protest from those who rightfully saw the attack as a cynical and narrow-minded appeal to the extreme right.

In recent days, however, the Governor has, happily, been singing a distinctly different tune. Just last week, the Governor publicly defended the decision of his Health Human Services Secretary, Aldona Wos, to place two recent college graduates in the liberal arts near the very pinnacle of her multi-billion dollar, multi-thousand employee department and pay them handsome salaries.

As was first reported by N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska last Wednesday, Matthew McKillip – a 2011 graduate in English from Georgetown University – now makes $87,500 as Wos’ Chief Policy Advisor. Meanwhile, Ricky Diaz, who received a 2011 B.A. in economics at Vanderbilt, makes $85,000 as Wos’ Director of Communications.

When quizzed about these decisions, however, McCrory – the former critic of liberal arts – was adamant that the two were the best qualified people for the jobs. He told WNCN TV:

“They got promotions. They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too. But frankly, these two young people are very well qualified and they are being paid for jobs at which that’s the pay rate for that job.”

Got that? No more liberal arts bashing from the Governor. According to McCrory, a college liberal arts degree is actually quite valuable – so valuable that it can qualify people with essentially zero professional experience for some of the most prestigious and desirable jobs in government, even jobs that pay more than is earned by hundreds of state employees with advanced degrees (and even years of experience) in “hard” sciences.

Who said politicians couldn’t learn and evolve?

Just the beginning?

Gov. McCrory’s new found respect for traditional higher education seems to be manifesting itself in other areas as well. Recently, some of the Governor’s allies on local boards of elections have been moving quickly to eliminate voting precincts in and around traditional college campuses. Clearly, these actions, in tandem with the Governor’s approval of legislation that makes it more difficult for college students to register to vote, must signal yet another expression of respect for our state’s undergrads.

After all, how better to demonstrate the esteem with which you hold a group like this than to say, in effect:

You guys are so smart that I know you can find your way out into the cities surrounding your campuses to search out places to vote. So what if you don’t have access to transportation or a reason to obtain a driver’s license. That won’t be a problem for the best and the brightest in our state! We’re not going to patronize you like our predecessors did any longer.”

And the same phenomenon is clearly at work in the decision of the new conservative appointees to the UNC Board of Governors to deny access to gender-neutral housing for LGBT kids. Like the local election officials, these defenders of higher learning know that the best way to lift up academia and prevent bullying by uninformed and narrow-minded students is to empower their potential victims by forcing them to confront their tormenters. It’s kind of like falling off a bike or a horse; you can’t get ahead by being a wallflower – even in the liberal arts. Together with improved ease of access to concealed weapons, this change is likely to be just the ticket for making state college campuses stronger and healthier than ever!

Going forward

And, of course, if the Governor and his allies are capable of such a dramatic turnaround in attitude toward higher education, who’s to say where the evolution will stop? What about Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Phil Berger?

What about State Budget Director Art Pope?

Come to think of it – maybe that’s what’s been at work with the large cadre of former Pope employees and associates from the Locke Foundation, Pope-Civitas Institute and Americans for Prosperity who’ve courageously overcome their longstanding hatred of government and all things public in order to take well-compensated jobs with benefits inside the administration and the General Assembly. Talk about evolution!

Although in this case, it may be a matter of intelligent design.