Why educate students when you can make little worker-cogs instead?

I have recently joined a coalition of concerned faculty, students, and staff who are outraged at ways UF has been clamping down on academic freedom in response to political pressure from the governor’s office. As a librarian, my interest in academic freedom is of course perennial. It affects all of us, from what we can purchase for the library to the sorts of programming we can offer within our library spaces. But all of that is by the way-side of what I want to talk about.

Person holding a large white sign that says "Union Equals Academic Freedom" and "GESO & GSEU" along the side.
“Union Equals Academic Freedom” by Cold Cream Coffee is licensed under CC-BY-SA

At one of our recent meetings, conversation turned around to how legislative interference in University governance has affected students, and my ears perked up. I am a UF alumni, and I’m always interested in the ways higher education in this state is changing since there’s a good chance my son ends up going to school here as well. And what I heard horrified me.

First, there’s the surcharge on tuition over a certain credit hour cap, based on the minimum number of hours a degree program requires, and if you go too much over that minimum, they charge double tuition. To encourage students to “graduate on time.” So that the University rankings will go up. Which is such bullshit. There should not be a penalty on wanting to learn more. Especially since we are asking students who are barely into adult-hood to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. If we don’t allow them the ability to play around with different majors, see how they like certain courses of studies, change their minds, learn and grow and become…then what are we even doing? An artificial ranking is not worth forcing someone to stick with the first idea that comes to them for the rest of their life. I’ve changed career paths so much since I first decided what I want to be when I grow up. It’s taken me until age 35 and 3 separate degrees to finally find the career I finally want to spend the rest of my life pursuing. Taking that option away from people who can’t afford to pay premium prices for their tuition is just wrong.

The second shocking thing was the proposed change to the Bright Futures scholarship that would limit the award only to students participating in “useful” degrees that lead “directly to careers”, such as STEM or Business etc. The bill currently (which does not appear to be moving forward right now) only directs the Board of Governors to create a public “list” of all degrees that “they determine do not lead directly to employment.” I am a Bright Futures scholar. I had a 100% Full Ride scholarship for my undergraduate degree, and this allowed my grandparents to help pay for my graduate degree. I would otherwise have been unable to attain my first Master’s degree without this help, and if they had had to help me in my undergraduate degree they wouldn’t have been able to help with my Master’s. So the program is extremely important to me personally, and I am already disgusted by the cuts that have been made to it. But this anti-intellectual ranking of certain degrees as “more important” than other degrees is just. Dangerous. It cannot be overstated how dangerous it is to us as a society at large to make it harder for people to pursue arts and humanities and other “useless” degrees. No degree is useless. Every degree brings learning and experience and new ways of thinking with it, and these can be applied in the work force in innovative and creative ways that are not always obvious when you’re getting the degree. I have a BA in Classics, an MA in Classics & Ancient History, and am half a semester from my MS in Information. I have never worked in a field “directly related” to Classics, but I have used all my degrees at all my jobs in one way or another, even if it’s just using the ways of thinking through problems that a basic college degree teaches you.

The work-force needs graduates who come from diverse learning backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives. Cutting out whole swathes of those from the work-force is just…frankly it’s bad business. It’s dangerously bad business, and the fact that our legislature are too dumb and/or anti-intellectual to see that is not just frustrating, but frightening.

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