USF reacts to governors anthropology remarks

By Divya Kumar, STAFF WRITER
On October 12, 2011

In an interview Monday on Daytona Beach radio talk show "The Marc Bernier Show," Gov. Rick Scott expressed strong sentiments in favor of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields.

"You know what? (Our kids) need to get an education in areas where they can get jobs," he said.

However, he questioned the value of non-STEM fields, focusing specifically on anthropology.

"We don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state," he said. "It's a great degree, if people want to get it, but we don't need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering (and) math degrees. That's what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on."

Brent Weisman, chair of USF's anthropology department said Scott's words were "completely baseless."

"Anthropology is, for his information, considered a STEM field," he said. "Clearly, the governor had not done his homework, so he needs to go back to school. It was a completely uninformed comment that many anthropologists, nationally and internationally, are taking as a direct insult."

On Tuesday, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) sent Scott a letter on behalf of its 11,000 members expressing remorse at his comments and requesting to meet with him to "share anthropology's contribution ... to the well-being of (Florida)."

According to the Associated Press, Scott's daughter, Jordan Kandah, has an undergraduate degree in anthropology.

Weisman said the anthropology department frequently receives grants from the National Science Foundation for its applied research, and its graduates are obtaining jobs in various fields. Law enforcement, forensic sciences, health services, engineering firms, business, legal professions, public school teachers and military intelligence are some of the professions graduates enter, he said.

"If the governor opens up the newspaper and goes to the classifieds, he is unlikely to see jobs that say, ‘Anthropologists needed,'" he said. "So, that part is correct. But, anthropologists work in many different fields, very successfully and productively."

Anthropology is essential for Florida to function, he said, and worries there could be unintentional consequences in the field resulting from Scott's words.

"Anthropology is increasingly in demand, as the social and economic problems we face are growing increasingly complex," Weisman said. "The fabric of the social and cultural environment of Florida and the institutional life of our University would greatly suffer (without anthropology)."

Weisman said he received messages of support for anthropology from Provost Ralph Wilcox and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Eric Eisenberg, who were both out of the country and unable to comment in this story.

Yet, what concerns him, he said, is the governor's outlook on non-STEM fields in general.

"Overall, his dismissive attitude toward what he views as liberal arts is very short-sighted and is not supported by the general public," he said. "He's ultimately set out to create a Florida that no one wants to live in - it won't be worth living in."

The Board of Governors has called for investments to create a knowledge-based economy, which resulted in USF spending more in STEM-related fields.

The board approved USF's request of nearly $23 million from the state Legislature in June for 2012-13 expenditures to use toward STEM fields.

Of the 17 new degree programs USF is creating in 2012-13, 11 are in STEM-related fields.

Yet, the initiative to increase funding in STEM fields was not intended to hurt other areas, President Judy Genshaft told The Oracle in June.

"(Investing in STEM fields) does play an impact because the students that are in the STEM fields are typically the ones that would be at Draper labs or in the incubator working on some technologies," she said. "But that doesn't mean that students from the humanities and other social sciences aren't making a difference for the economy. (Students) in the STEM fields are usually the ones that are picked up to work with the incubative companies."

Genshaft said that STEM fields generate more research funding for the University.

According to the Office of Research and Innovation, the College of Arts and Sciences, which houses a variety of disciplines ranging from anthropology and English to mathematics and chemistry, has received $9,242,948 to use for research since the current fiscal year began in July. The College of Engineering has received $8,034,569, and the College of the Arts has brought $354,400 in over the same period.

Marc Hebert, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and a student of Weisman's, said he hopes Scott pays a visit to USF's anthropology department to be "educated" about the field.

"Ultimately, I would not like to see any more cuts in funding to education," he said. "It would also be great to add an ‘A' in the STEM dialogue representing anthropology and the arts for ‘STEAM.'"

Jackie Schutz, Scott's deputy press secretary, said an emphasis in STEM fields is necessary for job growth.

"Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields will play an important role in Florida's long-term economic development efforts and produce a globally competitive work force," she said. "It is critical that Florida educational institutions have a greater focus on these fields, which will prepare Florida students to be competitive in the 21st century and have a high return on investment."

Schutz would not comment on Scott's stance on anthropology.

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