Governor is learning on the job

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2013

RALEIGH — Less than a month on the job, Gov. Pat McCrory got a quick lesson on how an inartful comment can get you batted about the ears when you hold the top political job in the state.
McCrory was being interviewed by former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, on the latter’s radio show, when he responded to a Bennett comment about gender studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“That’s a subsidized course. And frankly if you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it,” McCrory said. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job. Right now, I’m looking for engineers. I’m looking for technicians. I’m looking for mechanics.”
“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,” he added.

The comments became the focus on front-page news stories and led local TV newscasts.
Not surprisingly, some of those educational elite were not happy.
Professors at UNC system schools noted that a strong liberal arts education, with its focus on critical-thinking skills, prepares students for a wide array of professions, including those not yet in existence.
They also pointed out that a liberal arts education has always been about more than finding a job, that it instills principles of citizenship and notions of Socrates’ “examined life.”
A couple of days later, McCrory rejected the idea that he was being critical of a liberal arts education, telling reporters that he has always believed that education is about critical-thinking skills and job skills.
There’s a lesson here for the governor that has nothing to do with education, outside of his own: You ain’t in Charlotte anymore, and unlike with political campaigns, no amount of media handlers can protect you from the probing eyes and ears of the public. Governors’ words are parsed and pulled and dissected.
The unfortunate thing about McCrory’s lack of tact — and that is really what it was, as no one is going start wiping away humanitiesprograms at state universities — is that he has a point subject to being lost in the hubbub.

Our educational system and broader educational values don’t always match up well with the demands of the job market. (And by broadereducational values, I mean what all of us — educators, students, parents and taxpayers — encourage and value about education.)
On one end of the spectrum, how many four-year liberal arts graduates are unemployed? How many are bartenders, not by desire but by necessity?
How many community college graduates own their own businesses and make six-figure salaries?
On the other end of the spectrum, how many employers continue looking overseas to fill jobs that require graduate degrees in the sciences?
University and state education officials are not oblivious to these questions and have been examining them.
Neither is McCrory.

Inartful comment or not, that is good thing.

Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.