The liberal arts are key to a successful North Carolina

On Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory sat down with radio show host Bill Bennett to discuss the role of higher education in North Carolina’s economy. The governor’s remarks were patronizing and fundamentally incorrect.

There are two possible explanations for his takedown of liberal arts education in public institutions.

The first is that his imploring gender studies majors to “go to a private school” was just run-of-the mill political pandering to the anti-intellectual crowd.

The second is that McCrory sincerely believes that there’s little connection between a liberal arts education and meaningful employment.

The former is off-putting, but the latter is truly pernicious and promises a bleak future for the UNC system.

The Daily Tar Heel editorial board chose to endorse then-candidate McCrory for governor in November because of his “demonstrated ability to work well with Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.”

His successful record as the moderate mayor of Charlotte seemed to show that he could find reasonable solutions in the state’s polarized political climate.

But these flippant comments disparaging North Carolina’s flagship public university seem to indicate otherwise.

What they do indicate is a worrisome lack of respect for the importance of education in the bettering of society, the long-term improvement of the economy and as a means of social mobility.

If Gov. McCrory wants to talk about improving education policy, there’s a serious debate to be had.

However, simply discounting all areas of study that aren’t directly professional — and then suggesting they should be limited to the wealthy elite who can afford a private education — cheapens and oversimplifies the discussion.

The chief executive of our state needs to resist the temptation to publicly mischaracterize and denigrate one of the state’s most important institutions.

If the plans for higher education McCrory advocated during his campaign are ultimately going to come down to a gutting of the University, then this editorial board regrets having given him its endorsement.

The endorsement came with reservations — and these recent revelations about McCrory’s perspective toward this University and public higher education in general are confirming our fears.

This University is grappling with a number of challenges both from outside and of its own making. But to suggest that its strong tradition of liberal arts education sells short the state and its students is to suggest a falsehood.

The University’s achievements in research, community service, global engagement and — its most fundamental objective — teaching the next generation, have more than justified its historic function.

Professional and technical schools and community colleges already exist and serve their own important role. Stripping the liberal arts education out of this University would simply dilute its impact and confuse its purpose.

Promoting education is essential for the economy. However, McCrory and Bennett should know more than anyone the value that a liberal arts education offers. Both studied the liberal arts as undergraduates, and for all his lambasting of the public’s subsidizing the intellectual “elitist cult,” Bennett himself has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas — a public institution.

The fact is that liberal arts education, when designed correctly, does more than impart a set of skills. It prepares the mind for a lifetime of learning and an ability to understand, analyze and critique.

No one doubts the importance of meeting employer needs or spending public dollars wisely.

But belittling the importance of intellectual curiosity and non-technical fields is unacceptable from the governor of a state that purports to pride itself on higher education.

Thanks for reading.

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