More recently, Scott’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform released a report recommending slightly discounted tuition for students pursuing certain majors — primarily STEM. Though Scott has not yet formally embraced the proposal (his office says he’s reviewing it), the idea has sparked a backlash from humanities professors who feel their departments are being marginalized.
A group of frustrated University of Florida history professors recently launched a Change.org petition against the two-tiered pricing idea. The petition, which has gathered more than 1,800 signatures, predicts the state’s focus on steering students into so-called “strategic areas of emphasis” will wreak havoc on English, history, and psychology departments, among others.
UF associate professor Lillian Guerra, who teaches Cuban & Caribbean History, helped organize the petition. Guerra said UF’s nationally ranked Center for Latin American Studies — the nation’s oldest, started in 1930 — was struggling even before this new idea of discounting STEM. After state lawmakers chopped about one-third of all Florida universities’ funding in the past five years, Guerra said the center had to reduce the number of graduate students it admitted. That reduction in turn forced UF to hold fewer seminars — reducing its spotlight on the national stage.
Guerra, who left a teaching job at Yale to come to UF, said history, like all departments, is funded by the number of students it enrolls. Making history majors more expensive, she argued, would inevitably reduce the total number of students, meaning further cuts to an already-damaged department.
“Long term, the destruction of the prestige of our program is inevitable if this continues,” Guerra said.
Those who say history majors don’t get jobs should look at former students who work in public health or as high school teachers, Guerra said, adding that she has signed about a dozen law school letters of recommendation for students so far this semester.
Despite being mocked by Florida’s governor, anthropologists have been deemed important to national security by the U.S. Department of Defense. Its recent study on STEM-related workforce needs found that the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have “highlighted the importance of sociology and anthropology,” and it recommended “ongoing investment” in those two areas, even as the wars wind down.
Why did anthropology show up in a military STEM report? By some definitions, anthropology is a STEM field. There is no clear, universally accepted definition of what careers comprise STEM, making it easy for job projections to be radically altered based on what industries are counted.
An October report by Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity boasted that Florida’s online job postings in STEM fields were up 10 percent over a year ago, but those rosy numbers leaned heavily on healthcare-related jobs — an area not always categorized as STEM. Nursing jobs were by far the most represented in the jobs report, accounting for more than 1 in 4 of the total STEM jobs identified.
A generally pro-STEM report produced this year by Change the Equation (an organization advocating improved science education) contained a sour note when it came to Florida: When healthcare was not counted, the report found Florida was one of six states with more unemployed STEM workers than available STEM jobs. Of those six states, Florida had the biggest oversupply of STEM workers.