final report. Designed "to advance the State University System's Constitutional charge to operate, regulate, and control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system" the report has already generated considerable controversy. And well it should, because the Report proposes two fundamental changes in the relationship of higher education and society each of which are ideologically driven with little, if any, evidence to suggest that they make sense.
The first proposal, and the one that has generated the greatest controversy, is the Task Force's argument in favor of differential tuition based on major. The Task Force argues that the Florida University System should charge less tuition for those who major in what it calls "high-skill, high-wage, high-demand (market driven) bachelor's degree programs identified by the Legislature." (22)
The notion of differential tuition is not, of course, new. But Florida has turned its rationale upside-down. Normally differential tuition proposals are based on the different costs of running different programs (if your major is more expensive to run you should pay more etc) or, when there is some sort of relationship to future earnings that those entering more lucrative fields can afford more (part of the rationale for higher professional school fees). But the Florida Task Force operates on the opposite assumption: that costs of programs should not matter and that those who allegedly have worse job options should pay more for their programs than those who will move into fields that make them immediately employable. Or to put it more bluntly, that philosophy students should pay more for their education than STEM students because there are more jobs available in STEM fields than jobs as philosophers. Of course, as Elizabeth Propp Berman recently pointed out this job driven logic doesn't even make economic sense: economic opportunities for most STEM fields are not higher than for many humanities or liberal arts fields, and the sorts of skills provided in the humanities and social sciences are in great demand in the economy.
But there is a political initiative operating here as well. The Task Force leaves it up to the Legislature to determine which fields are socially necessary and to interpret market signals. The Florida Legislature already has significant power over its public colleges and universities. But the Task Force seeks to grant the Legislature the power to penalize students for taking courses of study that it deems unimportant to the market in the state.
There are contradictions aplenty in the Task Force Report. The Task Force is clearly aware of the differential costs of academic programs. Indeed, their starting point is a recognition that STEM fields costs money, compel scientists and universities to seek Federal funding, and that in order to achieve that Federal funding the University system must make capital investments to prove its worthiness to make grants work. (3-4) So it is not as if they do not understand that from the vantage point of the University it costs more to run STEM programs than other programs. And as their inclusion of the vague category of "globalization" in their list of strategic fields (23) suggests a recognition that there is more to society and economy than STEM. But in the end, they seem determined both to discourage all majors they think non-essential and to ask those who they think have less job prospects to subsidize the education of those they think have better job prospects.
Ultimately, then, the Task Force Report is ideological not educational. Despite the need in an increasingly interconnected world for students able to navigate the cultures, histories, and languages of the world with skillful analysis, the Task Force considers the liberal arts ultimately ornamental and self-indulgent. Moreover, despite the long history of research and knowledge production that exceeds the immediate demands of the economy, the Task Force wants to subject the choices of study to the immediate desires of a politically interpreted market. And despite the importance of academic curiosity to both students and the larger community, the Task Force sees the pursuit of the liberal arts as a waste to society. The Task Force, then, is intensifying the ongoing effort to de-legitimate disciplines that appear insufficiently pro-business.
Faculty in Florida have put up an online petition to oppose this effort to reduce Higher Ed to an appendage of a particular political economic vision. You can show solidarity with them by signing it. It can be found here.
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