Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana thinks the University of Louisiana at Lafayette should drop its LGBT studies minor, the first of its kind in the state, because he doesn’t like the gays. Well, that’s not actually what he said, of course, but it’s what he meant. What he actually said was that “I want our young people prepared for [the] workforce and the LGBT minor does not assist them toward that goal.”
Sorry, all you folks with LGBT studies degrees and jobs in that or related fields, guess you don’t exist.
Landry’s assault on LGBT studies comes, of course, during a heated election, when he wants to position himself as a hard-line Republican candidate so he can win the endorsement of conservative groups. He’s angling hard on “Louisiana values,” and this feeds nicely into his political agenda. He gets to put himself forward to voters as the one defending “traditional values,” forcing his opponent to match or one-up him to stay in the game.
The University, on the other hand, is having absolutely none of it. Joseph Savoie, the president, says that “Experienced graduates will need to have a broad breath of knowledge, flexibility, drive and compassion. They will need to be able to think across platforms, understand society and culture and see technology and training as tools, rather than an end to themselves.”
It’s a sentiment echoed in liberal arts programs across the country; liberal arts education isn’t about technical training, nor is it about providing immediate job skills. That doesn’t mean, though, that it doesn’t prepare people for employment and careers. “...a broad-based liberal arts education does more than prepare you for a job. It lays the foundation for a future career while also preparing you to compete in the marketplace of ideas.”
The United States has always been a nation of ideas and creative innovation. Liberal arts feeds that, and I’m not just saying that because I hold a liberal arts degree. Majors and minors in fields like LGBT studies add immensely to the richness of American academia, and they do contribute things of value, both intrinsically and directly. Well-rounded educations turn people into critical thinkers, innovators and champions of the next great generation of ideas, for one thing.
For another, there actually are direct applications for degrees in this field. A future physician taking a pre-med degree might choose an LGBT studies minor, for example, because she’s interested in specializing in medical treatment for members of the LGBT community. Marketing and business students interested in learning more about the LGBT demographic might take a minor in the subject so they can be better positioned when they hit the job market. Those pesky journalists, too, might want LGBT minors so they can cover issues in the community more accurately.
Not to mention that Universities bowing to political pressure are on a fast track to losing their accreditation. You know what’s worse than graduating with a useless liberal arts degree, Mr. Landry? Graduating with a degree from a college or university that lost its accreditation while you were there. You can basically flush the value of your degree down the drain, and the very name on your diploma becomes toxic, because it will raise questions and concerns with future employers.
So even if you have a degree in something nice and sensible, you might as well have gone on a trek in the Alps for four years with only a yak and a harmonica for company. At least then you can add “yak herder” to your resume.
Landry’s grandstanding to get the University to drop the LGBT studies minor would actually directly harm the university and its students if he succeeded, which runs pretty contrary to his claim that he cares about preparing students for the job market.
This attack also has to be viewed in a political and social context, because Landry isn’t alone when it comes to politicians dictating what colleges and universities should and shouldn’t offer their students. The government seems to believe it has a right to interfere with the academy, and in some cases it’s going to great lengths to influence course offerings.
There’s an ongoing war on liberal arts education in this country; the most obvious example is the attack on ethnic studies in Arizona, which has led to the rise of liberotraficantes, the people defying the ban to get Mexican and Latino studies books into the hands of interested students. This conjures up the uncomfortable image of book interdiction squads roaming campuses in search of contraband material.
This needs to stop. The US school system is already a grave mockery and a travesty, and situations like this aren’t helping. Students in the US at all levels, from preschool to post-doc, deserve the best possible education and the freedom to pursue the subjects they love. Because the way you create national excellence is not through limiting educational opportunities, but through opening the field as wide as possible to stimulate the exchange of ideas.
Along the way, you’re creating a better-educated workforce with the power to enact bold initiatives. Funding and supporting the liberal arts makes this country a better place not just academically but economically and foreign policywise.