The Anthropologists Strike Back!

The other day I wrote a letter to Governor Rick Scott. Turns out, I’m not the only one to have some, um, “concern”, over the governor’s recent comments regarding Anthropology and other Liberal Arts (but mostly Anthropology).

Daniel Lende has a very thorough compilation of comments, responses (even from Governor Scott) and further developments in the One-Sided Education Saga. (Here’s Lende’s Article)

Here are a couple highlights.

The American Anthropological Association issued a swift response:

As an association, we are a group of over 11,000 scholars, scientists, and professionals who are dedicated to studying humankind in all its aspects, including through archaeological, biological, cultural, medical, and linguistic research… Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, the African American heritage, and infant learning.

Brent Weisman, chair of the University of South Florida’s Department of Anthropology, offered this response:

My colleagues and I in the Anthropology Department at USF encourage our Governor to do his homework on the modern discipline of anthropology before making another casual but ill-informed remark. Anthropologists at USF work side by side with civil and industrial engineers, cancer researchers, specialists in public health and medicine, chemists, biologists, and others in the science, technology, and engineering fields that the Governor so eagerly applauds. Our colleagues in the natural, engineering, and medical sciences view the anthropological collaboration as absolutely essential to the success of their research and encourage their students to take courses in anthropology to help make them better scientists.

Anthropology is a human science in its own right, and many of my colleagues receive highly competitive funding through the prestigious National Science Foundation to conduct original research on contemporary social problems. Recent faculty projects have focused on issues in immigration, aging, disparities in health care, and food insecurity, to mention a few, all of which are pressing problems right here in Florida.

And countering Governor Scott’s remark, the number of anthropology majors is increasing dramatically. We take this as validation of anthropology’s vital role in the modern world. Anthropology graduates get jobs in many careers outside of academia and help their employers solve the many complex human challenges facing our communities, our state, our nation, and our world. We respectfully disagree with our Governor. More anthropologists needed, not fewer, Mr. Scott.

What I’ve learned today: not only are Anthropologists smarter than I am, but they’re a lot more pissed off angry than I am too!

In closing though, let’s not forget that the primary issue here doesn’t seem to be an attack on Anthropology so much as it is an erroneous suggestion that limits the scope of what college can be – what college should be.

To quote Robin Williams’ character in “Dead Poets Society”:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Now medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”