December 05, 2011/MLive.com
By Susan J. Demas
In Gov. Rick Snyder's latest special message, he made a vague pronouncement that community colleges, universities and trade schools should stop "overproducing" graduates in areas Michigan doesn't need.
He notes that Michigan could use people trained in computer programming, math, health care and engineering. But the governor doesn't say what programs colleges should cut or cut back.
There are a couple big problems with this big government solution. The first is that in Snyder's new business friendly culture, shouldn't we let the market decide? After all, if parents and students want to invest in art history or classical languages degrees, who is Gov. Snyder to dictate that schools stop offering them?
If enough people aren't interested in classes, universities drop them for the semester. The same can go for majors. How is it that the state of Michigan should be getting involved in this process?
Actually, especially in the state of Michigan, the governor is on very shaky ground. Because public universities have autonomy under the constitution, even though lawmakers this year have been fixated on challenging that with edicts on how much they can raise tuition or who they can offer benefits to.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has also talked about the need for people to get training in high-demand fields, not for instance, French, which was one of her majors. Both governors are missing a crucial point, though. Universities aren't mere factories for producing workers. They're incubators for critical thinking.
There's a reason why philosophy majors at Harvard get six-figure offers from Wall Street. It's not that their knowledge of Plato's Republic is necessary to do the job. It's the fact that they hold liberal arts degrees from a rigorous institution that has required them to think about, write about and debate important issues.
It might be unfashionable to say that education is an inherent good. But if that's now a naive concept, we've got a far bigger problem in this state than hundreds of jobs in high-demand fields being unfilled.
Susan J. Demas is a contributing political columnist who provides opinion and analysis and reports breaking news on local and national issues from a Michigan perspective.