Florida anthropologists respond after governor calls them unnecessary

Liz Goodwin

Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, said this week that he wants to move funding at the state's colleges away from the humanities and social sciences and into engineering and the sciences.

Scott singled out anthropology as an example of a field of study that should get less money from the state government because it doesn't "create jobs" or spur the economy.

"Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so," Scott said Monday in an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In a radio interview, he repeated the claim.

"You know, we don't need a lot more anthropologists in the state," Scott said. "It's a great degree if people want to get it, but we don't need them here."

Florida anthropologists say Scott's comments reflect his ignorance of the field.

The comment is "based on some stereotype he has about anthropologists sitting around teaching underwater basket weaving or something like that," Brent Weisman, the chairman of the anthropology department at the University of South Florida, said in an interview with The Lookout. "That might be his idea of what anthropology is and it's therefore frivolous and a waste of public education dollars. He's way off the mark."

Weisman says people in the hard sciences need anthropological research into human behavior to inform their work.

"The engineers that are out there trying to build better water systems or improve utility delivery or look at road networks, they all realize that there's a huge human dimension to the challenges that they're faced with. They seek out anthropologists to help them," Weisman said.

Weisman and the heads of seven other anthropology departments in the state are compiling an "education packet" to send to the governor. He hopes it will "bring him up to date about what modern anthropology is."

Glen Doran, the chairman of the anthropology department at Florida State University, says Scott's remarks are especially discouraging because his department has laid off two-thirds of its faculty members and suspended its degree programs after huge cuts to higher education in 2009. "It's been pretty tough," Doran says.

Weisman's department has been growing, but he worries that Scott's words could discourage students from studying anthropology.

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