Last week I linked to my essay, "What's wrong with anthropology?" My theme was that anthropology has been a failure over the past two decades at engaging with policymakers and the public, and that the field can only look forward to decline unless we take immediate action to improve this situation.
Well...today the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, gave a convincing proof of my thesis on a radio program:
We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.
“I got accused of not liking anthropologists the other day,” Scott said. “But just think about it, how many more jobs do think there are for anthropologists in the state?
“Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t. I want to make sure that we spend our dollars where people can get jobs when they get out.”
Daniel Lende has a roundup of stories and responses by anthropologists. It's very difficult to come up with a rapid and effective reply from an organization or department, so I understand these aren't as punchy as they might be. Still, it seems to me a vastly more effective response would describe the economic impact of anthropologists in Florida, the dollar amounts of federal and private grants they bring to Florida universities, their role as custodians of natural and cultural history, and their history of engagement with indigenous and immigrant peoples in the state.
Oh, and the major associations could mention that the state will not be considered for national meetings. The AAA meeting in particular drives millions of dollars of direct and indirect revenue to its host city.
Florida anthropologists have a great opportunity moving forward to get attention for their work in public engagement. The attention of the press will never be directed as closely to the value of anthropology within the state.
UPDATE (2011-10-12): According to the AP and Tampa Bay Online, Governor Scott's daughter took a degree in anthropology. Let me just say, that reinforces the message. We can't even communicate the importance of our field to the parents of our students!