Urging Caution on STEM and Affirming Citizenship as a Core Value of Higher Education

Today, March 28, 2013, the University of Central Florida Faculty Senate passed a resolution “urging caution in the implementation of STEM initiatives” and affirming the value of citizenship for higher education. The resolution was drafted in a collaborative process, and I am very proud that this is the final resolution passed by the senate at the end of my first term serving on the body.

The resolution opens and sets the tone with the following statement, which I believe is more powerful than the resolution taken as a whole, in that is affirms citizenship as a core objective and value.

“Whereas, the idea of universities as unified entities encompassing and valuing all fields of higher learning is necessary to cultivate an intellectually sophisticated and civically engaged citizenry for the sake of the common good of society as a whole;”

The resolution is a response to efforts in the Florida legislature and by the governor to reorient higher education funding and structure to focus heavily on Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines, potentially to the detriment of other fields of study and learning. Two years ago, Governor Scott somewhat infamously called out anthropology as a discipline that serves no practical purpose in that it does not lead to or create jobs. Echoes of this sentiment have been heard in other states, including Texas and North Carolina. In North Carolina, the governor called out women’s studies and similar program areas as potentially meaningless given a perceived lack of connection to job placement.

Resolution 2012-2013-5 An Advisory Urging Caution in the Implementation of STEM Initiatives

I argue in a book I am currently drafting that job creation, skills development, citizenship cultivation, and knowledge creation and dissemination are each important goals for higher education in the United States. Our failure as institutions and in our political debate is in the way advocates of each of these higher education “narratives” prefer to debate each other, criticizing the underlying validity of each approach.

What I call for instead is a model that identifies the common thread across the narratives, with each oriented towards a higher purpose: helping society and society’s members meet our individual and collective basic needs so that our people and communities are empowered to achieve strong communities throughout the nation. Below is a figure that shows the basics of this logic.

higher ed as

Today is a good day for the University of Central Florida, as our faculty senators made a strong and positive statement that the current debate is not sufficient and needs expansion. I am happy to have played a role.

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