Faculty, students take aim at lawmaker’s ‘degrees to nowhere’ remark

LOGAN—Controversy surrounding a Utah state senator’s comments, dismissing most college majors as “degrees to nowhere,” has not diminished since he spoke them earlier this month.On the contrary, Sen. Howard Stephenson’s comments have sparked controversy around the state as potential budget cuts to higher education loom.Christy Glass, an assistant professor of sociology at Utah State University, was so frustrated about the Draper Republican’s attitude that she and some colleagues considered taking action.”A few of us friends and colleagues sent around this article with the quote,” Glass said. “We were all talking, ‘Should we write a public letter that we all sign, or should there be a public statement from all the deans of the colleges?’”Although Glass and her colleagues decided to avoid drawing more attention to the statement, opting instead to “live with the frustration” surrounding the senator’s attitude toward her and other “nowhere” disciplines, Glass’s unhappiness is still very much alive.”When we hear a policy maker dismiss what we do, when we see the value in what our students are able to accomplish at Utah State and beyond, it’s insulting,” Glass said. “It’s insulting to us, but it’s insulting to students.”Stephenson said Feb. 2 that, “The state is wasting billions of dollars conferring ‘degrees to nowhere’ on college students because higher education is badly ‘misaligned’ with the work force,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.Stephenson, who Utah Gov. Gary Herbert endorsed as “the leading fiscal conservative in the Utah Legislature,” voted against a higher education bill because of budget cuts that would affect the Utah College of Applied Technology. Stephenson says that the technological college is more successful at placing students in jobs after graduation, especially compared to students who graduate in psychology, sociology, philosophy and other humanities.But John Allen, a sociologist himself and dean of USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHaSS), says students who graduate in his college outperform students in many other fields by midcareer.”What that means,” Allen said, “is that people, on average, in midcareer, make more money if they’re from the humanities and social sciences.”Humanities and social science classes are the core of a college education, he says.”If you think about the humanities and the social sciences, which includes all your writing, all your communication skills, your languages, your ability to understand history, political systems, social systems, and then anthropology and archeology—which gives you a more physical and cultural aspect of the world,” Allen said, “not only are they not a drain, but they’re the core of an education, and it’s been like that for centuries.”Allen does not discredit degrees in scientific and more applied fields, but he does believe that the liberal arts benefit everyone, both individuals and the larger society.”I think technical school is fine for some people. I think it depends on where you’re at in your life,” Allen said. “But I do think that everyone benefits. The individual benefits and society benefits when people have a good solid humanities and social science background.”Despite mixed feelings surrounding these types of degrees, proposed budget cuts to higher education would be a problem for USU—for both students and faculty. Legislators are talking about a 7 percent cut to state appropriations to Utah colleges and universities.If USU has to absorb that kind of budget cut, Allen said, it could mean that students would be forced to attend school longer in order to get into the classes they need for graduation.

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