I remember driving across the Tar Heel State back in the ’80s, en route from my home in Virginia to the home place in Graniteville. It was common then to see bumper stickers that read, “Honk if you’re from Carolina; moo if y’all fum State.”
“Carolina,” north of the border, meant the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The bumper sticker was considered a put-down for North Carolina State, the proud institution in Raleigh, just a few miles from the hallowed grounds at Chapel Hill. It is to the Tar Heels what Clemson is to the Gamecocks.
Today – at least in the eyes of Gov. Pat McCrory – the bumper sticker would be a badge of honor for State.
Why? Because cows mean jobs – on the farms, at the slaughter houses, at the packing plants, in the supermarkets and in the burger joints where young people skilled at flipping patties can earn at least the minimum wage.
“I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt,” McCrory said. “What are we teaching these courses for if they’re not going to help get a job?”
I take that to mean that the University of North Carolina is going to drop its formidable academic pretensions and concentrate on imparting specific job skills to the young people who enroll there.
For years, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shared with the University of Virginia the distinction of being in the Ivy League of state universities.
U.Va., by the way, was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, who got his education at a trade school known as the College of William & Mary. One of his proudest achievements was the invention of a plow board that made it easier for farmers to cultivate the soil.
Jefferson didn’t learn to design plows at W&M; he studied law. But while there, in the elite company of other colonial leaders, he polished his thinking and writing skills for the day when he would be called upon to write the Declaration of Independence.
He learned to think, which enabled him to absorb the spirit of the French Revolution and apply its principles to the American colonies. He also designed a writing instrument that enabled him, in the days before typewriters, carbon paper and ink-jet printers, to make multiple copies of his writing. And he gained fame as the architect of his home at Monticello, which adorns the tails side of the nickel, and the Virginia state Capitol, one of the few capitols that avoid the cliché of a domed edifice.
I should note that Jefferson didn’t personally build the plow board or the writing instrument and, for that matter, didn’t lay the bricks at Monticello or the Virginia Capitol. He used his knowledge to instruct craftsmen in doing the hands-on work, thereby creating jobs for others.
Perhaps if Jefferson had taken classes designed to equip him for a job, he could have fashioned those instruments himself. And maybe, with a steady tradesman’s income, he might have avoided the financial struggles that plagued him throughout his life as he pursued one idea after another in quest of progress for the human race.
In his interview with Bill Bennett, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education, McCrory poured scorn on the idea of granting degrees in gender studies and the Swahili language.
“If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine. Go to a private school, and take it,” he told Bennett. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
In other words, the function of a state university is not the training of tomorrow’s leaders but the training of workers for today’s business and industry. You don’t need to know Swahili or the nuances of gender to program a computer or slap a rear quarter panel on a BMW at Greer.
Swahili, it happens, is the lingua franca of southeast Africa and serves as an official language for five countries. About 60 million people can speak it or understand it, which puts it in about the same league as Italian.
Presumably, the governor would be averse to teaching Italian at a state-supported institution, unless the intent were to prepare Tar Heels for roles in the opera.
Swahili, on the other hand, could be an asset to someone seeking a career in the diplomatic service or as a translator.
McCrory took his degrees in education and political science from Catawba College, a fine little liberal-arts school in Salisbury, N.C.
It may not grant a degree in gender studies, though it does offer courses in sociology and philosophy, which don’t necessarily equip you for jobs in the private sector.
The governor, according to his website, went from Catawba College to Duke Energy, which knows how to train people for jobs.
Duke put him through a management-training program, where he went through “a rotation of digging ditches and climbing electric poles, as well as stints in various management jobs from human resources to economic development.”
That certainly does not conflict with his stance in favor of taking back the state-supported colleges from the “educational elite.”
McCrory’s predecessors were not so scornful of non-vocational education courses.
Luther Hodges was graduated from the University of North Carolina and was governor when the Research Triangle was established. The Triangle has provided jobs for thousands of people, many of whom graduated from trade schools or other places that don’t offer classes in Swahili. You might call that trickle-down employment.
U.N.C. equipped Terry Sanford to be a governor and U.S. senator and to take the helm of Duke University. Pretty decent job training.
If the educational elite are deleted at Chapel Hill, at North Carolina State and at other public academic institutions, North Carolinians can take their picks of some good private colleges. Duke and Catawba come to mind. You might even learn Swahili there.
Basketball, presumably, would remain a fixture at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.