NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — President Barack Obama‘s dig about art history majors is adding fuel to an academic debate.
While promoting manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin last month, Obama said: “I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”
The president clearly knew he touched a nerve with his put-down. He sent a handwritten apology to a University of Texas at Austin art history professor who complained.
David Kilpatrick, a professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., said he was glad to hear the president was sorry.
“You bristle and you kind of say, ‘What kind of message are you sending to the American people?'” Kilpatrick told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
Still, educators are seizing on the president’s comments as an opportunity to defend arts and humanities, even as states shift money into the so-called “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math.
“The need to write effectively, speak effectively and communicate to large groups of people is a skill that resonates in any career path,” Kilpatrick said.
“We do not give our students a fish; we teach them how to fish,” added Miriam Gogol, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Mercy. “That is our idea. We teach them how to think.”
Young people studying liberal arts might be disappointed, too, by the president’s comments, but probably not surprised. They hear comments like it all the time.
Michelle Mitchell, for example, is sticking with her decision to study English at Mercy, even though science and technology majors are seen as better paths for paying off student loans.
“A lot of people worrying about that rather than what they’re going to enjoy doing in the long run,” Mitchell said.
Ironically, first lady Michelle Obama was at Manhattan’s New Museum on Thursday, visiting an exhibit using street art to promote drinking water.
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