Oedipus Alexander: What Liberal Arts Could Teach J.D.


Not J.D. Alexander
Hint: Sophocles

I couldn’t help but chuckle at this from the recent St. Pete Times story about J.D. Alexander’s obsession with slicing USFP out of USF, like a tumor in reverse. Apparently, he strutted into a Board of Governors meeting and started slagging off on English professors, or something equivalent.

Saying legislators will always find money for educational programs that put people to work, Alexander suggested he might take a harder look at some liberal arts programs.

“If you really scrub the numbers, there could be degree programs somebody can’t find a job in,” he warned. “But if you’ve got a polytech that can revolutionize training and help grow the economy, that’s another thing.”

I really don’t have a dog in this USFP fight. Build it, don’t build it, run from USF, whatever. Revolutionary it ain’t, no matter what happens. On the other hand, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my own “academic” work, it’s that the liberal arts mafia sitting comfortably on tenured thrones is a pretty closed and conservative society. It’s more or less the opposite of liberal. As far I’m concerned, all the people with self-important credentials and abbreviations behind their names can fight it out. It’s sort of entertaining.

But I couldn’t help thinking that, of all people, J.D. might have benefitted from a little better exposure to the liberal arts.

One good discussion of Oedipus Rex might have familiarized J.D. with “hubris.” Hubris is what leads inheritance baby tycoons to lose control of their own family companies. It is what leads term-limited budget writers to call for independence for a local college that has raised hardly a dime from anyone but taxpayers.

Liberal arts education, at its best, encourages critical thinking based on analysis of human behavior, which in turn, enhances judgement and morality in our decisionmaking.

Someone with an ongoing liberal arts education–because it is ongoing–might ask him or herslf: If the champion of my college is term-limited after next year, and my college has no tie to USF, to whom exactly will I turn to raise the millions and millions and millions dollars necessary to build and sustain this “revolutionary” new Polytech college and my fancy architect’s campus design?

Have we been able to raise any significant money from the companies whose training we are going to revolutionize? Even with a hammer working for us in the Legislature? Why not? Do these companies think we’re full of it?

And don’t we already have a college doing all of this? PSC? Which is churning out nurses and cops and whoever else forms the backbone of the Polk economy and society. Doesn’t it have a president who knows how to work quietly and effectively without making enemies of everyone she encounters? I bet she read Sophocles at some point.

Creative Commons License image credit: wktsorf