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Obama Questions Value of Art-History Degrees


The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 30, 2014. President Obama left some in higher education feeling slighted on Thursday, when he said during a speech in Wisconsin that young people could make more money in skilled manufacturing than with art-history degrees.

Mr. Obama’s speech was intended to highlight his administration’s approach to work-force training, which was a key theme of his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

His dig at art-history degrees drew a laugh from the crowd in Wisconsin, but he quickly softened his criticism, saying there was “nothing wrong with an art-history degree, I love art history.”

Linda Downs, executive director of the College Art Association, posted the following response to Mr. Obama’s comments:

The College Art Association has great respect for President Obama’s initiative to provide all qualified students with an education that can lead to gainful employment. We support all measures that he, Congress, State Legislatures, and colleges and universities can do to increase the opportunities for higher education. However, when these measures are made by cutting back on, denigrating, or eliminating humanities disciplines such as art history, then America’s future generations will be discouraged from taking advantage of the values, critical and decisive thinking, and creative problem solving offered by the humanities. It is worth remembering that many of the nation’s most important innovators, in fields including high technology, business, and even military service, have degrees in the humanities. Humanities graduates play leading roles in corporations, engineering, international relations, government, and many other fields where their skills and creating thinking play a critical role. Let’s not forget that education across a broad spectrum is essential to develop the skills and imagination that will enable future generations to create and take advantage of new jobs and employment opportunities of all sorts.