Anthropologists on the Offensive

Scholars strongly react to Florida’s governor singling out anthropology as a worthless degree.



USF Anthropology professor Brent Weisman leads a tour of Weedon Island in Pinellas County.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 12, 2011) – A lesson is being taught in why anthropology – the study of humanity – is important in the wake of comments made in interviews this week by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.


Scott was quoted in a number of media outlets as saying Tuesday, “How many more jobs you think there is for anthropology in this state?" and "You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology?"


“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said in an interview with the Herald Tribune Monday. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.”


USF’s Anthropology Department Chair Brent Weisman’s reactions were widely quoted in the press and his letter to the editor ran in the St. Petersburg Times.  Asserting that anthropology is a “human science,” he wrote:


“Anthropologists at USF work side by side with civil and industrial engineers, cancer researchers, specialists in public health and medicine, chemists, biologists, and others in the science, technology, and engineering fields that the Governor so eagerly applauds. Our colleagues in the natural, engineering, and medical sciences view the anthropological collaboration as absolutely essential to the success of their research and encourage their students to take courses in anthropology to help make them better scientists.”


In Yahoo News’s blog The Lookout, Weisman made the point that, “The engineers that are out there trying to build better water systems or improve utility delivery or look at road networks, they all realize that there's a huge human dimension to the challenges that they're faced with. They seek out anthropologists to help them."


WTSP reporter Tammie Fields interviewed USF student Natalie Odom and the Career Center’s Assistant Director Dan Van Hoose yesterday for her story on the subject and both supported students’ right to choose whatever major interests them.


Sherman Dorn, a professor of psychology and social foundations at USF, responded to Inside Higher Education’s coverage of the story with “relevant degree facts directly from the BOG (Board of Governors) website (” that approximately 0.8 per cent of the 446,733 bachelor’s degrees awarded between 2001 and 2010 were for anthropology majors.


Yahoo reported, “Weisman and the heads of seven other anthropology departments in the state are compiling an ‘education packet’ to send to the governor. He hopes it will ‘bring him up to date about what modern anthropology is.’"


There’s even a Florida Anthropologists against Rick Scott on Facebook. But Weisman suggests the governor simply chose a bad example to make his point.


"I think he made a casual off-the-cuff remark perhaps thinking that anthropology was a low-hanging fruit that anthropologists were specializing in underwater basket weaving or something that would be immediately obvious to everyone as a waste of education dollars…. He happened to pick the wrong one."


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.