Students at a small, liberal-arts college complained to Mitt Romney about borrowing money to pursue a college major that doesn't lead to a job. He replied, sensibly, that some majors have a lot more job opportunities connected with them than others. He might have mentioned, it seems to me, stuff like accounting, nursing, and computer science.
Romney himself majored in English literature. His experience, he explained to students, is that with his major all you can do is go to graduate school. So Mitt himself went on to get degrees in law and business. He managed to go on to make a good living for himself and his family.
Shouldn’t Romney have talked up the obvious ways his major has been a great benefit to him in his life's work? He’s the most able and most correct talker among Republican presidential candidates for a long time. He’s got grammar, syntax, and the correct -- and even subtle -- use of words down. We can wish he’d be more poetic, but that’s not his style. The truth is that he’s better off the cuff than even our eloquent professor-president.
Compare Mitt with Rick Perry the Aggie ag major. Don’t major in agriculture, someone might say, if you’re planning to run for president, although there are, I think, still plenty of jobs for ag majors. Or Hermann Cain, the math major, whose undeniable enthusiasm that often comes somewhere near eloquence is at the expense of correctness and ordinary clarity. Or even business major Rick Santorum, whose grammar gets all confused when he gets excited. I could add comments here about the Presidents Bush and even President Reagan. (Actually, Reagan was better than people remember, but it turns out that he read a lot more good books for pleasure than people thought.)
So should the lesson of Romney be that the perfect combination is an undergraduate major in liberal arts and a specialized graduate degree (or two)? Specialization too early is at the expense of eloquence and precision in language, among other qualities that every leader should have.
No specialization at all and you might end up like the young women displayed on the new HBO series Girls. I don’t really enjoy that show, but it is done well. Those “girls” are whiny and inspire a combination of pity and contempt. Their literary studies and liberal-arts college experiences left them pretty clueless when it comes not only to earning a living, but in their relationships, moral judgments, and their misguided and degrading sexual “adventures.” If you want an indictment of what goes on at our allegedly sophisticated colleges, watch this show.
But at my Berry College, students really are able -- through the work program and many other ways -- to pick up lots of skills and self-confidence outside of the classroom without getting college credit for every “experience” and “engagement.” Our admissions people should show parents an episode of Girls and explain why our grads hardly ever turn out like THAT, even or especially if they choose a liberal-arts major.
They're more likely to follow a road not all that dissimilar from Mitt’s, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.