A post on the Arkansas Blog Monday about Sen. Bart Hester’s slam of UALR for renting a billboard that promotes the school’s dance major (the only one in Arkansas) has engendered a great deal of commentary and press coverage and little repentance from Hester.
* TWEETBACK: Hester’s Tweet has drawn 197 responses, few of
He’d written: “Why higher ed does NOT need increase funding. They lease a sign to encourage computer science degrees or mother teachers?
Some responses were polite and thoughtful — about the uplifting value of all education, about people who’ve moved from dance to what Hester would consider productive careers. Some were profane. They were on point.
* THERE SHE GOES, MISS AMERICA: Savvy Shields, the former Miss America, weighed in:
I disagree with this on so many levels. As an artist and a dancer, I have seen the arts influence, inspire, challenge, and transform society. Art education is crucial in the advancement of Arkansas. https://t.co/Nns8G4c6kU
— Savvy Janine Shields (@SavvyJanine) February 7, 2018
She later noted a Google study that found critical thinking and lifelong learning are more important than STEM skills. And she noted the millions in economic impact in Northwest Arkansas from arts activities, from Crystal Bridges to many other venues.
* CAREFUL RESPONSE: State employees, particularly those in higher education with its shrinking state support (as a percentage of operational costs), are reluctant to challenge bombastic and vindictive legislators such as Hester (remember when he threatened to cut the UA for officials’ personal support of a Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people?). And speaking of bombast, Republican Rep. Bullet Bob Ballinger threw in with Hester’s disdain for liberal arts, too. He commented: “How is art education crucial to the advancement of Arkansas?” How Ballinger’s law education at taxpayer-supported UA has advanced Arkansas is another good question.
UALR offered this careful response, as noted in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette online:
Judy Williams, UALR’s associate vice chancellor of communications and marketing, said the billboard is one of several marketing tools in a campaign that features students in various programs.
“Our university offers the only dance performance program in Arkansas,” Williams said in an emailed statement. “This is only one ad in the campaign.”
Other UALR programs spotlighted include engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, economics, nursing and American sign language.
Williams said the marketing campaign “is designed to introduce prospective students and the community to the variety of majors and programs that are available.”
* UNREPENTANT: When KATV jumped on the story, Hester didn’t back down.
“There’s priorities. That our state needs a dance degree is less of a priority than a math teacher,” he said. “Go talk to your local principal or superintendent. They need math teachers. We have different priorities. I would like to see our higher education push the priorities and needs of our state.”
Hester’s own Facebook page shows him enjoying a bit of line dancing, insisted he meant no criticism of dancing or the arts.
Legislative dancers include former Rep. Julie Mayberry, who has operated a dance studio, and current Sen. Missy Irvin, whose degree from Randolph Macon, a private college for women in Virginia, included a dance focus.
But, hey, those are wimmin. We need to spend Arkansas money only on manly (or, not to be sexist, important) stuff.
Which led me to wonder: How come the UA-Fayetteville doesn’t have a major in plumbing?
Drawing from the writing of others, I’d suggest more seriously to Hester that there’s great worth — to students and taxpayers — in encouraging a discipline in which students articulate a problem, collaborate with others, devise a solution that requires mastery of mental and physical elements and promotes growth in students in the process. I think they call that education.
They say Hester wants to be governor or senator some day. Think for a minute about tax dollars subsidizing that.
UPDATE: Clemmer informs me she didn’t “delete” the post but made it a reply to Hester That is harder for the world to see and even more shameful that she’d stand up for a comment comparing spoken criticism of a legislator with the act of hanging black people from trees.