10 April 2016

What Do Lieutenant Governors Do All Day?

Kentucky's executive leadership lives in a Richard Scarry picture book.  

In their Kentucky, every furry creature that earns a four-year diploma ought to wake up the morning after graduation and go to a building where the offices are labelled with jobs people do all day, and where those labels align with the words on the diplomas that they received.  

There are doors--whole buildings even!--that say "engineer," so that's a good diploma to have. Institutions of higher education in Kentucky can go on encouraging students to get diplomas that say "engineering."  

Search as much as you want over the Kentucky landscape, but there are very few doors, buildings, name-tags or even drawer labels that say "historian" or "French literature."  So diplomas that say those things are bad things to have students ought to stop trying to obtain them.  Silly bunnies!

The Richard Scarry world where diplomas and job titles neatly align does not quite track with the life experience of Kentucky's top elected officials.  The labels on their doors say "governor," but oddly enough neither Lt. Gov. Hampton, nor Gov. Matt Bevin have formal education in government or politics.  Lt. Gov. Hampton's  undergraduate degree is in industrial engineering.  She's done a lot of other things that don't obviously get labeled "lieutenant governor": serving in the Air Force as a computer systems operator, working for nearly two decades in the corrugated packaging industry, and earning an MBA.   

Governor Matt Bevin?  Even worse!  He got one of those unnecessary degrees in East Asian studies! Fat lot of good his fluency in Japanese has done him, eh?  Did he really need all that language study to enlist in the Army?  It sounds from his Wikipedia page like he didn't even get posted to Japan. Maybe he used it in that financial consulting he did in between leaving the army and taking over his family's moribund bell manufacturing business.  Those bunnies.  He could have just majored in some kind of engineering that would help him make bells.

However much one may dislike their politics, both Lt. Gov. Hampton and Gov. Bevin have served their countries, worked hard, and improved the businesses that have employed them. Both of them have a rich diversity of education and experience that no doubt informs their leadership.  They've made successful careers in politics without studying political science.

In the buildings where Hampton and Bevin do their work, they no doubt encounter offices with labels like "fundraising," "human resources," "data analysis," and "strategic development." They work with "project managers" and "content strategists" and "speechwriters."  It's hard to find an institution that offers any of those job titles as undergraduate majors.  However, even if the state of Kentucky could exclusively hire human resources managers who had studied human resources and speech writers who had studied speech writing, would they choose to do so? The criteria for selection is often not the label on the diploma, but the cluster of skills and experience for which the label is, at best, a directional arrow.

Much of a day's work gets done in a world that, unlike a Richard Scarry illustration, is rich in words conveying complicated concepts and difficult information. Every organization, including the state government of Kentucky, needs employees who can navigate comfortably in that world, who can manage in the absence of labels, who can adapt to unforeseen contingencies, who use the information at hand to figure things out as they need to and know where to look for additional resources.

Sometimes, the best person for the job is a history major.  Or a French literature major.  Or a, how you say, east Asian language major.  

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