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Ex-Miss America from Arkansas squares off with state senator

A former Miss America says society could use both engineers and entertainers, and she's not happy with an Arkansas politician who criticized a university's decision to promote its dance majors

Published on February 9, 2018 2:40PM

Last changed on February 9, 2018 7:33PM

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2016, file photo, Miss America Savvy Shields, a University of Arkansas art major, speaks during an interview in Los Angeles. After an Arkansas politician criticized a billboard promoting the University's dance program and said schools should promote other skills, Shields said the state needs entertainers and engineers. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2016, file photo, Miss America Savvy Shields, a University of Arkansas art major, speaks during an interview in Los Angeles. After an Arkansas politician criticized a billboard promoting the University's dance program and said schools should promote other skills, Shields said the state needs entertainers and engineers. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2016, file photo, Savvy Shields, a University of Arkansas art major, dances at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. Shields won the competition and served as Miss America until September 2017. After an Arkansas politician criticized a billboard promoting the University of Arkansas' dance program and said schools should promote other skills, Shields said the state needs entertainers and engineers. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2016, file photo, Savvy Shields, a University of Arkansas art major, dances at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. Shields won the competition and served as Miss America until September 2017. After an Arkansas politician criticized a billboard promoting the University of Arkansas' dance program and said schools should promote other skills, Shields said the state needs entertainers and engineers. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2015, file photo, Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, presents a bill at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Hester on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, criticized the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for using a billboard to promote a dance program, suggesting that the school’s priorities are out of line with the Legislature’s and demonstrating that it does not need increased funding. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2015, file photo, Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, presents a bill at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Hester on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, criticized the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for using a billboard to promote a dance program, suggesting that the school’s priorities are out of line with the Legislature’s and demonstrating that it does not need increased funding. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A former Miss America says that while an Arkansas politician is criticizing a public university that put up a billboard touting its dance program, society needs both entertainers and engineers to move forward.

Savvy Shields, who danced to jazz music on her way to the 2017 Miss America title, disagreed with Sen. Bart Hester on Twitter this week after he questioned whether the University of Arkansas at Little Rock had misplaced its priorities.

"Why higher ed does NOT need increase funding," Hester tweeted Monday. "They lease a sign to encourage computer science degrees or math teachers? No they push for dance majors. Lots of hardworking Arkansans subsidizing this! Not OK @UALR."

Shields wondered why the state had to choose. "In the Renaissance, we had the growth of both the sciences and the arts," she said in an interview Thursday night.

Hester, a Republican from Cave Springs, said arts programs are important but shouldn't deter from developing highly skilled professionals.

"We are starving for an educated workforce," Hester said. "A state school should be supporting the needs of the state on a priority basis."

College advertising sprouts every midwinter, as schools hope to attract high school seniors. UALR's series of billboards include one showing a dancer and the words "Dance Major" and "Unlimited pathways. Close to home."

Shields, an art major at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said investments in the arts run to the millions of dollars. At the time the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011 — eight miles from Hester's home town — it was revealed that the Walton Family Foundation had set up $800 million in endowments.

"The arts influence everything without you realizing it — advertising, graphic design, marketing, the clothes you pick out," she said. Even telephones, once they're engineered, are fine-tuned for their aesthetics, she said.

Hester, who played baseball for the University of Arkansas, said he hadn't seen any number of billboards that promote public college sporting events.

"At the end of the day, the universities can spend their money how they want to," he said. "They're saying they don't have enough money, but they want to spend it on things that are not clearly a priority for the state right now. ... As legislators, we debate on what a priority for spending is."

Arkansas legislators will begin work Monday on next year's budget.

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Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP



 

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