Democratic candidates are pushing to radically expand government’s role in higher ed., which means conservatives need to be prepared to fight for the campus — starting by withholding taxpayer money, and state recognition, from left ideologues in academe.
Consider Harvard. Students this month marched on campus to protest the Ivy’s decision to deny tenure to a “Latinx Studies” professor. Among other demands, they insisted the school establish an ethnic-studies department.
Harvard already has a Department of African and African-American Studies, as well as a wide selection of courses examining diverse cultures, all worthy fields. But the protesters maintain that a separate ethnic-studies department is needed to promote the “subverting of . . . conventional understandings of history.”
Such departments, as a Yale professor has suggested, should target the West’s “regimes of inclusion and exclusion and expansion and imperialism.” Naturally, the campus radicals also expect the evil, colonialist taxpayers to foot the bill, in the form of grants and other research funding as well as taxpayer-subsidized student loans.
These students and academics intend to replace inquiry with activism on the public dole through a Marxist-inspired approach known as critical theory, which analyzes society through power structures rooted in race and other immutable characteristics.
Gone is even a patina of impartiality among critical theorists and like-minded academics. As the University of Toronto’s Jessica Green lamented last year, when scholars check their personal biases, it “works in favor of powerful interests and against those seeking to reorganize power relations.”
Taxpayers subsidize such activism to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year through government programs that were originally intended to support genuine scholarships and needy families. The examples of abuse are legion:
The University of California, Davis, a public university, offers an $8,000 “summer-abroad” program that encourages students to use their federal aid to visit the Che Guevara Memorial in Cuba.
At Denison University, you can use federal loans to pay more than $6,000 for a course on applying critical feminist and race theories to pedagogy. Starting this fall, students at the public California State University, Chico can apply to major in “Intersectional Chicanx / Latinx Studies.”
Meanwhile, Portland State University students can apply their Pell grants toward courses like “Ecofeminist Spirituality” and “Queer Ecologies.”
This is what happens when colleges get a blank check from the feds. While Washington should resist directly designing academic curricula, it at least can induce a healthier academic environment by refusing to fund ideological, anti-American argle-bargle.
One way of reducing dubious courses is to scale back the government’s role in the student-loan business, as the Heritage Foundation’s Mary Clare Amselem has suggested. Currently, borrowers can take out Ferrari-sized loans to pay for degrees worth the value of used tricycles — and get left holding the bag when they end up jobless. Another idea: Federal, state and local governments can eliminate degree requirements for entry-level jobs and encourage the private economy to do so, too.
State governments and regional accreditation bodies can play an additional role, by improving standards. Conservatives in the United States can learn from allies on the other side of the Atlantic.
In Hungary, for example, the national-conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has withheld state accreditation from gender-studies programs that do little but promote unscientific nonsense about human nature and sexuality — such as the bizarre notion that gender has no biological basis or that the sex binary is an ideological “construct.” The right can take similar action in America.
Student-loan and accreditation reform are a chance for conservatives to reshape the nation’s intellectual landscape. Our country finds itself in the grips of a state-sanctioned racket that is financing the radicalization of thousands of students each year and burdening them with debt in exchange for intellectually vacuous nonsense. Progressives are eager to subsidize this mess. We must end it.
Giancarlo Sopo is a 2019 National Review Institute regional fellow and a writer at The Blaze. Twitter: @GiancarloSopo