In past annual reports, I have written of “years of transformation.” How naïve I was. Few years will prove as transformative for institutions of higher education, the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and American society, as 2020. The coronavirus pandemic and the changes to daily life it brought for all of us upended the way we work, teach, and meet with others.
2020 also proved how unstable are the financial foundations of American higher education. Nearly 400 colleges, universities, and satellite campuses closed due to the massive loss of incoming students brought on by the pandemic. Over the last two decades, colleges and universities have marketed the college experience, spending exorbitant amounts on student housing and entertainment facilities such as lazy rivers and gaming rooms. When college went online, many students opted out. Why pay the same tuition without the same experience?
That’s not all, of course. No discussion of 2020 would be complete without discussing George Floyd’s death and the subsequent rage it triggered around the country—with higher education’s eager progressives in the vanguard. From Princeton’s enlightened elite to the lowly diversicrats at Amarillo Community College—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion administrators everywhere pounced on the tragedy, finding in it an excuse to expand their relentless calls for more—more diversity trainings, more budgetary allotments, more power. All decried their complicity in “systemic racism,” promised more funding for “anti-racist” task forces, and rushed to appease the sweeping demands of “woke” student activists.
NAS has been calling attention to the politicization of higher education for decades. We couldn’t have asked for a clearer example than this.
These newly empowered DEI regimes flung themselves into action, investigating professors who hesitate to endorse new orthodoxy. Scholars around the nation found their research under scrutiny. Nearly two hundred were fired or forced from their jobs as a result, and institutions and programs that were already facing enrollment crises were disbanded entirely.
While higher education continues to struggle with these new realities, for NAS the outlook is quite sunny. 2020 was trying, but it was also full of successes, opportunities, and growth. In August, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos enacted a new Title IX rule, at our urging, that strengthened due process and transparency in Title IX investigations. That same month, NAS began working with partners in California to educate the public about the facts of Proposition 209, a public initiative meant to make racial preferences legal in hiring decisions for universities. Our campaign reached 4.5 million Californians over a month and a half and, despite being outspent 31 to 1, NAS and our allies defeated Prop 209. In March, NAS went remote. We found a new audience by hosting webinars on topics as varied as the nation’s reliance on experts to the New York Times’ 1619 Project. We hired new staff. We took over the management of a new website and news outlet called Minding the Campus. Most importantly, we continued to investigate higher education’s virtues and vices, all while advocating for permanent reform.
NAS took a strong stand against the DEI regime in 2020, defending “canceled” professors and calling for reforms to the fiscal irresponsibility of higher education’s bloated bureaucracy. Our work on foreign influence, the 1619 Project, and academic freedom gained widespread notoriety. As a result, we received record-setting financial support and, at the end of the year, NAS had more members than at any point in its history.
All of us at NAS are deeply grateful for the individuals, foundations, and partner organizations that have made this work possible. I thank you for your support—we depend on it. Together we will continue to advance our shared mission, building a movement of those who believe that intellectual freedom and reasoned scholarship are the foundations of a free society.
Peter W. Wood