My Counsel to President-elect Trump on American Higher Education

Dec 05, 2016 |  Peter Wood

Font Size  

  

My Counsel to President-elect Trump on American Higher Education

Dec 05, 2016 | 

Peter Wood

President-elect Trump these days is not suffering for a lack of advice on how he should proceed and in what order he should address domestic priorities and international issues.  I trust that all that advice is well meant and at least some of it is worth pursuing.  I’d like to offer some of my own.  As president of the National Association of Scholars, I offer counsel on what Mr. Trump could do about higher education.

But first, congratulations to Betsy DeVos, whom Trump named on November 23 as his nominee for Secretary of Education.  Ms. DeVos is best known for her focus on school choice and voucher programs—key elements in K-12 education reform.  It makes good sense that Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education should be someone who focuses on schools rather than colleges.  DeVos’s positions on matters in higher education are, at this point, unknown, but her commitment to freedom in primary education raises hope that she also shares our commitment to freedom in higher education.

Background

My counsel on higher education is not hot-out-of-the-oven and created just to appeal to our new President.  In January 2016, I offered much of this advice to all contestants.  As it happens, Mr. Trump was the only candidate who adopted positions largely in line with my January advice.  And in the days just before the election, I offered a point-by-point contrast between Secretary Clinton’s and Mr. Trump’s positions on higher education.  I concluded there that, “Trump confronts the higher education establishment, while Clinton flatters and reassures it.” And that:

Clinton would further solidify the dominance of elite institutions, their graduates’ sense of entitlement, and the American fixation on academic credentialism. Trump would confront and undermine each of these aspects of modern life. His trademark unpredictability runs counter to the educators’ relentless campaign for ever more speech codes, diversicrats, sensitivity cops, and implicit bias diagnosticians.

I didn’t endorse Trump for President—such an action would not comport with the National Association of Scholars’ status as a 501(c)3 organization.  But I made it clear that Trump’s agenda was a far better match with what I take to be the views and interests of our organization.  The NAS represents about 2,500 people, most of whom are academics who place themselves somewhere on the political spectrum other than the progressive left.  We don’t, however, speak with a single voice except on a few core principles such as the importance of academic freedom and intellectual integrity.  The advice I have to offer President-elect Trump on colleges and universities is my advice, not the distilled wisdom of my organization. 

What I offer comes in four parts:  (A) Why higher education should be a priority; (B) The principles that should guide policy; (C) A charter of academic rights; and (D) Emergency repairs, which identifies six problems for which I think there are ready solutions.

(A) Why higher education should be a priority

What happens in college never stays in college.  For generations, the political left has used colleges to recruit students to its causes; to feed students one-sided and inaccurate views of history, science, and literature; and to shape students’ social and political attitudes.  It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough that whole professions are now dominated by college graduates who have accepted the left’s worldview. 

So thoroughly have the liberal arts been politicized by the left that many students graduate unaware that they have heard only one side of complex issues.  They enter their professions in media, the law, public service, and other important fields aware that many Americans disagree with their “educated” view of the country, but dismissing these other views as merely ignorant, or worse, as grounded in prejudice.

Take the theory of catastrophic manmade global warming.  The “science” on which this theory is based is deeply politicized.  The left, however, has made the theory of global warming so dominant on campus that many students have no idea how weak the science is and how incredibly unlikely are the doomsday scenarios spun out by many of the activists.  Instead, global warming (or “climate change”) has become the wrap-around theory of the campus left.  Global warming activists see global warming as driven by racism, sexism, and capitalism, and they present it as the deep cause of everything from the rise of ISIS to the fall of income equality.  Even if relatively few students buy the whole boxcar of propaganda, most never hear the other side and, after they graduate, they retain the general assumptions.

Global warming, of course, is only one of the propagandistic tools the academic left uses to recruit students and shape them into eager supporters of “social justice.”  Anyone who wants to understand why lawyers, teachers, media figures, and the political elite lean reflexively to the left, need only look at what our colleges and universities have been doing for the last several decades.

Remarkably, however, for the last several decades most conservatives and the Republican Party establishment have turned a blind eye.  Yes, people will sometimes rail against political correctness and make fun of some of the stranger antics of student activists.  But there it stops.  Few mainstream conservatives have been willing to look any further.  The prevailing idea is that “the kids will grow out of it.”  Look at the ideological profile of college-educated voters in the last several presidential elections and it is clear that a great many of those “kids” at ages 35, 40, and 50 haven’t grown out of it at all.

The price conservatives have paid for ignoring what has happened to our colleges and universities has been lost elections and massive gains for the policy agenda of the left.

The campus response to Mr. Trump’s election underscores all these points.  A “Center for Community Partnerships” at one college actually spent college funds to bus students to an anti-Trump rally.  But at colleges and universities across the country, faculty and staff have inappropriately helped to organize and lead student protests against the legitimate results of the election.  Their goal is to de-legitimize those results—and demonize Trump’s supporters—by a combination of angry assertion and conspiracy theory. 

Importantly, the students embroiled in these protests are almost entirely from elite private colleges and top-tier public universities.  The students who are pursuing their educations at more modest institutions are either indifferent to the excitement of protesting for the sake of protesting, or they are opposed to it.  It is the graduates of those elite institutions, of course, who are destined to make up the lion’s share of men and women who attend elite graduate programs and who dominate the most influential professions.

Higher education is upstream of almost every major policy disaster the United States has suffered in recent decades.  For President Trump to restore America’s confidence in itself as a nation, he will have to make higher education a priority.  The problem is that American higher education is currently dominated by those who deeply dislike America and who work hard to convince students that we are fundamentally a bad people and a bad country.

This is a hard but not an impossible problem.  If President Trump decides to address it, he can begin to turn American higher education in a much more constructive direction.

(B) Three Principles to Guide Policy

What could President Trump do to repair American higher education?  A good place to begin is with some guiding principles.

First Principle: Embrace competition.  Colleges and universities of course already compete.  They compete for the best students. They frequently compete for the best faculty. They certainly compete for the best athletic teams.  More subtly they compete for the best facilities and the best reputations within their categories.  They compete for top spots in rankings. And nearly every college competes to have bragging rights for at least one academic program that is unquestionably excellent.

So by adopting the principle of embracing competition, President Trump wouldn’t be setting out some ideal that runs completely counter to the culture of American higher education.  That ideal is already there—but in some important contexts where it should be applied, it is suspended or ignored.

There are three competitive principles higher education needs:

A.   Individual Merit.  Under the banners of diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and a host of other positive-sounding words, colleges and universities frequently choose to bend their admissions criteria to favor students from some ethnic groups and to discriminate against students from other ethnic groups. The ethnic group that suffers the most from discrimination is Asian-Americans, who have to achieve extraordinarily high test scores and grades to win admission to top colleges.  But members of ethnic groups that are ostensibly favored by preferences turn out to suffer too, many of them ending up as drop-outs or at the bottom of their classes, discouraged and angry.

“Affirmative action,” at least in the form of racial preferences, is a lightning rod.  The U.S. Supreme Court may one day curtail it, but it stands now as the campus left’s signature issue.  To oppose it is to be accused of “racism,” even though the policy itself is built from the cement and mortar of racial stereotypes.

What Americans really want—nearly all Americans—is fairness.  And the only way to achieve that is fair competition among individuals.  College shouldn’t be the place you go to learn racial resentment, but that’s exactly what racial preferences produce in both the supposed beneficiaries and among those who don’t receive extra points for their ethnicity.                        

B.   Variety.  There are almost 4,533 colleges and universities in the United States, 2,919 of them offering 4-year undergraduate degrees. One would think that with so many colleges competing for the same students, there would be significant differences among the educational programs they offer.  One of the most astonishing aspects of contemporary American higher education, however, is how little variation there actually is.  American history courses at UC San Diego differ in only superficial detail from American history courses at Bowdoin College in coastal Maine.  In both—and in nearly all the colleges that lie between our western and eastern shores—you’ll find a full offering of courses on race, class, gender, and other variations on the theme of oppression, and not much else. 

What’s happened in American history has happened in many other subjects as well.  The sameness of the curricula in American higher education is not because all these colleges and universities have converged on the single “right” way to teach these subjects.  It is rather the result of “groupthink.”  A handful of graduate programs sets the agenda, and any college that doesn’t want to be characterized as old-fashioned or behind the times does its best to conform to the fashions.  That these fashions are always leftist and progressive in character is part of the package.

Perhaps a few dozen small colleges and a handful of universities defy the strictures of political correctness in the curriculum.  What we need is more robust competition among universities based on their championing rival ideas. The federal government has leverage in this area and it should use it.  The vast majority of American colleges and universities depend on federal support via the Title IV student loan program and other pipelines.  If the federal government rewarded innovation rather than conformity, we would get much more healthy competition.

C.   Deregulation. American higher education is regulated by the states, the federal government, and regional accrediting organizations, which are in turn authorized by the U.S. Department of Education.  The forest of regulations in higher education, like regulation in other sectors of the economy, is immensely expensive.  Some regulations are helpful and constructive, but the vast majority are busywork for the colleges and universities. They drive up costs for little or no benefit, and they mainly provide employment for the regulators and the people hired to ensure compliance.  To restore competition in higher education, we need sweeping regulatory reform, and that will require the hard work of reviewing thousands upon thousands of existing regulations.

And that’s not all.  The accreditation system in the U.S. long ago crystalized as a bulwark of the education establishment.  It works to impede innovation and to prevent the rise of new entrants into the educational marketplace.  It seldom spots financial instability among troubled colleges and universities; it virtually never notices the low quality of educational programs; but it relentlessly pushes politically correct nostrums.  The accrediting bodies are controlled by their member institutions up to a point, but they are also cat’s paws of the U.S. Department of Education, which authorizes them and gives them their force. For a college to be eligible to receive Title IV student loan money, it must be accredited. This gives the accrediting organizations life and death power over the institutions they accredit.

Federal regulation and the accrediting bodies have been deployed in an effort to stop the development of for-profit colleges and to stymie independent institutions that seek to create online programs.  These are areas where many of us see the opportunity for fundamental reform in higher education that would advance real competition.  We need intelligent review of these regulations in an effort to help this sector come into its own.

Second Principle: Embrace the pursuit of truth.  Higher education in America has become a peculiar place where people who are paid to pursue truth often believe there is no such thing, and students who enroll in the hopes of gaining knowledge are led to the conclusion that knowledge is merely a “social construct” that can be revised to suit our opinions, whatever those may be.  This peculiar world has several names, including “post-modernism,” “anti-foundationalism,” and just plain “political correctness.”  At the heart of all of them is the idea that a political movement can, by sheer force of will, establish what people believe.

The result is that the university—an institution founded on the pursuit of truth—has been transformed into an institution that advances a political agenda.  This is an act of such bad faith that the proponents of it have to spend a lot of their time insisting that it all somehow makes sense.  To that end they teach that science isn’t about the discovery of facts.  It is rather the achievement of “consensus” about some convenient idea.  History isn’t about what actually happened in the past.  It is rather about finding a “narrative” that advances the goals of today’s progressives.  Literature isn’t about the greatest achievements of writers of imaginative writing.  It is rather about rediscovering the suppressed “voices” of forgotten writers and encouraging the “voices” of those who are currently marginalized. 

This rejection of truth in favor of politics runs through almost the whole curriculum.  One might think some areas would be immune.  How do you turn mathematics into an exercise in political correctness?  It may be hard, but some progressives are trying to do just that.  They call it “ethno-mathematics” and it is based on the idea that different ethnic groups have different mathematical ideas.  This is, to be sure, a silly idea that has no mainstream support, but in the core areas of the liberal arts curriculum, the rejection of the pursuit of truth is in full flood.  Some colleges have even removed it from their mission statements and replaced it with the pursuit of “diversity.”

One of the areas where the pursuit of truth really needs to be shored up is the natural sciences.  Today we are faced with an epidemic of “irreproducible research” and a flood of trivial science, much of it driven by the idea that “consensus” matters more than truth, or that the two are indistinguishable. In other words, if enough people agree to agree, that makes an idea “true.”

What can be done about this? Many things, but a start would be to require that the underlying data from any federally sponsored research be posted publicly within six months of the initial publication of the supposed results.  It might also be a good idea to bar federal funding to journals that decline on political grounds to publish legitimate research results.  One might think this would be a hard thing to demonstrate, but the “Climategate” emails of a few years ago provided a smoking gun for exactly that kind of malfeasance. 

Embracing the pursuit of truth would pull the bottom out from under the tower of political correctness that dominates our universities.  It would make it much more difficult, for example, to have whole departments that exist merely to advance progressive ideologies.  And it would open the door to aspiring scholars who wish to pursue knowledge on its merits, rather than on its conformity to a political program.

Third Principle: Embrace freedom.  It was as long ago as 1989 that Chester Finn observed that the college campus had become “an island of repression in a sea of freedom.” The island has been busy ever since perfecting the ways it can shut down free speech and persuade the inmates that “freedom” is an illusion.  Nonetheless many students thirst for it, and so do a growing number of faculty members.  The National Association of Scholars speaks for those who still put intellectual freedom first.  Without liberty for inquiring minds, the pursuit of truth is impossible and competition is corrupted. 

If we put freedom first, we will have to reconsider some major aspects of contemporary higher education.  Areas such as “service learning,” which emphasize turning students into activists rather than giving them the freedom to pursue their own educational paths, should be de-prioritized.  Topics such as “civic engagement” and “global learning,” which operate essentially as devices to make students conform to progressive political views, should be examined skeptically. Federal money right now rewards such conformist ideology.  That needs to be stopped. 

A freedom agenda for higher education would also prevent the Department of Education from imposing its expansive interpretation of Title IX of the Higher Education Act.  The Department’s Office for Civil Rights has acted outside the rule of law via its “Dear Colleague” letters to force colleges and universities to lower standards of evidence and to curtail due process for the accused in cases involving allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. These steps, intended ostensibly to make campuses safer for women, have turned out to license Title IX administrators to ride roughshod over the rights of students.  Title IX should be restricted to its original purposes as passed by Congress in 1972. 

Embracing freedom as a principle would give strong grounds for many other changes in higher education.  I suggest several in the next section.

(C) A Charter of Academic Rights

Higher education has become so hostile to individual rights in recent years that it stands in need of some kind of authoritative statement of what those rights are.  All higher education institutions that receive federal money ought to embrace such a statement.  A commission to work on such a charter would be a good idea.  In general, I recommend against using the regulatory powers of the federal government to advance these freedoms, but if that proves to be the only lever that will move colleges and universities to clean up their stewardship of individual rights, it may be necessary to unsheathe that sword.  Some preliminary suggestions as to what the charter should consist of might include:

  1. Academic and Intellectual Freedom:  Faculty members and students should have explicit guarantees from their colleges and universities that their institutions uphold the intellectual freedom to pursue the truth.  Any and all restrictions a college or university puts on academic and intellectual freedom, such as statements of religious faith, must be explicit, and must never be applied retroactively.
  2. Freedom of Expression:  Colleges and universities should uphold the free expression of ideas and opinions, including the rights of invited speakers to speak and to be heard, and the rights of dissenters to dissent free from intimidation, threats of violence, and reprisals.
  3. Defender of Freedom: Higher education institutions should have an ombudsman, independent of the authority of the college president, to defend academic freedom, with especial responsibility to defend students against biased teaching, politicized co-curricular activities, and politicized residential life.
  4. Fair Trials: Higher education institutions must
    1. set up judicial procedures for students and faculty with robust due process, the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, the right to know what one is charged with, the right to face one’s accuser, and the right at all times to speak publicly about any case.
    2. refer all reported felonies immediately to the local police.
  5. Freedom of Association: Higher education institutions must guarantee freedom of association for student organizations—above all, the right to determine one’s own membership—especially for religious groups.
  6. Right to Bear Arms: Higher education institutions must allow concealed carry on campus, subject to restriction by state law.
  7. Right to Public Space: Higher education institutions must prohibit discrimination in all public campus spaces—no safe spaces and no racially segregated dorms.
  8. Right to Record: Higher education institutions must give students the right to record all interactions with professors, administrators, and fellow students.
  9. Right to Study: Higher education institutions must preserve public order, so as to preserve students’ right to study.
  10. Tenure Rights: Higher education institutions must institute tenure protections for professors as individuals, and not just corporately.
  11. Transparent Course Materials: Instructors must publish syllabi on easily accessible university websites.
  12. Transparent Finances: Higher education institutions must publicize on their websites and provide to the federal government detailed fiscal information
    1. of all revenue sources, especially foreign donors.
    2. of all program expenditures, including executive salaries.
  13. Transparent Recruitment: Higher education institutions must publicize on their websites and provide to the federal government all educational statistics they possess, divided by race, sex, and national origin, about
    1. student applicants, accepted students, entering student classes, and remediation and retention rates.
    2. applicants to tenure-track jobs, recipients of tenure-track jobs, and recipients of promotion and tenure.

 (D) Emergency Repairs

Colleges and universities that receive federal recognition and federal funding could do many things better than they currently do.  Some of the items I list below could fit under the three principles I outlined above, but I single them out as stand-alone policy proposals that could be pursued on their own merits.  Each of these is something colleges and universities could do on their own but probably won’t.  And each is something over which the federal government could have direct influence.

  1. Problem: Too many administrators.  The ratio of college and university administrators to full-time faculty members is out of whack.  From 1975 to 2005, the number of full-time faculty in American colleges and universities increased by 51 percent.  But in the same period the number of administrators increased by 85 percent.  Increases in spending on administration consistently outpace increases in spending on instruction.  At private colleges between 1998 and 2008, spending on instruction increased 22 percent.  Spending on administration increased 36 percent.  The problem has been well studied and widely reported, but needless to say, college and university administrators are in no hurry to fix it. We have instead the growth of what many call the “administrative university,” which is the academic counterpart of the “regulatory state.”  This administrative expansion does absolutely nothing to improve the quality of American higher education.  It is essentially a jobs program for progressive apparatchiks who lack the substantive knowledge to teach anything worthwhile. 

These excess administrators, however, are not just taking up space and consuming resources.  They are also working hard to “transform” higher education into a world in their own image.  They are the leaders of the victim groups, the enforcers of the speech codes, the orchestrators of efforts to divert students from academic study to community organizing, and the enablers of the student cry-bullies. 

Solution:  Cutting back excessive federal regulation would deprive the “administrative university” of one of its rationales.  Cutting federal subsidies aimed at their programs would force universities to make better choices.  Cutting the “overhead rate” that universities charge the federal government on research grants would take a lot of the oxygen away from the administrative class.  But most of all, the Department of Education can and should tie Title IV student loan eligibility to the attainment by each college and university of a smaller proportion of administrators to faculty members.

  1. Problem: Hidden costs.  If you ask what a college or university spends on its pursuit of diversity, social justice, sustainability, or other causes that it conspicuously upholds, you will either get no answer or a highly misleading one.  In truth, the college itself doesn’t know the answer.  That is because it has deliberately distributed these costs through hundreds of other budget lines and it makes no effort to aggregate them.

Why would an organization bury the financial data on activities that it regards as central to its mission?  It does so because it is afraid that trustees, parents, and the general public would look at the actual expenses as excessive.  The institution fears that it would be held accountable for profligate spending on programs that do very little to advance its true core mission:  education.  Attempting to persuade people that propagandizing in favor of progressive causes is central to the educational mission goes only so far.  If the public were to see the real costs, it would probably balk.

Solution:  It is within easy reach of the Department of Education to specify areas in which colleges and universities must maintain financial transparency.  The rule-making would certainly be contested as colleges and universities would seek loopholes to continue to hide significant expenditures.  They would also, ironically, complain about the costs of transitioning to an approach that would track costs in these areas. The rule-makers would need to take on both the problems of universities distributing costs under opaque labels in diverse parts of their budgets, and the problem of universities redefining programs to disguise their real intent. But these are problems that well-informed staff can master.

  1. Problem: Civic illiteracy. Colleges and universities in recent years have redefined the traditional subject of “civics.” It used to mean learning about how our institutions of self-government work.  It now means turning students into community organizers and political activists.  This isn’t something that “just happened.”  The Obama administration called for it in a report, A Crucible Moment, and the cause has been taken up with enthusiasm by many thousands of those excess college administrators mentioned above. 

Solution: Defund the campus left.  The NAS has more specific suggestions in its report, Making Citizens, due for release in January. 

  1. Problem:  The left’s near monopoly.  Some 80 to 90 percent of American professors place themselves on the political left.  The exact percent depends on definitions, but the picture is clear enough.  Roughly 1 in 10 college professors is not on the left.  In some fields of study the disproportions are much larger.  In psychology the ratio is about 1 in 18.  In journalism, it is about 1 in 20.  In history, it is 1 in 34.  There are well-respected colleges that have no registered Republicans in core fields. At Boston College, for example, there are no registered Republicans on the faculty in economics, history, journalism, or psychology.  Moreover, if the overall picture is adjusted for age, the disproportions are even more extreme.  Among faculty members over age 65, the average ratio of registered Republicans to Democrats in 1 to 10.  But among college professors under age 36, the ratio is 1 to 22.7.

It isn’t hard to find faculty members on the left who assert that these disproportions don’t matter because the faculty never let their political views influence their teaching.  Or they don’t matter because conservatives aren’t smart enough to succeed in the demanding academic disciplines.  Or they don’t matter because conservatives care more about making money than engaging in intellectual pursuits.  Or they don’t matter because, with appropriate adjustments, it can be seen that the leftist professoriate is not, on the whole, that far left.

The excuse-making is endless, but the facts are clear.  When the academic left gained power on campus, it used that power to close off academic careers to anyone outside its own circles. This is the hard edge of political correctness. Conservatives need not apply.  Libertarians are tolerated only in a few areas.  Evangelicals are especially unwelcome.  People who maintain independence from political labels of any sort receive a hard skeptical look.

Solution:  Tenure ensures there is no easy solution, but the starting point is again the need to defund the left.  Professors who misuse their academic positions to advance the left’s political agenda should not receive public funding. Beyond this, we need to look to programs that foster the careers of young academics who stand outside or against the left’s domination.  One way to do that would be to fund the American History for Freedom Program, passed by Congress in 2008 but never funded. It would put federal financial support behind the fifty or so centers on American college campuses that support traditional American scholarship, and it would encourage the creation of many more.

5. Problem:  Student Indebtedness. President-elect Trump addressed this during the campaign.  Millions of Americans are drowning in debt from student loans.  They may have been imprudent in some cases to take out these loans, but they were strongly encouraged to do so by the federal government, their guidance counsellors, and especially the colleges they wanted to attend. 

Solution: Among the solutions are persuading wealthy colleges to use more of their endowment income to subsidize the expense of an education and thereby to lower tuition.  The Department of Education should also liberate start-up colleges to compete for students by offering lower-priced programs.  Colleges and universities should cap each student’s total borrowing for tuition and other college expenses, and the colleges and universities themselves should assume partial liability for student loan defaults—a step that would go a long way towards halting the practice of admitting underqualified students who have slim chance of succeeding in their degree programs but a 100 percent chance of ending up with substantial student loan debt.  The current system allows colleges and universities to thrive on borrowed money:  money borrowed from the taxpayers by other people, whose debt means nothing to the college or university that receives the full benefit of the money.  This must change.  

  1. Problem: The Anti-West.  American colleges and universities, in general, have turned against Western civilization.  This is a historical anomaly.  The very civilization that invented higher education and that makes colleges and universities possible has become in the eyes of many college leaders and professors a villain to be mocked and, if possible, destroyed.  The good news is that Western civilization will survive this demotion on college campuses. Its vital center will simply move elsewhere.  The bad news is that tens of millions of young men and women are being deprived of a powerful, good, and useful education.  They are being taught a false view of history.  The West created the ideal of freedom and found practical ways to build laws and institutions that keep us free.  The campus left, however, teaches that the West is the deep source of all the world’s misery and oppression.  Slavery was universal until Western nations brought it to an end.  But the left teaches that the West is uniquely responsible for slavery.  The left’s attack on Western civilization came at the price of demolishing the intellectual coherence of a college education.  Without the focus on Western civilization, everything literally became elective. College is now little more than a random collection of courses with the light arrangement of a college major, itself stuffed full of electives.  Leftist professors wonder why students have flooded out of the humanities and into applied fields such as business administration. It’s no wonder at all.

Solution:  The federal government should offer positive incentives to colleges and universities that prioritize the teaching of Western civilization.  A blue-ribbon commission on American Exceptionalism would be an excellent step for refocusing the attention of schools and colleges on what we owe to Western civilization—and what Western civilization owes to America.

  1. ProblemTitle IX Tyranny.  The Office for Civil Rights unleashed lawlessness-in-the-name-of-law by turning Title IX of the Higher Education Act into a tool for stripping students of their rights to due process and giving campus administrators combined power to counsel, investigate, and judge cases of alleged sexual assault.  On campus and nowhere else in our society one person—usually a Title IX administrator—serves as police, attorney for the accuser, attorney for the accused, prosecutor, judge, and jury.  A thousand years or more of efforts to create checks and balances in the legal system by dividing these functions has been overturned in one administrative maneuver.  Undoing this will take more than reversing the “Dear Colleague” letters by which the Office for Civil Rights created this mess.  That’s because most colleges have complied with the Office for Civil Rights and implemented the new rules.

Solution:  The Department of Education will have to assist the President in drafting executive orders to dismantle Title IX tyranny.  We need a clear statement from the Secretary restoring Title IX to its original intent—“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”  We need a rigorous pruning of the hundreds of regulations that have transformed this straightforward ban on discrimination into the imposition of brand new forms of discrimination, such as forcing women to accept men in the women’s locker rooms.  We also need pushback on the colleges and universities that have adopted and extended the Department of Education’s hyper-aggressive interpretations of Title IX.  Perhaps federal review and licensing of Title IX Coordinators would weed out those who are essentially ideologues. At a minimum Title IX coordinators need to demonstrate knowledge of due process and commitment to fair treatment of both sexes.

Conclusion

I offer this rather lengthy list of ideas as something I hope will appeal to President-elect Trump and Secretary-nominee DeVos.  I must repeat what I said at the outset, that the National Association of Scholars is not a partisan political body.  As an organization, it is steadfastly neutral.  It urges a traditional view of the rights and responsibilities of institutions devoted to higher learning.  That traditional position has been shouldered aside in recent years by a spirit of partisanship among colleges and universities themselves, with the result that NAS is often now characterized as “conservative.” 

NAS isn’t conservative, but I am. I speak in this document for my own views, which in a good many cases are more pointed than those that the NAS as an organization has taken.

So it is as an individual who is deeply concerned over the direction of American higher education that I write.  In my view our colleges and universities are actively eroding our civilization in favor of a post-civilized future of “world culture” and rule by “international norms” that are hostile to our freedoms.  My counsel to President-elect Trump is that he take these problems seriously.  Fixing them could go a long way towards restoring the prosperity and confidence of our nation.


Image: Troy N.Y. USA - Sage Collage 02 by Daniel Mennerich / Creative Commons

Grad Student

| December 07, 2016 - 1:45 PM


As a graduate student, I want to cheer reading this. Thank you, thank you, Peter Wood.

Glen W Spielbauer

| December 10, 2016 - 4:23 PM


Big name private “elite” schools such as Harvard and Yale, along with the huge state universities are over-rated, over-priced, and obsessed with esoteric research, graduate programs which are over-crowded, and fund-raising -
 
Community Colleges and those four-year
universities that cater to mature, working adults with family responsibilities are the schools that will thrive in the future. Many people with
bachelor’s and even graduate degrees find
community colleges vital for career changes -

which is why one educator in Texas refers to
Community Colleges as the “new graduate schools of the 21st Century”  (VALVE Magazine -  Fall 2008) -
 
Too many high school students, parents, and counselors are focused only on 4-year college degrees and “prestige” universities and high-level professional or management careers - which have been drastically downsized -

High school teachers and counselors, parents and
students must be educated about the growing
importance of   Associate’s Degree and
certificate training programs at two-year
Community Colleges - especially in fields such as manufacturing technology and health care -
 
Many community and technical college graduates
earn as much or more than many four-year
graduates.  There is a growing comeback of
industrial apprenticeship programs across the
country, involving joint partnerships with high
schools, community colleges, and local industry -
 
( ” Trade Apprenticeships Are Making A Comeback “
-  USA TODAY, March 23, 2016 ).

Robert W Tucker

| December 16, 2016 - 10:59 AM


A comment section is not the place for unpacking an article as detailed as this one by Mr. Wood.

I do note that the central preconditions for establishing a true market in higher education (Wood’s First Principle) are both lacking in today’s environment and are conditions that Mr. Wood has broadly opposed in previous writings.

Robert W Tucker

| December 16, 2016 - 11:45 AM


True markets require that the value proposition of the product or service be transparent and accessible to the consumer. For college degrees, this means that colleges must cough up hard data competitive data including defacto admissions practices, wait lists, time to degree (not nominal degree time), term/term and aggregate cohort retention to graduation rates, all-in costs, time to employment, salaries, employer evaluations, and return on investment. Colleges must provide these data by program and not in the aggregate, where it is meaningless, and they must show averages and ranges. Having access to this kind of information allows consumers to become more sophisticated (rational) in comparing the value added by colleges that offer programs of interest to them. In many cases, consumers can determine and compare outcomes per dollar and/or per year, including determining the opportunity costs of delays in achieving degree outcomes (a major factor in determining true costs).

Not surprisingly, traditional colleges have mightily resisted this kind of accountability. Value added comparisons paint a picture different from those commonly held by the public and the academics. Elite universities often return low added value. Those who attend elite colleges for a while and then drop out tend to do just as well in life as those who graduate. This is because admissions criteria screen for people who will succeed with or without the services of a particular college. Community colleges, on the other hand, are often at the top end of the value added chart. When they work well, they move people from the underclass into solid middle-class careers and lives, and they do it at a low cost.

Mr. Wood’s articles written for the Chronicle of Higher Education over the years show him to hold a 1906 apodictic view of quality in higher education, a view that invokes admissions standards that guarantee success, the qualifications of professors, library resources, endowments, and brand. He resists the very kinds of accountability in higher education that would permit the development of a true market. In the above article, Mr. Wood wants to roll back the few modest requirements that have evolved to require that colleges publish graduation rates and a few watered down indicators of performance. Do Mr. Wood’s inconsistencies between his expressed desires and the conditions that fulfill them arise from a double standard or from a lack of understanding about what it means to have competition?

Geoff

| December 16, 2016 - 12:17 PM


A whole lot of opinions here, but not a lot of sound reasoning to back up many of the statements. Are there any sources that would provide more well-reasoned details regarding the issued raised in this article? I personally do agree with some of what is said here, but a lot of it seems like speculation and that isn’t very helpful for someone trying to ascertain the truth.

For instance, WHY is it that 80-90% of college professors classify as ‘left’ leaning? What does that even mean? Is there a consistent definition and application of that term? The only answer given here seems to be the hint that there is some kind of agenda to push conservatives out of the way. Is there any reason to think this? (I think it should be generally agreed that anecdotal data is insufficient, and appeals to government interference should be backed up by actual proof of intent.)

John Wenger

| December 20, 2016 - 11:53 PM


I agree with most of what is stated in this article, but Mr. Wood ruins much of his message by his militant conservatism.  I realize that he says he is speaking for himself as a conservative, but that doesn’t quite cut it given his position as our leader.

One example is his blast against the advocates of global warming.  Now, I realize that some of these advocates get carried away with their view that this is established dogma which then leads them to believe they have the right to stifle dissenting opinions.  I completely agree with Mr. Wood that this cannot be allowed.  However, he goes too far when he attacks the views themselves as being deeply politicized.  The fact is that the overwhelming view of global warming by those whose field this is (not mine) is that it exists, that it is at least partly due to man, and that it will be catastrophic if we don’t do something about it.  That doesn’t mean that the university should be the place to make political hay out of this, but characterizing the science as political is itself to politicize it.  We should listen respectfully to all points of view on this without making a priori assumptions about bad faith from either side.

I was shocked to see, amongst many excellent suggestions, one that would give students the right to carry concealed weapons on campus.  I agree that one can make decent arguments for this (as well as against it), but this has nothing to do with the mission of the NAS, nor does it have anything to do with education as such.  It is a distraction and does not belong in the essay.

Obviously, I cannot go on making points on every part of this essay.  I repeat that I agree with most of it but am saddened by the partisan tilt Mr. Wood gave to it, especially since it is unnecessary to do so.  In short, I think the essay would be more productive had it been less political.

John Wenger