Editor's Note: This article was originally published under the name "John David," the former pseudonym of NAS Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To learn more about why David no longer writes under this name, click here.
2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year, so much so that pointing this out is now a cliché. A global pandemic with unprecedented containment measures, massive civil unrest in America’s cities, and a still-contested presidential election has, in the eyes of many, brought the country to its lowest point in recent memory.
And yet, there is still much for which we may be thankful—be it our jobs, our health, or an opportunity to help someone in need. At the National Association of Scholars, we are taking some time to reflect on a few of the many encouraging developments that the last year has brought to American higher education.
Here are our top five:
Last year, we wrote to you on the results of Referendum 88, a Washington state ballot initiative that, if passed, would have reversed the state’s ban on race preferences in college admissions. Washingtonians voted instead to reject Referendum 88 and retain said ban.
This year, Californians faced a similar ballot measure: Proposition 16. We are pleased to report that Prop. 16 has also failed, and by no small margin (57% N, 43% Y), despite the fact that its supporters outspent its opponents nearly twenty-fold. This means that the state’s ban on race and sex preferences, Proposition 209, will remain in effect. Once again, we see that most Americans disapprove of racial preferences in college admissions, even in the deepest of deep-blue states.
Title IX, originally written as a simple equal-access law for higher education, has morphed into an administrative behemoth of “campus sex police” operating independent of law enforcement and with little regard for the basic principles of justice.
In August, however, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education (ED) enacted much-needed Title IX reforms. The new law, which survived four separate legal challenges, includes the presumption of innocence for the accused, the right to cross-examination, and the right for the accused to know the charges brought against him.
Foreign influence in American higher education has gone unchecked for decades, but that’s beginning to change. 2020 brought with it a panoply of government action—from federal agencies, to the Executive Branch, to Congress—intended to curb this influence.
In June, ED issued revised foreign gift disclosure regulations, which now require any college or university to report the source and purpose of foreign gifts exceeding $250,000 per year. Even more importantly, ED is enforcing existing disclosure regulations, which has not been done with any consistency since the law was passed in 1965. Meanwhile, in August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China. Both ED and the State Department have also sent joint letters to college presidents and chief state school officers, warning them of the dangers of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in their respective schools. Lastly, numerous pieces of anti-Confucius Institute legislation have been proposed both on the federal and state level, including the CONFUCIUS Act and a bill pre-filed by Alabama State Representative Tommy Hanes.
The executive branch has, in the past year, taken substantial action regarding racist practices in higher education, most recently at Yale College and Princeton University. In August, the Department of Justice (DoJ) found Yale guilty of racial discrimination in its undergraduate admissions, claiming that the school is prejudiced against white and Asian applicants. The DoJ gave Yale until the end of the month to reform its ways. It did not, and now the school faces a federal lawsuit.
A month later, ED opened an investigation into Princeton after its president, Christopher Eisgruber, admitted to his institution’s “systemic racism.” This was not exactly met with open arms by Princeton leadership, who claim that the investigation is illegitimate. The results are still pending, and the NAS commends ED for taking confessions of “embedded” racism seriously.
The New York Times published its now-infamous 1619 Project in August, 2019. Despite the Project’s sleek veneer, historians quickly found many, many problems with its claims, not least its overarching goal of reframing “the country’s [America’s] history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” (a goal that has since been deleted from the web version of the Project).
Scholars mounted a full-court press against the Project and formed a coalition of unlikely allies, which included conservative-leaning historians, writers for the World Socialist Website, and everyone in between. NAS launched our own 1620 Project, an ongoing response to The 1619 Project that has included dozens of articles, podcasts, and webinars. Most recently, our very own president Peter W. Wood published a new book dissecting the Project, 1620: A Critical Response to The 1619 Project.
I trust that you find these victories as encouraging as we do. Thank you for joining us in protecting academic freedom amidst encroaching threats. We wish you a restful, joyous, and safe Thanksgiving with family and friends.