What the 2018 Election Means for Higher Education
When the 116th Congress is seated in January, political control will be divided, with Democrats holding a majority in the House and Republicans in the Senate. What does this mean for higher education? We asked a few NAS members to weigh in. Other essays include: Focus on Reining in the American Bar Association and Work, Federal Student Aid Reform and Free Speech, The Dog that Didn’t Bark, and Reform by Executive Order.
Time to Found a New University
After two years of Republican control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress, a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act failed to pass the House of Representatives, let alone the Senate. Such inaction reflects the indifference to higher education of both the President and most Republican legislators. This inaction will probably continue until 2020, because the Republican Senate will block any Democratic legislation reinforcing the left-wing tendencies of universities. The 2020 and 2022 elections will see either Republican victories continuing the inaction or Democratic victories and further leftist legislation in higher education.
Republicans in many state governments could still help, especially by forcing their state universities to cut administrative spending. But Republicans in the states have shown themselves no more interested in reforming higher education than Republicans in the Federal government have.
The Trump Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has done good work by curbing leftist excesses in enforcing Federal regulation of higher education. Its main success has been in reducing the unfairness of universities’ treatment of students accused of sexual misconduct. Ideally, however, universities should have no part in trying such cases, which are best left to the courts. Although protecting the rights of defendants in these cases is important, it does only a little to correct prevailing feminist biases in higher education.
More important is that, with the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court may finally rule against “affirmative action” and the “diversity” industry created to justify it. Yet this concept has already done such serious damage that most major universities now consider “diversity” (that is, bias in favor of women and minorities) more important than academic excellence. A Supreme Court decision is unlikely to change their minds, but it should embarrass them somewhat in the eyes of public opinion.
Organizations like the NAS should continue to call attention to the leftist biases of universities. Sponsoring outside speakers who challenge leftist prejudices remains useful for showing how unfree universities have become, but it cannot do much to make them freer. The brutal truth is that conservatives and moderates have come to be a small and silenced minority in the really important American colleges and universities, and with each passing year new retirements and hires shrink that minority further. The academy is now so hostile to traditional scholars that few prudent conservatives and moderates will choose the academic profession, and even fewer will get academic jobs.
As I have said in my recent book The University We Need, the only escape I can see from this disaster is to found a major new university as a refuge for the best traditional scholars and students. If its professors were chosen with care, excluding enemies of academic freedom would be easy, because they now have no reason to hide their opinions. The impact of a major university fully dedicated to academic excellence and freedom would be electrifying. Many wealthy donors have the money to found one. If they want to change history, this is how to do it.
Warren Treadgold is a National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Byzantine Studies, Saint Louis University.