Capitol Ideas: Government Overreach and Higher Education

National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) held its second regional conference this year in Grove City, Pennsylvania on August 10 and 11th. More than 70 academics, public intellectuals, and friends of NAS attended the conference, which was titled, “Capitol Ideas: Government Overreach and Higher Education.” Grove City College graciously opened its beautiful campus to NAS, and events took place in the Hall of Arts and Letters, Rathburn Hall, Mary Anderson Pew Residence Hall, and Student Union. President Paul McNulty welcomed attendees by sharing about Grove City’s history and its determination to maintain its independence by not accepting federal funding.

At this conference, NAS aimed to illuminate problems caused by government intervention in American higher education, identify ways to alleviate those problems, and discuss the right role of government in colleges and universities. Guests heard from distinguished speakers such as Paul Kengor (Grove City College), Adam Kissel (U.S. Department of Education), Wilfred McClay (University of Oklahoma), and Steven Hayward (University of California, Berkeley).

On Friday, Professor Kengor opened the conference with a keynote address relating the philosophical foundations of “Faith, Freedom, and Higher Education,” all of which he noted, “need each other; without one or another the whole house falls.” In the dinner keynote, Adam Kissel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs at the Department of Education (ED), discussed the methods in which Secretary DeVos and the Trump administration are attempting to rein in extensive government intrusions in higher education, including how the ED will evaluate colleges’ success using measures that respect the diversity of institutions.

During the luncheon keynote Saturday, Professor McClay gave a historical overview of higher education’s development in the United States from the founding of Harvard to Trump University, including his expectations for the future trajectory of American higher education. In concluding the conference, Professor Hayward gave the crowd a rousing speech asking, “Should We Euthanize Universities or Let Them Commit Suicide?” He discussed the decline of humanities and the social sciences and the rise of STEM. This, Professor Hayward declared, was the result of the politicization of the social sciences and an ill-fated attempt to make humanities “relevant,” as well as the pressure on universities to focus on “job training” and “career-based education” which often leaves the humanities high and dry.

Speeches and panels at the Capitol Ideas conference included an introduction to the Higher Education Act, a consideration on how best to protect campus freedom of speech, and a look at how higher education derives its income. In other conversations, speakers talked about how the government funds progressive politics in college education, and how civil rights mandates often end up actually subverting students’ and faculty members’ constitutional rights (such as freedom of speech and association, and due process under the law).

All the speakers spoke clearly and confidently; they defended their positions and listened to those of others. Breakout session conversation was lively and civil, and conference attendees enjoyed getting to know one another. Even the pouring rain on Friday evening during the transition to dinner helped bring everyone together, as people pitched in to ferry one another over to Rathburn Hall and hold umbrellas for others. 

We at NAS are especially thankful to our sponsors, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Campus Reform, Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund, Classic Learning Test (CLT), and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. We are also grateful for all the attendees taking time out of their busy schedules to join us to discuss this important topic.

Please save the date for our next conference to be held January 11 and 12th at Chapman University in Orange, California. 

Image: "Capitol Ideas" by David Keth Photography // All Rights Reserved

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