Does this graduation season bring any good news from the American campus—any deviation from higher ed’s slide into politically correct incivility and closed-mindedness? A few cheering, or at least not thoroughly disheartening, signs are visible. The president of Bethune-Cookman University, joined by the school’s faculty, took a stand against protesters’ rudeness last week, when the U.S. Secretary of Education tried to address the Class of 2017 amid booing, back-turning, and catcalls at the Florida school. President Edison O. Jackson told the disruptors: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” reports…
Anthony Esolen is well on the way to being America’s G.K. Chesterton (if more academic— Chesterton did not produce a widely admired translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy). Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture takes us on a wide-ranging tour of the failures of American culture, from our use of language to how we play, how we build buildings, how we run our schools. As the longtime literature professor tells us on the first page, “I shall decry the decay of civilization.”
On National Review Online’s “Corner”, Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, discussed the nature and origins of recent campus disinvitations and disruptions, such as the Black Lives Matter intimidation of Heather Mac Donald at University of California Los Angeles. The essay has two parts. The first provides a narrative history of how American campuses embraced anti-free speech disruptions, and the second half offers policies to end them. Kurtz’s piece offered the now familiar complaint that tenured radicals are at the root of campus disruption, and Republican majorities in Congress should reform the Higher Education Act to force universities to protect speech and, if possible, rescind tenure. Professor Peter Augustine Lawler, the Dana Professor of Political Science at Berry College, critiqued Kurtz’s piece on two grounds. This first is that administrators are now in charge and have pushed faculty to the margins of decision-making. The second is that legislation is precisely the opposite of the proper solution, because federal regulation of various kinds has facilitated the erosion of the true diversity of American colleges.
It seems every year we have more proof that American universities are failing to engage in civic education, especially if we understand the concept as requiring meaningful reflection about the nature and purposes of government rather than just an awareness of the mechanisms of our government. There are exceptions, but for the most part, it seems unreasonable to expect much from the cafeteria-style general education curriculum required at most colleges. It is just as often remarked that even the civic education that some college students might encounter does not help, either—at least if you are a U.S. citizen who cares about fostering morally serious debate about the legitimate purposes of government in shaping our lives.
It probably should not have been a surprise when, affirming that the attorneys general of Washington and Minnesota had legal standing to challenge the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration, the Ninth Circuit panel pointed to the international dimensions of the University of Washington’s and the University of Minnesota’s activities to argue for a “concrete and particularized injury” from the order. Especially not to me—for back in the day, and indeed for eight wonderful years, I was an international student, lending my own zestful and idiosyncratic brand of cosmopolitan diversity to students and colleagues at the University of Toronto. (If I hadn’t been there to explain Ronald Reagan to them, they never would have understood.)
The truth is that all of our great universities, in the United States and abroad—understanding “our” in a sense that will be clear soon enough—are international.
The University of California, Berkeley emerged again as a bastion of protest against perceived fascism. Alt-Right leader Milo Yiannopoulos was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans to speak on the campus, only to be blocked by protestors and violent rioters. President Trump, in true late-night form, tweeted: No free speech, ‘NO FEDERAL FUNDS?’
The Chronicle of Higher Education published the speech Kevin Birmingham delivered last October upon receiving the Truman Capote Award for his book, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses. In his speech, Birmingham decried the widespread employment of adjunct faculty members, particularly in the humanities, as “exploitation” and “injustice.”
Donald Trump has happily announced that his administration will be dedicated to deregulation. And one very important place to deregulate is higher education. Not only will discarding regulations make education less expensive but it will help temper political correctness. Higher educational bureaucrats, not professors, are the worst offenders when it comes to forging the manacles for impressionable minds. And bureaucrats are hired and empowered in so no small part by federal regulations.
The volume of regulation in higher education is truly astonishing. It is not only conservatives who object. Here is a 2015 summary by the bipartisan task force on higher education:
Focusing solely on requirements involving the Department of Education, the HEA contains roughly 1,000 pages of statutory language; the associated rules in the Code of Federal Regulations add another 1,000 pages. Institutions are also subject to thousands of pages of additional requirements in the form of sub-regulatory guidance issued by the Department. . . . In 2012 alone, the Department released approximately 270 “Dear Colleague” letters and other electronic announcements—this means that more than one new directive or clarification was issued every working day of the year.
But classical liberal and conservatives have particular reason to object to these regulations.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) periodically sends “Dear Colleague” letters to higher ed leaders, suggesting ways in which their institutions might avoid running afoul of made-up civil rights requirements. Said leaders (presidents, provosts, etc) periodically send “Dear Faculty Colleague” letters, not to intimidate but to—actually, I don’t know what. I’ve cobbled together a letter from missives you can find on the internet (so it’s ferreal; only PCU is made up):