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Since William Buckley wrote his once-famous screed, “God and Man at Yale,” the nation’s colleges and universities have been under attack for liberal bias. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Right complained that political correctness was stigling the voices of conservative students and professors and that affirmative action was causing white students to lose out in the admissions process. Somehow, despite the alleged (and real) leftward tilt of the professoriate, American politics is dominated by rightwing politicians. All three branches are in the hands of conservatives, and rightwing media is enjoying a dramatic resurgence.
But be prepared, warns an intern at the National Review, American higher education is about to become the nation’s scapegoat, serving next year in the role that the media serves now: punching bag for Republican demagogues. It is elitist, it costs too much, it harbors leftist bias, it encourages a proliferation of bizarre majors and courses.
There is more than a grain of truth in all these charges, but that grain is tiny compared to the anti-intellectualism and bile that lies behind these charges. Elected officials have spent decades shifting the cost of higher education from the state’s to students, and the costs are out of reach for many students; for those who do attend, the cost of paying back student loans can take years. Meanwhile, many universities have responded to competition by building lavish student facilities and reducing the number of faculty eligible for tenure. Some 70% of the nation’s professors are adjuncts, or “contingent” faculty, barely able to cobble together a decent living as a “reward” for their years of preparation and study.
The “political correctness” claims have been blown out of all proportion because they are easiest for the uneducated to understand. They play into the well of white resentment that elected Trump, r
The sense that nonegites are getting an unfair advantage over whites.
Since World War II, our nation’s universities have been generally viewed as engines of economic progress and a path to social mobility. They are also considered by many to be the best in the world.
Make no mistake. If the right targets them next as the target of the nihilist steamroller, the future growth of our nation–economy and social–will be at risk.
It is past time for the leaders of higher education to strategize about the future, about cost and accessibility, about how they are perceived, about their role in American society, and about how to respond to the attacks by rightwing politicians that will blame higher education for the erosion of equality and opportunity in our society.