How Not to Fix Higher Education

National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood has a column at Minding the Campus today arguing for an 7-point plan for what he calls “a real program for reform” of American higher education that would “take back the campus from those who are intent on making it a 24-7 taxpayer-subsidized indoctrination camp.” The notion that colleges are all run by people turning them into 24-7 “indoctrination camps” is laughably absurd, but Wood’s proposals are far from a joke.

First, Wood calls for “independent standing committees on free expression” (which is a good idea), and follows it up with a very bad idea, that if colleges “shelter students in ‘safe spaces,’ they forfeit any claim to public respect—and public support.” This talk of banning government funding for colleges that dare to provide “safe spaces” for students is alarming. It’s also hypocritical. Would conservatives want to banish the chapels common at private colleges that are “safe spaces” for Christian students, and instead make them subject to heckling by atheists? What about Christian student groups who seek to create safe spaces by banning gay students from serving in leadership roles? The call for “safe spaces” is often a bad idea, but banning funding to colleges that respond to such requests is a far, far worse idea.

Second, Wood wants to amend Title IX because it is responsible for “reducing men to a minority group on most campuses.” Does Wood seriously believe that the absence of hundreds of thousands of men in college is due a male boycott caused by Title IX, rather than, say, the large number of men in prison or the better job opportunities for men? Virtually all colleges already give preferences in admissions and athletic scholarships to men over women (in spite of Title IX). Wood doesn’t explain how he would amend Title IX to impose his twisted idea of equality.

Wood calls on politicians to “end higher education’s destructive focus on race” by, ironically enough, requiring colleges to report the racial differences in their students’ test scores and GPA.

Fourth, Wood wants to fix the student loan debacle by putting limits on total borrowing for students—that is, to limit opportunities for poorer students.

Fifth, Wood wants to “bust the accrediting cartel” (that is, open up higher education to more for-profit colleges that dumbed down education and worsened the student loan debacle) and also punish the College Board for being “politically correct” in the AP tests and SATs.

Sixth (continuing the theme of punishing his political enemies), Wood wants to put controls on the NSF and other federal funders to “end sycophantic science—the bribing of scientists to produce ‘findings’ meant primarily to advance political causes.” Of course, what Wood proposes is actually the creation of sycophantic science, by bribing the scientists who hold views on denying climate change that Wood thinks are right.

Seventh, Wood wants politicians to tell colleges they should require more study of Western civilization.

Wood concludes, “higher education should never be political indoctrination, welfare for special interests, or back scratching for politicians.” But that’s exactly what his proposals are: political indoctrination, welfare for corporate interests, and universities forced to serve politicians.

Wood’s proposals would involve massive political repression: he wants to change federal law to end equality for women in education. He wants to ban all government funds for colleges that he deems are responding to student activists and providing “safe spaces” for the types of students he doesn’t like. He wants to ban all government funds for researchers he thinks are engaged in “advocacy” by disagreeing with his views about science.

Wood apparently believes that trusting the government to suppress political ideas on campus is more likely to help his political wing than allowing academic freedom to prevail when many faculty are too liberal for his tastes. And that may be a bet that he would win, that his political side would prevail if today’s politicians were able to impose their ideological beliefs on colleges. But it’s not a principled decision. It’s not a decision on the side of academic freedom and free speech on campus. It’s a purely political stand made by someone who pretends he wants to eliminate politics on campus but is really imposing political tests on government funding.

3 thoughts on “How Not to Fix Higher Education

  1. Wood was once a person you could disagree with yet still intelligently debate, as John has actually done on occasion. Sadly, this wacky post suggests that may no longer be the case. It is notable that outside of his perverse solution to the escalation of student loan debt Wood totally ignores nearly all the genuine problems that colleges and universities of all sorts currently face: administrative bloat, crippled shared governance, the erosion of tenure and the emergence of an academic precariat, reduced state support, etc., etc.

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