BY JOHN K. WILSON
Donald Trump spent most of the 2016 campaign saying almost nothing about education. But recently, Trump has made comments revealing that if he wins the presidency, it could have dramatic and alarming effects on public schools and universities. In his latest pronouncements about universities and in his “Contract with the American Voter,” Trump announced a war on public education that would radically shift federal policy.
Trump plans to decimate federal funding to public schools, and instead fund religious schools and even pay parents who refuse to send their kids to school. Here is Trump’s “School Choice And Education Opportunity Act”:
Redirects education dollars to gives [sic] parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice. Ends common core, brings education supervision to local communities. It expands vocational and technical education, and make [sic] 2 and 4-year college more affordable.
It says something about Trump’s commitment to education that his one-paragraph legislative proposal on education included two spelling errors and a run-on sentence, and nobody has corrected it in the two weeks since it was released.
Higher education is also likely to suffer under a President Trump. Trump has gone after colleges for high tuition rates, ignoring the role of declining government support: “If the federal government is going to subsidize student loans, it has a right to expect that colleges work hard to control costs and invest their resources in their students. If colleges refuse to take this responsibility seriously, they will be held accountable.”
It’s particularly ironic that the man who used his Trump Foundation to buy two paintings of himself and a Tim Tebow-signed helmet, settle a lawsuit against his company, and bribe the Florida Secretary of State when she was considering joining the lawsuit against Trump University, would then declare that colleges need “to spend endowments on their students, not themselves.”
Trump threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of universities unless they “use that money to cut the college debt and cut tuition, and they have to do it quickly.” Trump’s thinking about higher education is often incoherent. If an elite college cuts tuition rates but reduces financial aid for students, the result will be increased student debt. And elite universities with the largest endowments already provide substantial financial aid to the few poor students they are willing to admit.
Imagine the outcry from Trump if a politician had threatened to ban the tax-exempt status of wealthy churches unless they spent more money to help the poor. Trump’s unconstitutional plan to punish elite universities could easily be used to target his political enemies.
One potential threat to international students is Trump’s promise to expel illegal immigrants with criminal records and “cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.” All Mexican international students in the US could have their visas cancelled by a President Trump in a dispute, as could students from other countries that won’t accept the return of immigrants who are criminals.
In addition to Trump’s announced policies, the power of the presidency could allow him to use the enormous authority of the executive branch to impose dramatic changes in campus policies around the country.
It’s easy to imagine a President Trump (who implausibly claims that a dozen women he says he never met and all of their corroborating witnesses have falsely accused him of sexual misconduct) ordering a reversal of the “Dear Colleague” letters to force colleges to protect the rights of men accused of sexual misconduct.
Trump also believes that white men are the victims of reverse discrimination due to affirmative action. He attacked Elizabeth Warren by claiming that she “has a career that is totally based on a lie. She is not Native American.” Trump was wrong (there’s no evidence that Warren ever used her belief that she is Native American in applications), but it is shocking that Trump believes the entire career of minorities is due to affirmative action. If Trump’s voting base is white men and he believes they are the victims of discrimination on campus, would he take action to help them by trying to ban affirmative action?
Trump as president would also pose a threat to scientific research. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax. Would President Trump allow federal money to spent on something he thinks is a conspiracy created by China?
The only thing Trump’s fiercest supporters and opponents agree upon is that he is the candidate of political incorrectness. Trump declared, “In the past few decades, political correctness – oh, what a terrible term – has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship, where students are silenced for the smallest of things.” Trump announced, “We will end the political correctness and foster free and respectful dialogue.” Trump would probably transform the Education Department, and use the threat of federal funding to impose his will on colleges.
It’s no surprise that Trump is promising a war on political correctness and higher education. In a recent ABC News poll, whites with a college degree favor Clinton 52-36 while whites without a college degree favor Trump 55-36. That’s a 35-point education gap, far larger than even the gender gap.
According to the American National Elections Studies from 1956 to 2012, the Republican presidential candidate has won white college graduates in every single election, and white college graduates have voted more Republican than the average voter in every single election. Not this year. College educated whites are a crucial difference in the 2016 election.
Trump accurately perceives higher education as a political enemy, twisting (or what I call “educating”) the minds of a generation of students to believe in equality, climate change, and all the other things that Trump opposes. The Republican Party has grown increasingly attached to an irrational, anti-science agenda.
In my book, Trump Unveiled, I detail how Trump has embraced a wide array of conspiracy theories, denouncing climate change as a plot by the Chinese government, and even calling government economic statistics “phony numbers” designed to conceal the “real” unemployment rate of 42 percent. Higher education is an important antidote to irrational thinking, and therefore it will always be a target of Trump’s attacks.
As the AAUP has noted, if Trump becomes president, he could have a powerful destructive impact on all levels of public and private education.