BY STEVE MUMME
The author of this guest post is Steve Mumme, Co-President of the Colorado Conference of AAUP.
One week into Donald Trump’s presidency it is clear that the new administration intends the harshest attack on American universities since the McCarthy Era. Enamored of Alt-Facts and an unhealthy skepticism of science itself, the new administration has unleashed a barrage of policy measures that fully implemented as given could hobble higher education for years to come. And professors are right in the bullseye.
The attack on science centered federal agencies—think Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and Health and Human Services—has thus far received the lion’s share of attention from the press. In addition to the agency hating politicians designated to run these agencies, an immediate muzzling of agency communications and efforts to witch hunt and target expertise on climate change, reproductive health, and other specialties within these offices presages what is likely to be a thoroughgoing review and retrenchment in federal support for university research programs in these fields.
The attack on science is paralleled by a broadside volley on public support for the arts and humanities. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public journalism are on the line. So too the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities both of which are slated for elimination. If Congress goes along we are sure to see political co-religionists at the state level target state arts programs, leaving universities and faculty solely reliant on the vagaries of private philanthropy for research funding and support.
The Trump administration’s draconian restrictions on immigration, targeting Muslims, Mexicans, and other presumptive human threats (in Trump-speak) to American society have already raised alarms in countries across the globe. At a time that America’s public universities are more dependent than ever on international students as a revenue stream, the intemperate language issuing from the White House is a sure to dissuade many potential students from considering an American institution as they weigh their global options.
This same rhetoric and policy puts in jeopardy longstanding efforts at the national, state, and university level to provide opportunities to students who through no fault of their own lack citizenship or permanent residence in this country.
The collateral damage issuing from these immediate attacks on university research and scholarship is just as worrisome. Critics of contemporary innovations in teaching and pedagogy have emerged from the woodwork. Case in point is the National Association of Scholars’ report in early January blasting service learning in all its forms and savaging service learning and other means of student engagement as a dangerous undercutting of American civics education at the college level, targeting specific programs, courses, and faculty in the process.
Moreover, the defamatory, anti-diversity, America-First rhetoric seen in the campaign has not abated. It has validated and given cover to bigotry and intolerance on campus and off. Anti-Semitic theatre is on the rise. Much of this is directed at minority students already suffering precarious circumstances and struggling to get their degrees.
But faculty are by no means immune. As the recent Professors Watchlist has shown, efforts to blacklist faculty are back, targeting faculty for their professional and political views. The President’s rhetorical posture, self-described absent a hint of irony as “truthful hyperbole”, his prickly demeanor and twitter-esque badgering of critics, are bound to evoke hostile behavior from some students and complicate faculty efforts at reasoned classroom dialogue.
The new administration has also taken aim at organized labor, which in many parts of the country puts not only faculty unions in the cross-hairs but efforts to organize adjunct faculty and graduate students as well. Longstanding efforts to raise administrative and public awareness of the need for greater investment in the New Faculty Majority are sure to suffer.
I can think of no time in my 43 years employed in higher education at some level where so many daggers have been hurled at the work that universities do and the professionals that do them. This is no time to be complacent and THE TIME TO JOIN THE AAUP. Faculty advocacy has never been more important to safeguard academic freedom, shared governance, and the programs that are critical to a vibrant life of the mind and the improvement and protection of a diverse society.