Secretary DeVos on Faculty in Higher Education


This is a guest post by AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University.

In her speech at CPAC Secretary DeVos stated:

“Now let me ask you: How many of you are college students?

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

I was asked if I had a response to her speech and here is my response.

The comment by Secretary DeVos that “the faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say and more ominously, what think.” shows that she has probably not set foot in a classroom on a college or university campus since graduating from college. Faculty get paid to tell students what to do. We give them reading assignments to prepare for class. We assign them papers, projects, have them do experiments and make presentations and tell them when they are due. We tell them what they should study for exams. If we didn’t do these things, we would not be doing our jobs. No faculty member that I know tells students what to say, nor do they tell them what to think. Faculty may give students their own opinion, where opinions can differ. But faculty members also know the difference between facts and lies, and the overwhelming majority of faculty members I know, whatever their political views might be, will generally encourage debate and differences of opinion, and grade students on the basis of whether their argument is logical and backed up with facts, something Secretary DeVos seems incapable of doing, as evidenced by her statement on faculty. Lewis Carrol wrote in Alice in Wonderland ”Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” Given the fact that Secretary DeVos works in an administration where there are “alternative facts” it would appear that her view of faculty is firmly rooted in her imagination.




13 thoughts on “Secretary DeVos on Faculty in Higher Education

  1. DeVos also said, “I don’t think the Department of Education in Washington should have more power over your decisions than you do. I took this job because I want to return power in education back to where it belongs: with parents, communities, and states.” The question is, does DeVos really believe in limiting federal power, or does she want to impose greater federal control over colleges to strip away faculty freedom?

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  3. Whether faculty are politically biased in the classroom is an empirical question, is it not?

    In fact, IHE has a lengthy and thoughtful piece up today on all the different attempts to investigate this question (the results vary, depending on how you define and measure bias).

    At minimum, investigating ways to measure and test the question of classroom bias is likely a more productive way to address secretary DeVos’s comments than stomping around in angry but unsupported denialism about the charge being made.

  4. The term “bias” appears 6 different times in that article. It similarly refers to political leanings, such as “leans left” or “leans right,” at 4 separate places. There are 4 distinct references to the issue of “discrimination” and 4 references to the charge of “indoctrination,” including in the subtitle. Some of the studies cited do in fact question the nature of faculty bias and its many synonyms while others affirm and document that the academy tends to lean far to the left of the political center. The picture is admittedly nuanced, but the terms used collectively illustrate that the article was indeed about secretary DeVos’s charge of ideological bias in higher ed.

    See, Aaron? It’s even possible to quantify your struggles with literacy!

  5. “When Betsy DeVos on Thursday accused liberal faculty members of trying to force their views on students, the new education secretary infuriated many professors — and won praise from some conservatives…”

    So you think an article about the Secretary of Education accusing faculty of bias has nothing to do with faculty bias.

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