Pennsylvania State University recently removed a tweet welcoming conservative perspectives after the school received backlash on social media and complaints from students. This intolerance does not surprise conservatives familiar with our higher education institutions. Our colleges and universities, especially the elite ones, indoctrinate more students into anti-American sentiments every year, all the while happily accepting billions of dollars in federal funding.
But higher education faces an era of high financial instability due to the unsure state of social distancing and the probable enrollment drop induced by a baby bust. Colleges are begging for extra financial assistance during these unsure times. Conservatives, especially those in the executive branch of the federal government, should see this as an opportunity to reshape these rogue institutions.
Progressives currently hold ideological and functional controls over higher education. While non-profit universities are prohibited from taking or stating positions on political candidates or participating in one-sided activities related to elections, the “leftification” of universities results in various biases. Professors and administrators overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates over Republicans. Student bodies lean left, with extremists often voicing their grievances the loudest. Pranksters can successfully submit fake research studies, on topics such as rape culture in dog parks, because academic journal editors are so committed to the progressive agenda.
Radical progressive students agitate for climate justice, segregated dorms, and hypersensitivity training for university communities by yelling, occupying buildings, and interrupting events. These students are rewarded for their behavior when university administrators give in to their demands. But students who voice the “wrong” opinion? They face social and even career suicide. The lack of political diversity makes it easy for young, impressionable students to think there is only one way to think—and vote.
Faced with these challenges, conservatives often forget that college is not only a pathway for getting a job, but also a pathway into the elite.
Colleges mold a new generation of elites who think only in a progressive way. We have seen this when anarchists led a movement to take over several streets in Seattle, known as CHOP or CHAZ. Inside this “autonomous zone,” anarchists committed crimes with impunity. Elites in the media and in government tolerate and provide cover for these bad actors, and for the rioters burning down buildings and wiping out small businesses. Even worse, financial elites often provide funding to left-wing activist groups that perpetuate this kind of chaos. They act as if these are brave and noble actions in the name of racial justice.
Conservatives acknowledge most of these issues, though we do very little to reshape the nature of our American elites (maybe it is too discouraging). Over the past several years, conservative frustration and even opposition to our current higher education system have continued to grow. Campus Reform is an excellent example of an organization that works to expose the bias that conservatives too often find in higher education. But journalism alone isn’t going to change the underlying problems. So, what can conservatives do?
Right now many conservatives, angry after years of abuse by these institutions and their effects, say let them burn down or just forget about them. Policymakers suggest attending alternative options that promote conservative ideas or even creating such institutions from the ground up. These suggestions are understandable and are generally made with the best of intentions. But this will not stop the Left, with all of the powerful institutions on their side.
Conservatives can enact strong higher education reforms once we confront the harsh realities of the system. First, elite institutions are not going anywhere anytime soon. They have enough money and political support to weather any storm. Second, higher education is a part of the American social fabric, with many of these institutions having been founded even before America’s birth. After all, institutions like Harvard gave us presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and John Adams. Universities also provided innovation that helped our society. Universities have served Americans before, and they could serve us again with proper leadership.
Third, conservatives do not have enough manpower to simply take over these institutions from the inside. We must exert power from the outside. We can do this by conditioning bailout funds on reforms that serve our interests.
At the National Association of Scholars, we want universities to actively support intellectual diversity, rigorously protect First Amendment rights, and cut administrative roles that distract from a school’s educational mission as conditions to receive federal assistance. Further, general federal funding for higher education could also place such conditions. The long-term goal is to encourage our higher education institutions to uphold American principles.
Conservatives have placed higher education policy on the backburner for too long. We are already paying for that fact. Higher education sets the trends for society. If we don’t preserve these institutions on our terms, somebody else with a radically different agenda will.