I am heartened by the news (from Pew that 58% of GOP voters disrespect our colleges). It has taken a lot to break through the complacency of these voters. Of course, the real credit for this turnaround goes to those students at Middlebury and their counterparts at dozens of other colleges and universities.
It goes to Melissa Click, the professor who was caught on video saying, “I need some muscle over here!” to expel a student reporter from a protest at the University of Missouri in November 2015. And it goes to college presidents such as Hiram Chodosh, at Claremont McKenna; Peter Salovey, at Yale; and Laurie Patton, at Middlebury whose fecklessness in the face of students’ outrageous violations of the norms of the academic community has shaken public confidence in higher education’s basic ability to provide an environment where ideas can be freely debated.
The Pew question demands a gestalt answer, and the gestalt answer for me is that American higher education, taken all in all, has put itself in opposition to America’s best principles, its most admirable aspirations, its open-mindedness, and its capacity to create a generation of worthy civic and political leaders. That opposition has public consequences, the most important of which is the malformation of students who mistake their anger for clear thinking and who have developed contempt for their country and their countrymen.
Anger and contempt will, of course, be met with anger and contempt, and what colleges and universities have provided is a radical intensification of our partisan divide.
All of this could and should be said without references to the 2016 election. But when higher education moved decisively to support Bernie Sanders and later made itself central to the anti-Trump “Resistance,” its abandonment of impartiality became patent. The real question is, why do only 58 percent of Republican voters believe higher education negatively affects the country? I know the answer: The other 42 percent are not yet paying attention.”
The parallel question about Democrats matters at least as much. Why are only 28 percent of Democrats in the Pew poll worried about higher education’s effect on the future of the country? Shortsightedness. It might be energizing to believe that the university is wholly on your political side, but the danger of raising a generation steeped in the politics of resentment, power for its own sake, and loathing of intellectual disagreement ought to alarm liberals. This can come to no good end.
Excerpted with permission from The National Association of Scholars