The Wyoming State Legislature recently considered a bill to defund gender studies at its public universities—although they ultimately did not turn this bill into law. The bill followed parallel efforts abroad, notably in Hungary, to defund gender studies. A previously unthinkable extension of the government into university affairs has now been mooted.
Gender studies (a.k.a., women’s studies, sexuality studies, queer studies, etc.) certainly deserves to be defunded by every legislature. The Indiana University Bloomington Department of Gender Studies states that “Our field is inherently activist. … A fusion of academics and activism,” and they should be taken at their word. Gender studies subordinates the search for truth to the “activist” search for power. Even where they are not activist, they constrain their “studies” to the endless confirmation of their dogma. UCLA’s Department of Gender Studies declares that “we will continue to prepare students to become anti-colonial, anti-racist critical feminist thinkers.” Gender studies, and all such disciplines devoted to power and dogma, have corrupted the university as a whole and have remade it in their own image. The public interest in education does not extend to these mockeries of academic disciplines.
We at the National Association of Scholars (NAS), to date, have recommended that universities remove such excrescences on their own, not that the government make the decision for them. We are aware that this would set a dangerous precedent. We therefore have made no such recommendation before—and we do not do so now. We are not certain that it is appropriate for state governments to set university policy so directly, even when faced with a grotesque perversion of the academic mission. And it may not be legal. Both prudence and respect for the Constitution argue against embracing such a tactic unreservedly.
Yet we are also aware that universities are so deeply captured by a radical establishment that it is futile to expect them to reform themselves. We are also aware that the universities’ devotion to activism and dogma has had increasingly destructive effects on the republic as a whole. The argument of a dangerous precedent seems less cogent now, when the universities already embrace unprecedented intolerance and export it wholesale to the world beyond the ivory tower. These changing circumstances mean that we no longer oppose legislatures’ attempts to defund gender studies, and similar pseudo-disciplines. Something must be done to address the corruption of the university and the peril to the republic; perhaps such measures are worth a try.
If legislators do proceed down the defunding route, they should do it effectively. Narrowly targeting gender studies will not halt the broader academic shift toward activism and dogma. We suggest that policymakers considering defunding portions of academia will be more effective if they keep some broader goals in mind.
Wider Application: Gender studies departments are hardly alone in their dedication to radical activism. The entire panoply of group identity “studies” departments does so as well—African American studies, Mexican American studies, Asian American studies, disability studies, and so on. Indeed, the word “studies” is a reliable sign, if not an infallible one, that a department is devoted to activism rather than inquiry into truth. Other such departments include social justice, sustainability, much of environmental science, peace and justice studies, community engagement, and leadership.
General Principle: Legislators should seek a general principle, such as “No funding shall go to any academic department that seeks or practices policy change.” The websites of departments and courses provide a good register of which are engaged in such activities—for they boast them proudly. We make this recommendation because courts frequently strike down legislative actions they deem partial. A general principle should help legislators to craft defunding initiatives that will survive court challenge.
Enforcement: Any defunding law will inspire all the affected departments to scrub their websites and pretend they are not engaged in seeking policy change. Legislators must be prepared for general nonfeasance by university administrators and professors. They might appoint a committee of education reformers from outside the education mainstream to investigate the public university system, detail which departments are devoted to activism, and provide a comprehensive list to the legislature. Legislators then could vote to defund all these departments in a single vote.
Line-Item Veto: Legislators should also consider a broader means of exerting control over the public university systems—to pass a law requiring financial transparency for the operational budget of each component of the university, and to authorize a line-item veto over every component of public university expenditure. Wyoming’s veto of women’s studies aroused controversy because it was out of the ordinary. Legislators should consider making such excisions the routine for legislative supervision of public universities.
Experiential Learning: Legislators should also consider a general ban on experiential learning (a.k.a., service learning, civic engagement, action civics, etc.)—academic credit for work outside the classroom, generally for a non-governmental organization. Experiential learning is the means by which K–12 and university classes engage most directly in activism; students receive academic credit for work to promote (overwhelmingly radical) activism. Remove experiential learning and you remove the most effective means for professors to use students to promote activist causes.
General Education Requirements: Legislators should prohibit activist departments such as gender studies from providing courses that will qualify for meeting general education requirements. Remove their captive students and you remove the justification for paying professors to teach in these departments.
Our universities require much broader reform. State legislatures should devote themselves to a comprehensive campaign to depoliticize higher education. Targeted defunding, even if successful, would only be a partial solution. But if it is to be done, it should be done well.
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