Defund Gender Studies

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.

[Related: “The Perils of Challenging Trans Activism at Mount Royal University”]

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.

[Related: “Political Insanity on Campus”]

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.


Image: Evgenia, Adobe Stock

David Randall

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

6 thoughts on “Defund Gender Studies

  1. Gender studies is—and always has been—a pseudo-academic discipline created out of whole cloth. Totally devoid of anything even remotely considered research. Of course it’s wildly popular with students because (1) It satisfies the general education requirement and (2) is a guaranteed ‘A’ grade. Helps the old GPA.

  2. Almost all public universities started as — and technically still are — either land-grant colleges or normal schools (teacher’s colleges).

    Hence I don’t have a problem with legislatures holding state institutions to their missions.

  3. The last recommendation would decapitate Women’s Studies where I’m at, and would be wildly unpopular with students, who would rebel. For a small department, they have a nice enrollment (in the hundreds) in their large undergraduate sections. They are probably a cheap department and they likely are subsidizing more expensive departments e.g. STEM. I very much doubt that the legislature would ever go near this. The administration, not a chance.

    It kind of sounds like NAS wants to cancel certain classes of people e.g. gender studies professors. Is this so much different from what the left is doing?

    1. Let the students rebel — far more students rebelled when beer was (essemtially) banned and institutions have the means to suppress these rebellions.

      And as to right & left, if it is OK to suppress the right, why not the left?

      Furthermore, if there “studies” programs actually have a lower NET cost (which I doubt because STEM brings in funds), there is the real issue of institutional intregrety.

      Tiki torches are cheap — would we teach white supremacy for this reason?!?

    2. I think the author expressed his great reluctance at having to suggest something that sounds initially extreme and against the principles of academic freedom and freedom of thought.
      That being said, all of these Studies depts have clearly stated and demonstrated over decades that they are not neutral scholarly pursuits but political programs with very particular political ends and all of their supposed scholarship proves this. (If you don’t believe me, try to find a single work of any Studies Dept that has something positive to say about anything remotely traditional or that even nods at the existence of Chesterton’s Fence.)
      So the question/crossroads we’ve arrived at is: how long do you stick to Marquess of Queensbury rules when your opponents fight full MMA style? If someone points a knife at your throat do you not pull out your knife because that would be stooping to their level and violating your principles?
      I believe this problem was expressed best by Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance, which more or less explained the problem we’re dealing with now: what does a tolerant liberal society do when some sector of society is captured by the intolerant?
      I would think any outright censorship would beyond the pale, but it certainly seems reasonable to not directly fund pseudoscholarship that replaces education with indoctrination and aims at the radical transformation of society (starting w small children) through the establishment of ideological commissars.

      1. Say what you like, I think it’s a fool’s errand. It would arouse wild fury on the campus and in the state I am in, for sure. For what? It would just not happen if anyone was foolish enough to try.

        This kind of reminds me of the talk dating back to Reagan’s time of abolishing the Department of Education. Of course, Reagan didn’t try to do this, and it hasn’t happened in the ensuing 40 years. Reagan had much bigger and better fish to fry, and that’s what he did. To our great benefit.

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