The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) remains steadfast in its support of social justice and liberal politics. In a typical op-ed entitled “The Right-Wing Attempt to Control Higher Ed: Demolishing independent expertise is a central goal of the Republican Party,” education professors Brendan Cantwell and Barrett J. Taylor showed their antipathy toward Republicans and linked to a number of other sites that agree: Republicans bad, anti-science, and anti-expert. Unfortunately, they don’t give any real examples of the sort of thing that they dislike. The article consists mostly of allegations that they can be sure their audience, not to mention the editors of CHE, will support.
Cantwell and Taylor criticize Fox News for criticizing critics of the war in Iraq. Now, of course, Fox platforms critics of the war in Ukraine and are criticized for that, too. Is any criticism of establishment policy wrong? The authors also refer to Charles and David Koch because they know what Democrat readers think of them: “free market ideas and traditional American values”— obviously bad, right? Perhaps to the target audience for this article, but perhaps not to a majority of Americans.
The article blames people who are subject to attacks: “Often these controversies were triggered by the idea that white people, men, Christians, and/or conservatives are marginalized in higher education.” Well, are they? Look at the stats.
“Today,” the authors continue, “the very idea of public colleges and universities that operate independent of partisan control is under attack.” Are they free of partisan control now? Most surveys say they are not.
And then we have this: “In conversations with students about reproductive rights, university employees should say that they are prohibited from promoting abortion in any way, the email [from the University of Idaho] said.” Advocacy is a tough issue in any university. Obviously, the university should promote academic values: truth, honesty, openness, willingness to debate, and so on. Presumably, it should also be consistent with values in the community, which was easy in the days when the community was predominantly Christian but is now a bit more difficult. But still, moral values to which most people agree should be supported by the university. On the other hand, the proper way to deal with a controversial issue like abortion is to discuss both sides of the controversy without advocating either. But the authors seem to have a problem with a state asking faculty members to be neutral in such matters.
“Florida now mandates public colleges to change their accreditor frequently, a move seen by the federal government as an accountability runaround,” say the authors. What Florida actually decided was to change the regulator when its term expired. What the federal government actually did is bully Florida by threatening a loss of federal funds if it didn’t conform to the federal preference. But, again, we are supposed to trust the federal government.
“Leery of public higher education’s autonomy from partisan government …” Autonomy? This really is nonsense on stilts. Just look at all the controls imposed by the government on universities: Title IX and federal money for research and students, student grants and loans, etc. pose enormous constraints on, and some bad incentives for, both public and private universities. It’s not a disdain for money that has led several schools to avoid federal funding entirely. Adding control by state governments may not be the best way to achieve “autonomy,” but that there is a problem is beyond doubt.
The authors complain about “anti-intellectualism” and criticism of “expertise.” But criticism is appropriate when so many arrogant experts are willing to tell questioners to “stay in your lane.” No matter how technical the area, a responsible scientist should always be able to provide understandable reasons for his beliefs.
“Fox News, social media, and conspiracy theories fuel mistrust in independent expertise. Indeed, the conservative movement has worked to degrade Americans’ trust in just about any institution that is not explicitly aligned with the Republican Party …” This simply assumes that the charges are unfounded. Not fair: give us the evidence. As for “the big lie,” there is certainly sufficient data—from the unprecedented Biden vote total to censored pre-election information on social media—to make people question the 2020 election. It may be wise to accept the result at this point and be more vigilant in the future, but there are reasons to be skeptical about the legitimacy of the election.
“Recent rulings from the Supreme Court are consistent with the goal of limiting the authority of independent expertise in American life.” Should “independent expertise” ever be a final authority in a democracy? The SCOTUS ruling does not prevent Congress from enacting the controversial regulation that this Supreme Court found to be regulatory overreach by the EPA, an EPA which, bizarrely, classifies plant food CO2 as a “pollutant.” Unlike the EPA, and with good reason, the court is unwilling to acquiesce to warnings of a “climate apocalypse.” Is it more or less democratic to leave major decisions like this to Congress?
“Prohibiting or limiting instruction about race and gender in the United States has become a campaign priority for Republicans nationwide.” Not true: no one is objecting to some sex education. The complaint is about the type and timing of such instruction, which is often “gender-theory” biased indoctrination rather than instruction—and aimed at too-young children.
In short, the Cantwell and Taylor article consists of partisan allegations without any proof. It’s all too typical of today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, which seems to operate as an organ of the Democratic Party.
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