The National Association of Scholars (NAS) contacted scholars from different fields to gather their opinions on Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent higher education moves in Florida, including his proposals for reform and the change in leadership at the New College of Florida.
Contrary to much of the discussion in academia, we found that these scholars were broadly— and, in some cases, enthusiastically—supportive of DeSantis’ goals and methods. A number of them emphasized the need for intervention from democratic bodies, given the current state of higher education and our institutions’ unwillingness to pursue their original mission.
Some of the scholars did emphasize the need to proceed with caution, so as to avoid undoing what little is left of academic freedom, and to avoid permanently inserting the government into curricular decisions. Thus, we see some debate, even among those who support serious higher education reform, and we look forward to the continuing discussion.
Here are the scholars’ responses:
Associate Professor of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
“The DeSantis and Rufo university reforms in Florida will enhance free inquiry in the physical sciences. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are the biggest threat to free inquiry in the physical sciences because they restrict the domain of allowable questions, impose political tests during hiring, enforce admissions and hiring on the basis of factors other than scientific promise and merit, and divert grants and other resources away from the scientists who will most efficiently exploit them to advance the state of science. The reforms will eliminate DEI programs, and, therefore, will significantly enhance open inquiry in the physical sciences.”
Professor of Economics, George Mason University
“Campus DEI is trying to turn radical left-wing politics into a tax-supported religion. Higher ed wastes piles of money, but spending on DEI is worse than waste. DEI really is promoting uniformity, exclusion, and anti-intellectualism in the name of diversity, inclusion, and free expression. It’s got to be ended, not reformed, before it wins for good.”
Professor of Statistics, La Quinta Centennial Professor of Business, Executive Director of the Salem Center for Policy, University of Texas at Austin
“Given the quasi-monopoly of the ideological Left at universities, the only hope for reform comes from Republican governors and legislatures. I support Governor DeSantis’ proposals, as I believe they are the first steps in recasting the universities’ mission as centers of excellence, merit, and free inquiry. The efforts at New College and the governor’s legislative proposal are the most promising and most ambitious higher ed reforms in generations.”
Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London
“The DeSantis/Rufo reforms are the right approach to dealing with captured institutions. Defunding critical race theory–inspired DEI and scrapping diversity statements are measures which improve academic freedom, excellence, freedom of conscience, and equal treatment. Elected government has an interest in shaping boards of trustees in public universities to uphold the values of a large majority of citizens. But this must be principled. There are three layers in society: government, institutions, and citizens. Government action is illiberal if it limits citizen rights (where these do not interfere with other citizens’ rights). However, government protects liberty when private censorship or illiberalism is in play, as it is at many public universities due to illiberal activists.
As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has written, a Hobbesian conception of liberalism accepts that government, in limiting private violence, enhances freedom. However, proposals to abolish tenure or have government control the curriculum are illiberal, and I do not support these, as they limit the freedom of individual academics. Yet most of the Rufo/DeSantis proposals focus on limiting institutional/administrative freedom to censor and discriminate, which I support. The funding of new centers, or even universities that are heterodox in ethos, has a role to play in bringing viewpoint diversity back into the system. If the New College of Florida, rather than a new institution, is to be the vehicle, the transition should be managed in such a way as to respect the tenure and control over curriculum of academics, but not the jobs and control of administrators. This would mean using expansion rather than termination to establish New College’s non-leftist faculty.”
Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University
“These measures are long overdue. Given the state of affairs at American universities, only a courageous, principled intervention, based on the lawful responsibility of a governor of a state to protect the interest of its citizens, can restore sanity.”
Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Ormond Family Professor of Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business; Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
“Public universities should be accountable to the taxpayers of the states that fund them and to the democratically elected representatives of the citizens. Unaccountable university bureaucracies of DEI are pushing harmful political agendas and demanding conformity to divisive and toxic ideologies. The Florida initiatives to eliminate these bureaucracies are an important step toward recovering education from ideological capture, promoting free inquiry, and eliminating the pervasive indoctrination of students in the religion of woke racism.”
Professor of Marketing, Concordia University
“Universities must return to being bastions of intellectual freedom, guided by reason and the scientific method, and built on an ethos of meritocracy. Any and all ideological pathogens that are contrary to this mission must be combatted to the fullest extent. I would be careful with reducing the protection afforded from tenure. Many of the academic dissidents who have fought most staunchly against the DIE cult and CRT would have long been terminated were it not for tenure.”
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