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.”
[Related: “Ending Woke Culture Wars: Different Worldviews Require Different Institutions”]
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.”
[Related: “The Next Step in Florida’s Education Revamp”]
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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4 thoughts on “Scholars Weigh In on DeSantis’ Higher Education Reform”
“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.”
If the government is paying the bill, why shouldn’t the government control the curriculum?
If the government is paying me to plow state highways, it gets to say which highways I plow and when I plow them — I don’t have the freedom to make these choices.
I can plow my driveway with my own truck and on my own time — I can’t do it with a state truck and on state time!
“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.”
So if the current snow plow drivers are all playing cards instead of out plowing, the state/ should hire more drivers instead of firing those who aren’t doing their jobs?
I’m not saying that there should be an ideological purge of faculty, as the right to think and believe what you wish is the most basic of freedoms, but when the state is paying the bills, the state absolutely has the right to demand that its employees teach what it wants taught, and not teach what the state doesn’t want taught.
While it’s been a quarter century now, the saga of Mary Daly at Boston College comes to immediate mind. Daly, a tenured Associate Professor of Theology, refused to permit male students into her classes, and BC fired her. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20141119141754/http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/chronicle/v7/my28/daly.html
BC didn’t hire a second professor to teach the students that Daly wouldn’t — instead they replaced her. This is a somewhat different situation than leftist bias because Massachusetts has a state ERA (it was the basis of the gay marriage decision) and as a recipient of Federal funding, BC is also bound by Title IX — and two male students filed complaints about being denied access to Daly’s classroom.
And this is where I disagree with Professor Kaufmann — there is no inherent right to receive a state paycheck. Tenure (at a public IHE) is not an absolute right to do (or not do) whatever you damn well please — faculty are not gods. They may be talented employees providing a great value to the public — but so are snow plow drivers…
A newly-elected Governor ought not be able to arbitrarily fire all the faculty and replace them with his campaign staff volunteers — that’s what both tenure and civil service laws were intended to prevent. But a Governor (with the support of the state legislature) absolutely has the right to decide what the faculty will be doing on the state’s dime — and if they don’t like it, they can go form their own (private) university.
As to the New School, it’s already failed twice — it failed as a private school, and arguably it’s currently failing as a public school. It’s enrollment is only half of what it’s supposed to be (in Florida, where there actually *are* young people), and it’s 60-year-old buildings are falling apart from years of neglect (even before the hurricane damage). This is independent of its leftist (not liberal) bias and DIE curriculum.
If you can’t fill your seats and fix your buildings, your institution has failed — and, but for the constant infusion of Florida taxpayer funds, the New College would be bankrupt, de-accredited for fiscal reasons, and closed. Forget DeSantis, the market has spoken and there aren’t parents willing to send their children there in the numbers needed to sustain the institution as it currently exists.
So why should the Florida taxpayers pay for two New Schools — i.e. the current failing one and a second one with non-leftist faculty? Why should they do this when the current leftist faculty can’t fill half the seats in their classrooms?
And, more importantly, why should Florida taxpayers continue to pay for things they don’t want being taught?
Which comes back to a bitter truth that a lot of professors are going to have to accept — there is no inherent right to be paid to teach what you want to teach. And it is no longer possible to expand higher education so that you can teach what you want to teach — there are neither the bodies nor the dollars anymore.
I notice the absence of history professors from this list.
I noticed that there is an absence of race/gender grifters from this list.
From what I have seen over the past couple decades, tenure is not the protection that some on the right might like to think it is.
I’ve seen a *lot* of tenured professors forced into retirement, and let us not forget that tenure did not protect the late Mike Adams — and if there ever was an outspoken critic who needed the protection of tenure, it was him.
Nor does tenure protect faculty from licensed mob violence — I say “licensed” because this stuff would not be happening without the implicit (often explicit) approval of university administrators. One need only look at the Covid policies to see just how much power administrators have over students — when they choose to use it.
No, tenure really only protects the left, but beyond that, it only protects those who are first granted tenure (and before that, hired). The “tenured radicals” have been playing the demographics game for thirty years now — knowing that professors inevitably age and hence as long as no young ones were permitted into the academy, all of the conservatives with tenure would inevitably retire or die.
And while tenure may be protecting some critics of DIE and CRT, how many of them are under age 60? How many will still be teaching a decade from now?
That’s why I don’t think tenure is worth saving — not at the cost of how the left is able to abuse it. And at least at state IHEs (which is where DeSantis has his authority), it is possible to enact similar protections in state law — if they don’t already exist under the state’s civil service laws.