On Monday George F. Will made a few waves with a column
dripping with schadenfreude from every syllable arguing that colleges were facing a liberal assault on the way they do business. His closing:
It is salutary that academia, with its adversarial stance toward limited government and cultural common sense, is making itself ludicrous. Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses — by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations — brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.
What government is inflicting on colleges and universities, and what they are inflicting on themselves, diminishes their autonomy, resources, prestige and comity. Which serves them right. They have asked for this by asking for progressivism.
I confess that, as someone whose day job is being a college professor, I laughed heartily at Will’s column. Because if liberals are going to start attacking institutions of higher education — and they are, they really, really are — then they’re going to have to get in line behind the army of conservatives that have been hammering away at the ivory tower for decades now. Whether it’s stifling freedom of speech on state university campuses, or proclaiming that MOOCs will render most universities irrelevant, or deciding to cut the funding of social science disciplines they don’t like, or, oh, I don’t know, ignoring the overwhelming conclusions of university-based scientists about climate change, conservatives have been quite eager to bash what they see as a sector of American society hostile to their worldview — and quite willing to use the tools of government to enable that bashing. Liberals are very late to this game of Whack-A-Prof.
When I say laugh, however, it’s a gallows laugh. In a country that’s becoming more polarized about almost everything, the one thing that the left and right can now agree on is that they think the American system of higher education is broken. They think this for very different reasons, but both sides of the political aisle tend to harp on the growth of student indebtedness, ignoring the fact that even with rising tuition and fees, college remains the best economic bargain around.
I’m going to be writing a fair amount about this War on College here. And, let’s be clear, a lot of these criticisms levied against the ivory tower are based on actual problems that need fixing. That said, it’s simply worth noting for now that higher education is going to be facing a tough political climate going forward. George F. Will is the least of our problems.