Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Partisan Bitterness and Higher Education Funding

Polls show that American conservatives have an increasingly negative view of universities, and Freddie de Boer is worried that academic leftists are goading Republican lawmakers into slashing their funding:
I am increasingly convinced that a mass defunding of public higher education is coming to an unprecedented degree and at an unprecedented scale. People enjoy telling me that this has already occurred, as if I am not sufficiently informed about higher education to know that state support of our public universities has declined precipitously. But things can always get worse, much worse. And given the endless controversies on college campuses of conservative speakers getting shut out and conservative students feeling silenced, and given how little the average academic seems to care about appealing to the conservative half of this country, the PR work is being done for the enemies of public education by those within the institutions themselves. And the GOP has already shown a great knack for using claims of bias against academia, particularly given the American yen for austerity.

Meanwhile, in my very large network of professional academics, almost no one recognizes any threat at all. Many, I can say with great confidence, would tell you that they don’t want the support of Republicans. There’s little attempt to grapple with the simple, pragmatic realities of political power and how it threatens vulnerable institutions whose funding is in doubt. . . .

In 2010 I wrote of Michael Berube’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, “the philosophy of non-coercion and intellectual pluralism that Berube describes and defends so well isn’t just an intellectual curiosity, but an actual ethos that he and other professors live by, and which defends conservative students.” I grew up believing that most professors lived by that ethos. I don’t, anymore. It really has changed. For years we fought tooth and nail to oppose the David Horowitz’s of the world, insisting that their narratives of anti-conservative bias on campus were without proof. Now, when I try to sound the alarm bells to others within the academy that mainstream conservatism is being pushed out of our institutions, I get astonished reactions – you actually think conservatives should feel welcomed on campus? From arguments of denial to arguments of justification, overnight, with no one seeming to grapple with just how profound the consequences must be. We are handing ammunition to some very dangerous people.
Honestly given how the average liberal arts professor feels about Republican legislators, it's a marvel that many states provide any funding for higher education at all.


G. Verloren said...

Mainstream conservatives weren't pushed out of academics - they stood up and left, choosing to reject rationality and the objectivity of facts, and instead embrace anti-intellectualism and replace facts with their infamous "alternatives".

When you have a party whose mainstream constituency comes to believe things like "climate change is a hoax" and "Obama is a Kenyan", things become untenable.

What place is there in academics for people who are so badly divorced from reality? How can institutions of learning accommodate those who refuse to recognize objective truths? And would such individuals even want to be a part of academics anyway, given that they don't see any value in respecting logic, facts, and rational thought?

Mainstream conservatism has shifted over the past decades to, perhaps more than ever in American history, abhor education and to revel in ignorance. They have come to view intellectuals and scientists as bitter enemies to be opposed at every turn, while at the same time viewing spin doctors and conspiracy theorists as allies to be aggressively courted.

In the Reagan era, conservatives might have disagreed on policy, they might have valued folksy rural values over urban cosmopolitanism, they might have argued for smaller government and trickle down economics, but they at least had a basic respect for simple facts and truth. They at least had a sense of basic decency, and were somewhat moral and principled in their outlook and actions. You might not like them, but you could at the very least live with them, because you knew the same was true in the other direction, and they'd be willing to accept if liberals came into power, and would still make the best of any such lost presidency, and be willing to make deals and work across the aisle.

But that brand of conservatism is gone, replaced by a much darker, more sinister variety. Mainstream conservatism has become power obsessed, unscrupulous, petty, and cruel. They've gone from an overall moderate leaning to a severe extremist bent, and have made themselves bedfellows with religious fanatics, white supremacists, the ultra rich, and the outright insane.

They've begun to care more about winning elections and staying in power than they do about governing the country and serving the needs of the people. And when they're not in power, they've dedicated themselves to senseless and toxic obstructionism, digging in their heels and doing everything in their power to make governance impossible, purely to spite the opposition at the direct expense of the nation itself and all of its citizens.

How can anyone even begin to accommodate such a party, either in politics or in academics?

G. Verloren said...

Here's another perspective on things.

Do you suppose people worried about the decline of Monarchists in academics, when the world had begun to embrace modern republics instead of kings and feudal lords?

Or when Abolitionism was in the process of transforming the world, do you think people worried that there wasn't enough representation of those who disagreed and wanted slavery to persist?

And do you think perhaps South Africans of the past few decades were ever terribly concerned that their universities weren't doing enough to please those who want to reinstate Apartheid?

The world is once again in a period of change and transition, undergoing yet another slow paradigm shift, and as always the conservative elements want to turn back the clock. The world is inevitably changing, and they're trying to freeze time and pretend that such change simply isn't happening, damn the consequences and nevermind how many people they hurt in the process.

Climate Change? They don't believe in it. Income Inequality? They don't see the problem. Hate Speech? They dismiss it as simple rhetoric.

Universal Healthcare? They're against it. Renewable Energy? They prefer fracking. The Long Peace? They miss The Cold War.

Gun Violence? They think the solution is more guns. Mass Incarceration? They think it decreases crime. Police brutality? They think the police are the ones in danger.

The rest of the world KNOWS that climate change is real. How long do we have to keep trying to convince the stubborn holdouts to accept that fact? At some point doesn't it just become a waste of time and effort? If they won't see reason, shouldn't we just move ahead without them and leave them behind?

It's a question that we need to ask across the board. At what point does it stop being worthwhile to worry over people who cling to the past? Once people make convincing case to us that they're willing to die on their hill of choice, aren't we just wasting our time trying to change their minds?

Conservatives want to be better represented in academics? Then they need to make themselves into suitable academics! They need to place truth before politics, and they need to make themselves tolerable to young people. It's not the job of liberals to ignore their inadequacies, or to fix such problems for them.

And if their response is to retaliate? To abuse their political power to spite the institutions of learning that take issue with their academic deficiencies? That is not the fault of liberals. That is their crime, and it is one we will have to hold them to task for, should it come to pass.

Conservative inclusion in academics must be earned by the merit of their suitability for the role in a changing, not given up as a concession to political blackmail to appease those who fearfully cling to the past.

G. Verloren said...

in a changing world*

David said...

At this point, I don't think there's any compromise or toning-down that liberal academics could offer that would appease the Ann Coulter type of conservative. To them, compromise really does signal weakness, and if they sense it, their answer won't be, "Okay, we'll fund you." Instead, they'll want to put the boot in.

Academics would, however, be not only wise but true to their educational mission if they accepted the idea of appealing to mainstream voters--the sort of people who want their kids to get a college education and need it to be affordable (i. e., state-funded). To that end, a toning-down of intersectionality, postmodernism, excessive academicism, and the like would not go amiss.

Finally, I would say that the educational mission is paramount, and for teaching the best faculties, IMHO, would have the widest possible range of teaching types, including revolutionaries and reactionaries, nice guys and Marine drill instructors, academicians and popularizers, and on and on.