Archives for category: Academic Freedom

Paul Waldman is an opinion columnist for The Washington Post. In this article, he criticizes Democrats for failing to stand up to Republican slanders and lies about public schools. He raises an important point: Why aren’t Democrats fighting Republican lies about the schools? Why aren’t the billionaires who claim to be liberal speaking out against this vicious campaign to destroy our public schools? One reason for the silence of the Democrats: Arne Duncan derided and insulted public schools and their teachers as often as Republicans.

Waldman wrote recently:

For the last year or so, Republicans have used the “issue” of education as a cudgel against Democrats, whipping up fear and anger to motivate their voters and seize power at all levels of government.

Isn’t it about time Democrats fought back?
Republicans have moved from hyping the boogeyman of critical race theory to taking practical steps to criminalize honest classroom discussions and ban books, turning their manufactured race and sex panic into profound political and educational change. Meanwhile, Democrats have done almost nothing about it, watching it all with a kind of paralyzed confusion.

Look no further than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is pushing legislation with the colorful name of the Stop Woke Act. As the Republican governor told Fox News this weekend, we need to allow people to sue schools over their curriculums, not only because of CRT but also because “there’s a lot of other inappropriate content that can be smuggled in by public schools.”

If you liked the Texas bill that effectively banned abortion in the state, you’re in luck. Republicans apparently want to use a version of that bill’s tactic — putting enforcement in the hands of private vigilantes — to make teachers and school administrators live under the same fear as abortion providers.

It’s happening elsewhere, too. A bill in Indiana allows the same kind of lawsuits. And last week, during a hearing on the bill, a GOP state senator got in trouble for saying that “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position” on things like Nazism, because in the classroom, “we need to be impartial.” The state senator, Scott Baldwin, previously attracted attention when it was revealed that he made a contribution to the far-right Oath Keepers (though he claims he has no real connection to the extremist group).

Everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to outdo one another with state laws forcing teachers to parrot far-right propaganda to students. A Republican bill in Oklahoma would ban teachers from saying that “one race is the unique oppressor” or “victim” when teaching the history of slavery in America; its sponsor says that would bring the appropriate “balance” to the subject.

So ask yourself: What are Democrats telling the public about schools? If you vote for Democrats, what are you supposed to be achieving on this issue? If any voters know, it would be a surprise.
We’re seeing another iteration of a common Republican strategy: Wait for some liberal somewhere to voice an idea that will sound too extreme to many voters if presented without context and in the most inflammatory way possible, inflate that idea way beyond its actual importance, claim it constitutes the entirety of the Democratic agenda and play on people’s fears to gin up a backlash.

That was the model on “defund the police.” Now it’s being used on schools, which Republicans have decided is the issue that can generate sufficient rage to bring victory at the polls.
Devoted as they are to facts and rational argumentation, liberals can’t help themselves from responding to Republican attacks first and foremost with refutation, which allows Republicans to set the terms of debate. So their response to the charge that critical race theory is infecting our schools is something like this: “No, no, that has nothing to do with public education. It’s a scholarly theory taught mostly to graduate students.”

But that doesn’t allow for this response: “Republicans want to subject our kids to fascist indoctrination. Why do they want to teach our kids that slavery wasn’t bad? Why are they trying to ban books? Who’s writing their education policy, David Duke? Don’t let them destroy your schools!”


That, of course, would be an unfair exaggeration of what most Republicans actually want. Is a state senator who worries that public school teachers might be biased against Nazism really representative of the whole Republican Party? Let’s try to be reasonable here.

Or maybe being reasonable isn’t the best place to start when you’re being overrun. Maybe Democrats need to begin not with a response to Republican lies about what happens in the classroom, but an attack on what Republicans are trying to do to American education.

After Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship with a campaign largely focused on schools, Republicans everywhere decided that nurturing a CRT-based White backlash is the path to victory. That is their plan, whether Democrats like it or not.

This isn’t just coming from national Republicans. At the state and local level, far-right extremists are taking over education policy, leaving teachers terrified that if they communicate the wrong idea to students — like, apparently, being too critical of Nazis — they might get sued.

The implications of the GOP war on schools and teachers are horrifying, and with some exceptions, Democrats are watching it happen without anything resembling a plan to do anything about it. It might be time for all the party’s clever strategists to give it some thought.

There seems to be no bottom to “how far can Republicans fall?” Fall from common sense, fall from civic duty, fall from intelligent decision-making?

Texas created a model for deputizing private citizens to report abortions and offering them a $10,000 bounty. Now, a Republican in Oklahoma has copied that model to catch and punish schools that hold copies of forbidden books.

Under a new senate bill in Oklahoma, if a parent objects to a book in a school library, then it must be removed within 30 days. If it is not, a librarian must be fired and parents could collect at least $10,000 per day from school districts until it is removed…

State Senate Bill 1142, authored by Republican State Sen. Rob Standridge, would place the power to ban books into the hands of parents in a profoundly unprecedented manner. “Under Senate Bill 1142, if just one parent objects to a book it must be removed within 30 days,” reportsthe McAlester News-Capital. “If it is not, the librarian must be fired and cannot work for any public school for two years.”

There was also this tidbit buried in the same report: “Parents can also collect at least $10,000 per day from school districts if the book is not removed as requested.” (Emphasis added.)

Will the bill be passed? We will see. Passed or not, it’s an ominous sign of a nascent thirst for censorship, book banning, and—yes—fascism.

A group committed to equity in schools—the Missouri Equity Education Partnership—posted a list of bills that have been filed for the 2022 session of the Legislature. The group makes no judgment about the bills. If you scan the list, you will see that the general trend is to clamp down on discussions of racism and to guarantee “parent rights.”

The first bill listed is HB 1457, which “prohibits the use of the 1619 Project in public schools.”

Several other state legislatures have already banned this book. Why should the State Legislature have the power to prohibit the use of a specific book? This is censorship. I have read The 1619 Project, and I think it is excellent course material for high school students. As I have written previously, teach the book and teach the criticism of the book, and let students debate the controversy. It will encourage them to think.

Apparently the thought of students reading about racism frightens GOP legislatures. perhaps even more frightening is the idea of students thinking for themselves. Thought control—which this is—should be banned.

Sara Stenson was a middle school librarian in Texas for many years. In this post, she calls on Governor Gregg Abbott to stop dragging school librarians into his culture wars with false and salacious claims.

She writes:

Librarians, as public servants, have no secrets. Anyone can access our online library catalogs. It is also important to note that the existence of a book in a library in no way signifies endorsement. Our job is to provide access to our communities and not only to materials which match our personal tastes or values. For example, children have access to “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler in school libraries in Texas. A quick search of the Austin ISD catalog reveals that in the entire district, serving 77,000 students, four copies of “The Dream House” and three copies of “Gender Queer” are on our high school library shelves. And Austin is a liberal city. I suspect only a handful of these two titles exist in Texas school libraries….

Even the legal definition of pornography in Texas states that the term applies to “any visual or written material that depicts lewd or sexual acts and is intended to cause sexual arousal.” Neither book fits this definition.

Just because a book includes some mature content does not make it pornography. School districts have policies for dealing with book challenges, and these should be followed before any books are removed from the shelves.

Does the book have value as a whole? Does it serve certain students in the community? It depends on the local community and if the book is age-appropriate to the patrons. Do librarians make mistakes? I did. At times, I ordered books that ended up not being appropriate for my middle-school library and passed them up to high-school collections. Librarians choose books for their collections by consulting summaries and reviews in selection aids. They cannot possibly read each book entirely before it is ordered…

“The government — in this case, a public school — cannot restrict speech because it does not agree with the content of that speech,” the Bill of Rights Institute says in summarizing the case. “The decisions called libraries places for ‘voluntary inquiry’ and concluded that the school board’s ‘absolute discretion’ over the classroom did not extend to the library for that reason.” “Voluntary” is the key that protects libraries and our freedom to read.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the censorship wars of his day: “If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”

Read more at: https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/other-voices/article256049972.html#storylink=cpy

Chris Rufo has taken credit for creating the furor over “critical race theory,” leading about a dozen Republican-controlled states to pass laws banning it (whatever they think it is, mostly anything to do with racism). He is widely recognized for inventing the fear that public schools are teaching children to “hate” America or to be ashamed for being white. Despite lack of evidence that critical race theory is taught in K-12 schools, the issue has made many teachers fearful of teaching the history of racism.

Critical race theory originated among black law school professors, and it is in law school where students and faculty analyze the persistence of systemic racism in our laws and institutions.

To the extent that teachers talk about racism, it is because it has existed and does exist. It is literally impossible to teach American history without discussion of racism.

Chris Rufo loves attention, so he upped the stakes and increased his targets on Twitter, where he released this tweet. See @Realchrisrufo.

It’s time to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers unions, and overturn the school boards.

The comments below this tweet are worth reading.

Niall Ferguson is a historian who has been a professor at Oxford, New York University and Harvard. He is now at the Hoover Institution, a well-endowed conservative think tank located on the Stanford University campus. The following essay appeared on the Bloomberg News site.

Ferguson doesn’t acknowledge the paradox behind his proposal. He argues that academia has become so stifling of conservative ideas that it has become necessary to open a new college where those ideas could be freely expressed. Yet if every college student has been indoctrinated for many years, what accounts for the power of Trumpian ideas in American society today?

It’s true that Trump ideology is favored more by non-college graduates, while college graduates are likely to reject xenophobia, racism, homophobia, encouragement of violence, and contempt for democratic norms associated with Trumpism. If American higher education was having such a stifling effect on conservatism, why the power and spread of such noxious ideology?

I suppose that Ferguson might disassociate conservatism from Trumpism, but who in the Republican Party today represents those conservative ideas that Ferguson honors? Mitt Romney? Liz Cheney? They are outcasts in their own party.

Ferguson wrote:

If you enjoyed Netflix’s “The Chair” — a lighthearted depiction of a crisis-prone English Department at an imaginary Ivy League college — you are clearly not in higher education. Something is rotten in the state of academia and it’s no laughing matter.

Grade inflation. Spiraling costs. Corruption and racial discrimination in admissions. Junk content (“Grievance Studies”) published in risible journals. Above all, the erosion of academic freedom and the ascendancy of an illiberal “successor ideology”known to its critics as wokeism, which manifests itself as career-ending “cancelations” and speaker disinvitations, but less visibly generates a pervasive climate of anxiety and self-censorship.

Some say that universities are so rotten that the institution itself should simply be abandoned and replaced with an online alternative — a metaversity perhaps, to go with the metaverse. I disagree. I have long been skeptical that online courses and content can be anything other than supplementary to the traditional real-time, real-space college experience.

However, having taught at several, including Cambridge, Oxford, New York University and Harvard, I have also come to doubt that the existing universities can be swiftly cured of their current pathologies. That is why this week I am one of a group of people announcing the founding of a new university — indeed, a new kind of university: the University of Austin.

The founders of this university are a diverse group in terms of our backgrounds and our experiences (though doubtless not diverse enough for some). Our political views also differ. To quote our founding president, Pano Kanelos, “What unites us is a common dismay at the state of modern academia and a belief that it is time for something new.”

There is no need to imagine a mythical golden age. The original universities were religious institutions, as committed to orthodoxy and as hostile to heresy as today’s woke seminaries. In the wake of the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution, scholars gradually became less like clergymen; but until the 20th century their students were essentially gentlemen, who owed their admission as much to inherited status as to intellectual ability. Many of the great intellectual breakthroughs of the Enlightenment were achieved off campus.

Only from the 19th century did academia become truly secularized and professional, with the decline of religious requirements, the rise to pre-eminence of the natural sciences, the spread of the German system of academic promotion (from doctorate up in steps to full professorship), and the proliferation of scholarly journals based on peer-review. Yet the same German universities that led the world in so many fields around 1900 became enthusiastic helpmeets of the Nazis in ways that revealed the perils of an amoral scholarship decoupled from Christian ethics and too closely connected to the state.

Even the institutions with the most sustained records of excellence — Oxford and Cambridge — have had prolonged periods of torpor. F.M. Cornford could mock the inherent conservatism of Oxbridge politics in his “Microcosmographia Academica” in 1908. When Malcolm Bradbury wrote his satirical novel “The History Man” in 1975, universities everywhere were still predominantly white, male and middle class. The process whereby a college education became more widely available — to women, to the working class, to racial minorities — has been slow and remains incomplete. Meanwhile, there have been complaints about the adverse consequences of this process in American universities since Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind,” which was published back in 1987.

Nevertheless, much had been achieved by the later years of the 20th century. There was a general agreement that the central purpose of a university was the pursuit of truth — think only of Harvard’s stark Latin motto: Veritas — and that the crucial means to that end were freedom of conscience, thought, speech and publication. There was supposed to be no discrimination in admissions, examinations and academic appointments, other than on the basis of intellectual merit. That was crucial to enabling Jews and other minority groups to take full advantage of their intellectual potential. It was understood that professors were awarded tenure principally to preserve academic freedom so that they might “dare to think” — Immanuel Kant’s other great imperative, Sapere aude! — without fear of being fired.

The benefits of all this defy quantification. A huge proportion of the major scientific breakthroughs of the past century were made by men and women whose academic jobs gave them economic security and a supportive community in which to do their best work. Would the democracies have won the world wars and the Cold War without the contributions of their universities? It seems doubtful. Think only of Bletchley Park and the Manhattan Project. Sure, the Ivy League’s best and brightest also gave us the Vietnam War. But remember, too, that there were more university-based computers on the Arpanet — the original internet — than any other kind. No Stanford, no Silicon Valley.

Those of us who were fortunate to be undergraduates in the 1980s remember the exhilarating combination of intellectual freedom and ambition to which all this gave rise. Yet, in the past decade, exhilaration has been replaced by suffocation, to the point that I feel genuinely sorry for today’s undergraduates.

In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented them from saying things they believed, up from 55% in 2019, while 41% were reluctant to discuss politics in a classroom, up from 32% in 2019. Some 60% of students said they were reluctant to speak up in class because they were concerned other students would criticize their views as being offensive.

Such anxieties are far from groundless. According to a nationwide survey of a thousand undergraduates by the Challey Institute for Global Innovation, 85% of self-described liberal students would report a professor to the university if the professor said something that they found offensive, while 76% would report another student.

In a study published in March entitled “Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination and Self-Censorship,” the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology showed that academic freedom is under attack not only in the U.S., but also in the U.K. and Canada. Three-quarters of conservative American and British academics in the social sciences and humanities said there is a hostile climate for their beliefs in their department. This compares to just 5% among left-wing faculty in the U.S.

Again, one can understand why. Younger academics are especially likely to support dismissal of a colleague who has made some heretical utterance, with 40% of American social sciences and humanities professors under the age of 40 supporting at least one of four hypothetical dismissal campaigns. Ph.D. students are even more intolerant than other young academics: 55% of American Ph.D. students under 40 supported at least one hypothetical dismissal campaign. “High-profile deplatformings and dismissals” get the attention, the authors of the report conclude, but “far more pervasive threats to academic freedom stem … from fears of a) cancellation — threats to one’s job or reputation — and b) political discrimination.”

These are not unfounded fears. The number of scholars targeted for their speech has risen dramatically since 2015, according to research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE has logged 426 incidents since 2015. Just under three-quarters of them resulted in some kind of sanction — including an investigation alone or voluntary resignation — against the scholar. Such efforts to restrict free speech usually originate with “progressive” student groups, but often find support from left-leaning faculty members and are encouraged by college administrators, who tend (as Sam Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College demonstrated, and as his own subsequent experience confirmed) to be even further to the left than professors. There are also attacks on academic freedom from the right, which FIRE challenges. With a growing number of Republicans calling for bans on critical race theory, I fear the illiberalism is metastasizing.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Preferred pronouns. Checked privileges. Microaggressions. Antiracism. All these terms are routinely deployed on campuses throughout the English-speaking world as part of a sustained campaign to impose ideological conformity in the name of diversity. As a result, it often feels as if there is less free speech and free thought in the American university today than in almost any other institution in the U.S.

To the historian’s eyes, there is something unpleasantly familiar about the patterns of behavior that have, in a matter of a few years, become normal on many campuses. The chanting of slogans. The brandishing of placards. The letters informing on colleagues and classmates. The denunciations of professors to the authorities. The lack of due process. The cancelations. The rehabilitations following abject confessions. The officiousness of unaccountable bureaucrats. Any student of the totalitarian regimes of the mid-20th century recognizes all this with astonishment. It turns out that it can happen in a free society, too, if institutions and individuals who claim to be liberal choose to behave in an entirely illiberal fashion.

How to explain this rapid descent of academia from a culture of free inquiry and debate into a kind of Totalitarianism Lite? In their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the social psychiatrist Jonathan Haidt and FIRE president Greg Lukianoff lay much of the blame on a culture of parenting and early education that encourages students to believe that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” that you should “always trust your feelings,” and that “life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

However, I believe the core problems are the pathological structures and perverse incentives of the modern university. It is not the case, as many Americans believe, that U.S. colleges have always been left-leaning and that today’s are no different from those of the 1960s. As Stanley Rothman, Robert Lichter and Neil Nevitte showed in a 2005 study, while 39% of the professoriate on average described themselves as left-wing in 1984, the proportion had risen to 72% by 1999, by which time being a conservative had become a measurable career handicap.

Mitchell Langbert’s analysis of tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors from 51 of the 66 top-ranked liberal arts colleges in 2017 found that those with known political affiliations were overwhelmingly Democratic. Nearly two-fifths of the colleges in Langbert’s sample were Republican-free. The mean Democratic-to-Republican ratio across the sample was 10.4:1, or 12.7:1 if the two military academies, West Point and Annapolis, were excluded. For history departments, the ratio was 17.4:1; for English 48.3:1. No ratio is calculable for anthropology, as the number of Republican professors was zero. In 2020, Langbert and Sean Stevens found an even bigger skew to the left when they considered political donations to parties by professors. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was 21:1.

Commentators who argue that the pendulum will magically swing back betray a lack of understanding about the academic hiring and promotion process. With political discrimination against conservatives now overt, most departments are likely to move further to the left over time as the last remaining conservatives retire.

Yet the leftward march of the professoriate is only one of the structural flaws that characterize today’s university. If you think the faculty are politically skewed, take a look at academic administrators. A shocking insight into the way some activist-administrators seek to bully students into ideological conformity was provided by Trent Colbert, a Yale Law School student who invited his fellow members of the Native American Law Students Association to “a Constitution Day bash” at the “NALSA Trap House,” a term that used to mean a crack den but now is just a mildly risque way of describing a party. Diversity director Yaseen Eldik’s thinly veiled threats to Colbert if he didn’t sign a groveling apology — “I worry about this leaning over your reputation as a person, not just here but when you leave” — were too much even for an editorial board member at the Washington Post. Democracy may die in darkness; academic freedom dies in wokeness.

Moreover, the sheer number of the administrators is a problem in itself. In 1970, U.S. colleges employed more professors than administrators. Between then and 2010, however, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents” increased by slightly more than 50%, in line with student enrollments. The number of administrators and administrative staffers rose by 85% and 240%, respectively. The ever-growing army of coordinators for Title IX — the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination — is one manifestation of the bureaucratic bloat, which since the 1990s has helped propel tuition costs far ahead of inflation.

The third structural problem is weak leadership. Time and again — most recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a lecture by the University of Chicago geophysicist Dorian Abbot was abruptly canceled because he had been critical of affirmative action — academic leaders have yielded to noisy mobs baying for disinvitations. There are notable exceptions, such as Robert Zimmer, who as president of the University of Chicago between 2006 and 2021 made a stand for academic freedom. But the number of other colleges to have adopted the Chicago statement, a pledge crafted by the school’s Committee on Freedom of Expression, remains just 55, out of nearly 2,500 institutions offering four-year undergraduate programs.

Finally, there is the problem of the donors — most but not all alumni — and trustees, many of whom have been astonishingly oblivious of the problems described above. In 2019, donors gave nearly $50 billion to colleges. Eight donors gave $100 million or more. People generally do not make that kind of money without being hard-nosed in their business dealings. Yet the capitalist class appears strangely unaware of the anticapitalist uses to which its money is often put. A phenomenon I find deeply puzzling is the lack of due diligence associated with much academic philanthropy, despite numerous cases when the intentions of benefactors have deliberately been subverted.

All this would be bad enough if it meant only that U.S. universities are no longer conducive to free inquiry and promotion based on merit, without which scientific advances are certain to be impeded and educational standards to fall. But academic illiberalism is not confined to college campuses. As students collect their degrees and enter the workforce, they inevitably carry some of what they have learned at college with them. Multiple manifestations of “woke” thinking and behavior at newspapers, publishing houses, technology companies and other corporations have confirmed Andrew Sullivan’s 2018 observation, “We all live on campus now.”

When a problem becomes this widespread, the traditional American solution is to create new institutions. As we have seen, universities are relatively long-lived compared to companies and even nations. But not all great universities are ancient. Of today’s top 25 universities, according to the global rankings compiled by the London Times Higher Education Supplement, four were founded in the 20th century. Fully 14 were 19th-century foundations; four date back to the 18th century. Only Oxford (which can trace its origins to 1096) and Cambridge (1209) are medieval in origin.

As might be inferred from the large number (10) of today’s leading institutions founded in the U.S. between 1855 and 1900, new universities tend to be established when wealthy elites grow impatient with the existing ones and see no way of reforming them. The puzzle is why, despite the resurgence of inequality in the U.S. since the 1990s and the more or less simultaneous decline in standards at the existing universities, so few new ones have been created. Only a handful have been set up this century: University of California Merced (2005), Ave Maria University (2003) and Soka University of America (2001). Just five U.S. colleges founded in the past 50 years make it into the Times’s top 25 “Young Universities”: University of Alabama at Birmingham (founded 1969), University of Texas at Dallas (1969), George Mason (1957), University of Texas at San Antonio (1969) and Florida International (1969). Each is (or originated as) part of a state university system.

In short, the beneficiaries of today’s gilded age seem altogether more tolerant of academic degeneration than their 19th-century predecessors. For whatever reason, many prefer to give their money to established universities, no matter how antithetical those institutions’ values have become to their own. This makes no sense, even if the principal motivation is to buy Ivy League spots for their offspring. Why would you pay to have your children indoctrinated with ideas you despise?

So what should the university of the future look like? Clearly, there is no point in simply copying and pasting Harvard, Yale or Princeton and expecting a different outcome. Even if such an approach were affordable, it would be the wrong one.

To begin with, a new institution can’t compete with the established brands when it comes to undergraduate programs. Young Americans and their counterparts elsewhere go to college as much for the high-prestige credentials and the peer networks as for the education. That’s why a new university can’t start by offering bachelors’ degrees.

The University of Austin will therefore begin modestly, with a summer school offering “Forbidden Courses” — the kind of content and instruction no longer available at most established campuses, addressing the kind of provocative questions that often lead to cancelation or self-censorship.

The next step will be a one-year master’s program in Entrepreneurship and Leadership. The primary purpose of conventional business programs is to credential large cohorts of passive learners with a lowest-common-denominator curriculum. The University of Austin’s program will aim to teach students classical principles of the market economy and then embed them in a network of successful technologists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and public-policy reformers. It will offer an introduction to the world of American technology similar to the introduction to the Chinese economy offered by the highly successful Schwarzman Scholars program, combining both academic pedagogy and practical experience. Later, there will be parallel programs in Politics and Applied History and in Education and Public Service.

Only after these initial programs have been set up will we start offering a four-year liberal arts degree. The first two years of study will consist of an intensive liberal arts curriculum, including the study of philosophy, literature, history, politics, economics, mathematics, the sciences and the fine arts. There will be Oxbridge-style instruction, with small tutorials and college-wide lectures, providing an in-depth and personalized learning experience with interdisciplinary breadth.

After two years of a comprehensive and rigorous liberal arts education, undergraduates will join one of four academic centers as junior fellows, pursuing disciplinary coursework, conducting hands-on research and gaining experience as interns. The initial centers will include one for entrepreneurship and leadership, one for politics and applied history, one for education and public service, and one for technology, engineering and mathematics.

To those who argue that we could more easily do all this with some kind of internet platform, I would say that online learning is no substitute for learning on a campus, for reasons rooted in evolutionary psychology. We simply learn much better in relatively small groups in real time and space, not least because a good deal of what students learn in a well-functioning university comes from their informal discussions in the absence of professors. This explains the persistence of the university over a millennium, despite successive revolutions in information technology.

To those who wonder how a new institution can avoid being captured by the illiberal-liberal establishment that now dominates higher education, I would answer that the governance structure of the institution will be designed to prevent that. The Chicago principles of freedom of expression will be enshrined in the founding charter. The founders will form a corporation or board of trustees that will be sovereign. Not only will the corporation appoint the president of the college; it will also have a final say over all appointments or promotions. There will be one unusual obligation on faculty members, besides the standard ones to teach and carry out research: to conduct the admissions process by means of an examination that they will set and grade. Admission will be based primarily on performance on the exam. That will avoid the corrupt rackets run by so many elite admissions offices today.

As for our choice of location in the Texas capital, I would say that proximity to a highly regarded public university — albeit one where even the idea of establishing an institute to study liberty is now controversial — will ensure that the University of Austin has to compete at the highest level from the outset.

My fellow founders and I have no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead. We fully expect condemnation from the educational establishment and its media apologists. We shall regard all such attacks as vindication — the flak will be a sign that we are above the target.

In our minds, there can be no more urgent task for a society than to ensure the health of its system of higher education. The American system today is broken in ways that pose a profound threat to the future strength and stability of the U.S. It is time to start fixing it. But the opportunity to do so in the classic American way — by creating something new, actually building rather than “building back” — is an inspiring and exciting one.

To quote Haidt and Lukianoff: “A school that makes freedom of inquiry an essential part of its identity, selects students who show special promise as seekers of truth, orients and prepares those students for productive disagreement … would be inspiring to join, a joy to attend, and a blessing to society.”

That is not the kind of institution satirized in “The Chair.” It is precisely the kind of institution we need today.

To contact the author of this story:
Niall Ferguson at nferguson23@bloomberg.net

Yes, you read that right. The astroturf Koch-funded “Moms for Liberty” is offering a $500 reward to anyone who catches a teacher teaching “divisive concepts,” which is against state law. What is a divisive concept? Maybe teaching about the First Amendment is one. Teaching about the horrors of war is another. Teaching about the effects of climate change, for sure. Teaching that vaccines save lives is another so don’t talk about polio or other diseases, certainly not coronavirus.

Randi Weingarten spoke out:

For Immediate Release
Nov. 18, 2021

Contact:
Janet Bass
                            jbass@aft.org
                            301-502-5222


Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on
Bounties on Heads of NH Teachers

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on a $500 bounty offered by Moms for Liberty to someone who alleges a New Hampshire teacher is teaching so-called divisive concepts and breaking the New Hampshire law called Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education:

“Putting bounties on the heads of New Hampshire teachers, much like the controversial vigilante bounties envisioned by Texas law to thwart the legal right to reproductive choice, is offensive and chilling in any context. The New Hampshire bounty effort is a result of a state law that bans something that doesn’t happen in New Hampshire or anywhere else—teaching that any group is inherently superior or inferior to another. We teach honest history and respect for all. Culture warriors offering bounties for a teacher supposedly violating the law are doing this at a time when we all need to work together. The stakes are high—unjustified accusations against teachers could cost them their teaching licenses. The clear intent is to undermine public education and scare teachers. 
 
“State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut even set up a webpage to facilitate complaints against teachers. Perhaps Edelblut’s judgment should lead him to a different line of work. We need school leadership that believes in safe and welcoming environments, not one of fear and division. This is distracting from teachers’ focus on helping our kids thrive and excel. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry that history, literature, science or art lessons can be misconstrued and lead to a public flogging or worse. The overwhelming majority of parents support and trust their children’s teachers, value their neighborhood public school as the center of the community and are astounded by this brazen attempt to stifle learning. 

“Parents and teachers are partners in supporting children. Teachers work very hard to help our children through tough times like the pandemic and now to get them back on track. We should do everything we can to support them, not put a price on their head.”

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Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire are co-authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. It is a book that everyone should read. They recently wrote an article that was posted in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post.

They write:

In their search for issues that will deliver Congress in 2022, conservatives have begun to circle around the cause of “parents’ rights.” In Indiana, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita recently introduced a Parents Bill of Rights, which asserts that “education policy and curriculum should accurately reflect the values of Indiana families.” In Florida, the legislature passed an even more comprehensive bill, assuring that the state and its public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents. A growing number of states are allowing parents to sue districts that teach banned concepts. And in Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin has made parents’ rights a centerpiece of his campaign for governor, staging “parents matter” rallies and declaring, “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

Given this frenzy, one might reasonably conclude that radicals are out to curtail the established rights that Americans have over the educational sphere. Yet what’s actually radical here is the assertion of parental powers that have never previously existed. This is not to say that parents should have no influence over how their children are taught. But common law and case law in the United States have long supported the idea that education should prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents. In the words of legal scholar Jeff Shulman, “This effort may well divide child from parent, not because socialist educators want to indoctrinate children, but because learning to think for oneself is what children do.”

When do the interests of parents and children diverge? Generally, it occurs when a parent’s desire to inculcate a particular worldview denies the child exposure to other ideas and values that an independent young person might wish to embrace or at least entertain. To turn over all decisions to parents, then, would risk inhibiting the ability of young people to think independently. As the political scientist Rob Reich has argued, “Minimal autonomy requires, especially for its civic importance, that a child be able to examine his or her own political values and beliefs, and those of others, with a critical eye.” If we value that end, “the structure of schooling cannot simply replicate in every particularity the values and beliefs of a child’s home.”

The law has long reflected this. Consider home schooling. Although it is legal across the country, states still regulate its practice. Such regulations often aren’t enforced, but they are certainly on the books. Home-schooling parents can be required to establish minimal academic qualifications, to submit examples of student work to school district administrators or even to adopt a state-approved curriculum. As the Supreme Court noted in Wisconsin v. Yoder, a case that granted Amish parents the widest possible exemption from state control, “There is no doubt as to the power of a State, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.” And, as the court made clear in an earlier case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the state concerns itself not just with the well-being of the child but also with what the justices broadly called “the public welfare.”

The sudden push for parental rights, then, isn’t a response to substantive changes in education or the law. It’s a political tactic.

Writing in the 1960s, historian Richard Hofstadter observed that conservatives felt that the country had been “taken away from them and their kind” and that timeworn American virtues had been “eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals.” In response, they took up what he called the “paranoid style” — an approach to politics characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” Published more than half a century ago, his essay could have been penned yesterday.

The “paranoid style” of politics is particularly useful as a mechanism for organizing opposition. And the Republicans employing it right now have two particular targets in mind. The first is the public education system, which hard-liners have long sought to undermine. At an annual cost of nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, tuition-free, open-enrollment education represents one of the nation’s most substantial commitments to the public good. But well before Ronald Reagan’s failed effort to introduce vouchers in the 1980s, conservatives were making the case for a privatized system — one in which families, not taxpayers, would bear the cost of education, and governance would happen through the free market rather than democratic politics. In recent years, this vision has come roaring back. Conservative legislatures across the United States have introduced bills creating education savings accounts, private-school tuition tax credits and other forms of neo-vouchers that package old ideological wine in new bottles.

But this play is much bigger than education. For years, the Republican Party has understood that the demographic tide is against it. Knowing that every vote matters, the GOP has increasingly relied on a strategy of voter suppression. Simultaneously, Republicans have worked to ensure that their base turns out in force by stoking White racial grievance. The recent firestorm over critical race theory is a perfect case in point. Never mind that this concept from legal scholarship isn’t actually taught in K-12 schools or that it isn’t what most protesters believe it to be. Republicans gain an electoral advantage by convincing their base that White children are being taught to hate themselves, their families and their country. Whether this supposed attack on the American way of life is being coordinated by Black Lives Matter activists, Marxist educators or antifa operatives, the point, as Hofstadter observed, is to generate an enemy “thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable.”

Courts have found that parents have great authority when it comes to deciding how to raise and educate their children. This right, however, does not mean that public schools must cater to parents’ individual ideas about education. Parents can opt out of the public system if they wish, and pay to send their children to private or religious schools. But even there, parental rights remain subject to state regulation and override.

In framing our public schools as extremist organizations that undermine the prerogatives of families, conservatives are bringing napalm to the fight. That may rally the base and tilt a few elections in their favor. But as with any scorched-earth campaign, the costs of this conflict will be borne long after the fighting stops. Parents may end up with a new set of “rights” only to discover that they have lost something even more fundamental in the process. Turned against their schools and their democracy, they may wake from their conspiratorial fantasies to find a pile of rubble and a heap of ashes.

State Senator Lincoln Fillmore is very worried about the teaching of “critical race theory,” although there is no evidence that anyone is teaching it in Utah schools. He is calling for a law requiring social studies teachers to post their daily lesson plans online, so parents and other concerned members of the community can scrutinize them. Teachers are rightly furious.

A Utah lawmaker wants to require that all materials for social science classes in K-12 be vetted and posted online for parents to review in advance — and teachers are pushing back.

Educators say the proposal shows a lack of trust in their judgment. They call it micromanaging. Some argue that it will hamper their ability to teach students about what’s happening in the world in real time. One called it a “classic witch hunt.”

“The ‘witches’ are social studies teachers who dare discuss current events,” said Deborah Gatrell, a teacher at Hunter High in Granite School District, in a post about her concerns.

The controversial idea comes Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, as a continuation of the effort by conservative Utah leaders to control what’s being taught about history in the classroom. Fillmore was also the Senate sponsor on the bill last session that banned discussion of critical race theory in public schools in the state.

Jim Sleeper is a journalist and alumnus of Yale, as well as a lecturer there. He published an enlightening article about the role of Yale University in forging the Grand Strategy, a strategy of American imperial power to safeguard the world (and American interests). For those of us who came of age in the 1950s, it seemed like the American Colossus was invincible and profoundly moral. But since the debacles in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Grand Strategy no longer looks so grand, and America’s role as the “world’s policeman” appears to be a fruitless enterprise. To understand the Grand Strategy and Yale’s role in shaping it, read Sleeper’s article.

Sleeper urged me to post a larger portion of his excellent essay. Here it is.

When a new leader of the Grand Strategy program tied to change its focus, she was forced out.

Sleeper begins:

Yale history professor Beverly Gage has been praised widely for defending academic freedom from donors’ meddling by announcing her resignation (effective in December) from the directorship of Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, which she took over in 2017 from Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis. But there are more politically urgent, and arguably profound, questions at issue here beyond professors’ right to design their courses free of outside interference.

Since the program’s inception more than two decades ago, Grand Strategy’s intensive seminars have engaged undergraduate as well as graduate students with close readings of classical works on strategy, stressful crisis decision-making simulations, and meetings with accomplished policymakers. In 2010, David Petraeus, at the time the four-star Army general commanding U.S. military operations in the Middle East (and later to become director of the CIA), visited the seminar, as did former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, observers from the CIA, and U.S. Military Academy cadets.

That the program, prior to Gage’s arrival, nudged students toward embracing the U.S. military and national security state was hardly a secret. “A Yale Class Seeks to Change the World … Before Graduation,” read a headline on a Columbia News Service report in 2004, when Grand Strategy was directed by Gaddis. “We are looking for leaders,” the late Charles Hill, a program co-founder, career Foreign Service officer, and Yale’s diplomat-in-residence, told the reporter. “This course gives us a great opportunity to get our hooks into them early. We are not … looking for the kind of person who would be protesting the [World Trade Organization] at Davos,” the World Economic Forum.

But Gage wanted students to scrutinize foreign-policy elites, not elevate them. She welcomed social movement activists in civil rights, environmental, and other domestic causes, expanding Grand Strategy’s horizons to include people who challenge the dominant world arrangements that other visitors defend. Soon she was “second guessed and undermined,” as she put it, by the Yale administration’s failure to resist a demand for a conservative board of program overseers made by Grand Strategy’s benefactors: former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, a former director of the Mitre Corporation and manager of federally funded research and development projects for the Defense Department; and Brady’s billionaire business associate Charles B. Johnson, an overseer of the conservative Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. The two had endowed Grand Strategy with $17.5 million in 2006.

In an essay for the recently published anthology Rethinking American Grand Strategy, Gage writes that “as a citizen, I have, for better or worse, been as likely to be a protester as a policy maker,” and she urges anyone drawn to the latter “to pay more attention to voices bubbling up from below.” To Grand Strategy’s emphasis on foreign-policy decision-making, she added “the art of … channeling collective grievances into effective action.”

Gaddis, Hill, and other original faculty had sided generally with the powerful. “We hauled the entire Grand Strategy class down to New York to meet Henry Kissinger and hear about his sense of the great deficit that exists in grand-strategic thinking,” Gaddis told a large assembly of Yale alumni (including me) at a reunion in 2004. “A student was outraged by Christopher Hitchens’s book accusing Henry of war crimes. So I said, ‘Why not do a senior essay on Kissinger’s ethics?’ I saw a draft, called Henry, and he said ‘Bring him in.’ He hired him on the spot, … to fact check Christopher Hitchens.”

Many alumni swooned, not least over Gaddis’s exhibition of first-name familiarity with the famous and powerful. This was how things had been done at Yale in their time, and by God, Gaddis was bringing back the old elan! But nobody stopped to ask how that fits with a college education for undergrads, or whether intermingling national security professionalism with liberal education prematurely narrows their intellectual and moral development.

Yale College has often been a crucible of U.S. national statesmanship and espionage: Nathan Hale, class of 1773, was hanged for spying on British-colonial troop movements; the CIA was founded at Yale during World War II; and the State Department and its diplomatic corps have been instructed and advised by Yale professors for decades. Yale’s president from 1951 to 1963, A. Whitney Griswold, a descendant of colonial Connecticut governors and an “establishment” figure par excellence, abolished Yale’s Institute for International Studies, which had been funneling students into murky foreign missions with help from conservative alumni, but even then the university continued to serve as a recruitment grounds for the foreign-policy establishment.