Does the US right hate higher education?

If you read the expensive media, you might have formed the impression that the Republican Party is more or less defunct. It could not prevent Obama’s second term, and its policies are being driven by the fruitcake right, reducing its future electoral appeal yet further. One of its congressmen, Paul Broun, has stated publicly “as a scientist” that the Earth was made in six days, about 9,000 years ago. He is a member of the House committee on science, space and technology.
So far, so droll. But look: Broun got reelected to Congress unopposed last year. The Democrats appreciate (and elections for the House, especially, prove) that there are significant areas of the US where their appeal is limited. Although the main Republican demographic is being reduced, principally by death, it is nowhere near extinction.
So while there are folk out there who think the Democrats have already won the 2016 presidential election, the truth is a little trickier. The Republicans may even solve the problem that only extremists whom the voters will reject can get to be candidates to start with.
In addition, it seems to me that there is a new spirit of expansion among at least some Republicans and right-wingers in general, and I fully appreciate that these groups do not overlap completely. One of my heavy duties is to stroll through cyberspace looking for interesting news about universities. It’s interesting just how often this mission brings me to some right-wing US web site or publication that is lamenting left-wing bias or excessive unpatriotism in universities, and urging students, parents, academics, employers or some other group to do something about it. Here is an example from the foaming American Free Press, accusing the University of Michigan of damaging the US by sharing knowledge with China. (Not for years have I seen a publication that routinely bills people as “Jewish” or indeed “black.”) Here is another in which Pat Robertson claims Ivy League university attendance is reducing the incidence of miracles in America. (He is a graduate of the more modest Washington and Lee University in Virginia.)
The number of such hits I see is growing fast enough to look like a campaign with central direction. Obviously universities are a breeding-ground for all sorts of things Republicans hate, like proof of the validity of climate change or of same-sex relationships. But what is the aim of pointing this out? I can’t believe that a general campaign to change the ethos of US universities is going to work.
In any case, today’s universities are not exactly socialist training schools. The fastest-growing subject in many of them is, after all, business. Most universities have no choice but to engage with market forces for student recruitment and many other activities. And the financial structure of higher education lumbers the alumni with

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Maybe the real idea of all this university-bashing is to get liberal faculty to look over their shoulders and fear career damage if they promote their own values to students. But it wasn’t the unemployed who just gave $1 billion to Stanford. The donors were educated people doing well in a low-tax society. Little sign here that universities are producing zombie Bolsheviks.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
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