Opinion: Daily Journal

Campuses shouldn’t breed contempt

CJ photo by Kari Travis
CJ photo by Kari Travis

Republicans and conservatives are growing more doubtful about the notion that higher education is a constructive social institution. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 56 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents think that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45 percent in 2016. Only 19 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the same.

To these increasingly skeptical right-of-center voters, university leaders and professors may be tempted to say, “Good riddance!” If Republicans are going to spurn universities, some might conclude, perhaps universities should spurn Republicans, who obviously have contempt for education, scholarship, and the life of the mind.

Of course, that’s not really the position of the higher education sector. It can’t be, not if it wants to survive and thrive. University leaders desperately want to protect their flow of cash and students. They know many donors, parents, politicians, and voters are Republicans and conservatives.

The nightmare scenario for university leaders is playing out right now in the Show Me State. In case you’re not familiar with the episode, back in 2015 there was a series of campus protests at the University of Missouri. When a student journalist attempted to cover one of them, an assistant professor at Mizzou, Melissa Click, demanded the journalist leave. “I need some muscle over here!” she famously shouted in an attempt to recruit other students to force the journalist away.

The resulting furor made national, even international news. Click was terminated. In alliance with prominent left-wing professors and associations, she (unsuccessfully) fought her dismissal, arguing in The Washington Post that while her lack of experience had produced a certain clumsiness, “I don’t want to live in a world where citizens are too afraid of public scorn to take a chance. Do you?”

Yes, actually. I want to live in a world where educators would be too afraid ever to consider threatening students with bodily harm. Call me a troglodyte if you must.

It turns out that lots of people in Missouri are similarly primitive. Horrified at what the episode said about the campus, and disgusted at the feckless leadership that let the protests escalate in the first place into active interference with the rights of other students and the normal operation of a school, parents and donors are voting with their feet. Mizzou’s freshman enrollment has dropped 35 percent. Hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.

For a group of people seemingly obsessed about categories and invidious stereotypes, far too many professors traffic in the worst kinds of stereotypes about their critics. There are many North Carolina Republicans and conservatives who possess and value college degrees, cherish higher learning, and have proudly acquired and applied graduate training to successful careers in business, law, medicine, science, and education. While there have recently been some shifts in partisan allegiances among voters with varying levels of education, the gaps aren’t wide. According to the 2016 exit polls, for example, half of North Carolina voters had college degrees. They split their votes for president between Hillary Clinton (49 percent) and Donald Trump (48 percent). Even 44 percent of North Carolinians with graduate degrees picked Trump.

Being Republican or conservative, in other words, does not inherently breed a lack of respect for higher education as an institution. So what does?

When parents, donors, and taxpayers see conservative speakers on campus shouted down or assaulted, they worry. When they see public universities used as platforms for progressive political activism rather than legitimate educational or research activities, they seethe. When they compare the rising cost of college degrees against the value, either in the job market or in the intrinsic worth of what their children have learned, they recoil. When they see professors deny the legitimate authority of Republican lawmakers and duly appointed boards to provide governance to state agencies, they fume.

The message many Republicans and conservatives perceive from higher education sounds something like this: “Give us your children. Give us your money. Then, shut up.”

The answer is no.

John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on the talk show “NC SPIN.” You can follow him @JohnHoodNC.



  • sticky wicket

    To many liberal democrats populating these institutions that believe their liberal leftist voices are the only one to be heard.

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    “Republicans and conservatives are growing more doubtful about the notion
    that higher education is a constructive social institution.”

    I have no doubt that much of so-called higher learning is an outright scam designed to extract resources from parents/students/govt to indoctrinate and leave students unemployable. Sadly, this degradation has proceeded so quickly that memories of college of older folks have no real value in understanding the present calamity. There needs to be a LOT of immediate change and it involves far more than a wrecking ball.

  • Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

    Gee, John: With all those donors, parents and taxpayers “seething, recoiling and fuming” it must be tough getting around the campuses. Is that what you experienced at Duke as well? Of course, it has been years since I taught at Duke and UNCW, but I would have noticed all of that building commotion. What the GOP is doing to the Governors and Trustees of the UNC system means they want to personally run the universities and no longer set policy. Are you for that mischief? Do all of our institutions have to become partisan now that the Republicans are in control?
    I am curious. Why were you at their recent meeting? Were you tipped off that they were going to introduce those coup d’etat resolutions?

    • John Hood

      Walt, I wasn’t at the UNC Board of Governors meeting. I was at the
      UNC-CH Board of Visitors meeting. Same town, different venues. As for
      partisanship, when Democrats use the UNC system for political purposes —
      say, to create a “center” at the law school to boost John Edwards’
      political career — and then the board comes along later and roots it out, the latter action doesn’t make the system more partisan. It makes it
      less partisan.

    • John Hood

      Walt, you are jumping to an incorrect set of conclusions. I wasn’t at the UNC Board of Governors meeting. I was at the UNC-CH Board of Visitors meeting. Same town, different venues. As for partisanship, when Democrats use the UNC system for political purposes — say, to create a “center” at the law school to boost John Edwards’ political career — and then the board comes along later and roots it out, the latter action doesn’t make the system more partisan. It makes it less partisan.

      • Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

        You are right, John, and I apologize for putting you at the Board of Governors meeting. Although, it seems to me you may have been there in spirit as I read your piece about UNC’s campuses. It was so unlike you, my friend.
        When members from ANY state board form a GOP caucus and try to undermine the authority of the Chair and the President–by surprise motions and resolutions–they have only one purpose, don’t they?
        I agree that creating and funding the center for John Edwards was stupid and should never have been done. Actually, tht center did not accomplish their prime objective to restart Edwards political career and, if they ever did anything to roll back poverty in North Carolina, I did not see it. Yet, the Republicans on the Board of Governors effort to shut down the law school’s civil rights center, smells like something right out of the old Steve Bannon West Wing of the White House. Glass houses, stones and all that kind of stuff, n’est-ce pas?

  • Alias Darker

    “Republicans and conservatives are growing more doubtful about the notion that higher education is a constructive social institution.”
    more like they are growing more doubtful about THOSE in charge of “higher” education in the USA today . not the same thing . From the get go the author didn’t get it .

    • Walt de Vries, Ph.D.

      l agree. The ADMINISTRATION of higher education has become an expensive sub-discipline all by itself. Yet, they are often the ones most concerned about measuring the effectiveness of the teaching staff–but never their own “work.” However, I never doubt the increasing value of post-secondary education. This concern is bi-partisan (actually tri-partisan) in nature and not only the concern of the Republicans and conservatives.