Colleges Are to Blame for the Contempt in Which They’re Held
Chronicle of Higher Education, July 12
The Chronicle’s story about the new Pew Research Center survey on American attitudes toward higher education displays a photo of Middlebury College students turning their backs on Charles Murray at the March 2 protest that culminated in assaults on Murray and Professor Allison Stanger.
The photo deftly captures the essence of the Pew report. The survey of 2,504 adults found a dramatic shift in the percentage of Republicans who see colleges and universities having “a positive effect on the way things are going in the country.” The finding has been widely reported: In just two years, Republicans have flipped from a majority (54 percent) saying higher education has a positive effect on the country, to a majority (58 percent) saying the opposite.
I am heartened by the news. It has taken a lot to break through the complacency of these voters. In my role as head of the National Association of Scholars, I’ve given speeches at countless grassroots events, written or published hundreds of articles, and spent hours on talk radio in an effort to persuade ordinary Americans that something is terribly amiss in higher education. The Pew survey suggests that at least some people have begun to listen.
Of course, the real credit for this turnaround goes to those students at Middlebury and their counterparts at dozens of other colleges and universities. It goes to Melissa Click, the professor who was caught on video saying, “I need some muscle over here!” to expel a student reporter from a protest at the University of Missouri in November 2015. And it goes to college presidents such as Hiram Chodosh, at Claremont McKenna; Peter Salovey, at Yale; and Laurie Patton, at Middlebury whose fecklessness in the face of students’ outrageous violations of the norms of the academic community has shaken public confidence in higher education’s basic ability to provide an environment where ideas can be freely debated.