Academia as the liberal party at prayer
The new report from Moody’s Investors Service, casting doubt on the financial state of affairs in higher education, has provoked a good deal of anxiety.
The comments about tuition are potentially most alarming. Institutionally, the most significant change in higher education over the past generation has been the explosion of administrators’ positions, whose rate of growth has far exceeded that of full-time faculty. As any glance through FIRE’s website reveals, the emergence of administrators has had a pernicious effect: student life bureaucracies have a well-deserved reputation for both political correctness and a hostility to free exchange on campus
Moody’s finding regarding a diminution of state and (to a lesser extent) federal support seems likely even if the economy suddenly improves. Over the past generation, as politics have become increasingly polarized and partisan, higher education has moved consistently in one ideological and partisan direction. (At my home institution of CUNY, the faculty union is notorious for refusing even to reach out to Republican state legislators, even as the GOP controls the New York state Senate.) Universities are perfectly free, of course, to create race/class/gender-dominated faculty and adamantly commit themselves to “diversity” as their preeminent goal. But it should come as little surprise that colleges with such an agenda will tend to isolate themselves politically–meaning that, in hard economic times, as legislators have to make tough choices over what programs to fund, state governments will fund other, more politically popular, programs.
For various reasons it is likely that for the indefinite future the academia will lean Left, and, that public monies will be required to supplement tuition and fees (institutions with rich endowments may not fall into this class). But, there is I believe a disturbing trend of ‘sorting’ where some elements of the hyper-politicized professoriate lose all perspective as to the genuine distribution of ideological viewpoints in the broader population which supports them, at least in part. By this, I mean that in fields like sociology the typical ‘conservative’ may actually be a moderate Democrat, while the Left may consist of unreconstructed Marxists. When you perceive people on the political Right as engaged in “hate speech” by definition, that is going to create hostility from said Right. One’s opinion is one’ prerogative, but one can’t presume that the targets of one’s ire will be happy to fund that invective indefinitely. A liberal academia supported in part by an ideologically diverse tax base can persist. And it certainly did for decades. But, one has to draw a line when the perception begins to develop that academia is engaged in a hostile culture war against elements of the population, with the intent of delegitimizing that perspective as viable.