Education

Ivy-League Schools Wither

The campus of Yale University in 2012 (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)
Higher-ed institutions have long ignored merit and squelched freedom, all while failing to educate.

A  number of liberal bastions are daily being hammered — especially the elite university and Silicon Valley.

A Yale and a Stanford, or Facebook and Google, assume — for the most part rightly — that each is so loudly progressive that the public, federal and state regulators, and politicians would of course turn a blind eye to anything questionable that these social-justice institutions did.

And they have done a lot of quite questionable things — cynically (and in medieval fashion) using their progressive veneer to exempt themselves from the consequences of their actions, so that they may do what otherwise would earn scrutiny and worse for most other American institutions.

Our nation’s marquee universities, such as Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown — with dozens more no doubt to be named — recently got caught selling admittances. Or rather a few of their employees somehow freelanced under administration noses and sold entrances for cash. That is apparently our modern version of crooked 14th-century clerics putting out to bid penances to thieves and fornicators who wished to buy their way into heaven.

At some of our “best” universities, renegade coaches in minor sports took bribes in exchange for lies claiming that otherwise likely unqualified students were actually “athletes” and thereby could be greased into their colleges by middlemen who helped doctor résumés and test scores.

The irony is rich. The offenders were not the children in Dayton or Great Falls of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” and “irredeemables,” or of the late John McCain’s “crazies,” or of Barack Obama’s “clingers” — it was not they who were using their “white privilege” to break the law as they virtue-signaled their racialist disdain of the working classes (who were without white privilege). What a strange psychological mechanism: Wealthy white liberals apparently squared the circle of their own private and insider privilege by fobbing “white privilege” off on those who don’t have it — as they used their privilege cynically for their own children.

This fraud was also the logical, if extreme, expression of university admissions systems. Universities rarely disclose exactly how they select students for admission — despite the fact that even private colleges and universities are supposed to be publicly accountable and transparent, given that they receive billions of dollars in taxpayer grant money and benefit from federally guaranteed student loans.

The reason the pay-for-play fraud went on so long, and will likely soon grow to encompass more coaches and universities, is that schools, using a variety of euphemisms, have long ignored merit. Their doctrine apparently suggested to the less-than-ethical that everyone was finding some sort of edge and that therefore there would be little liability in doing the same.

After all, is this growing scandal of doctored résumés and phony documents all that much worse than turning down a better qualified applicant, with far higher test scores and grades, because he is of the wrong race? Is it worse than quietly and without a peep accepting a rich kid over a welder’s son in Bakersfield with better credentials because the former’s dad gave millions to the university — an institution loudly committed to equality, social justice, and dethroning “privilege”?

The admissions scandal follows a growing pattern of questionable behavior on the part of our universities. For all practical purposes, campuses have decided that in order to advance their own politicized agendas, their unwoke students, guests, or occasional conservative faculty don’t really need the protection of the U.S. Constitution.

Question the doctrine of radical policy changes meant to accommodate global warming, doubt that sexuality is socially rather biologically constructed, abhor partial-birth abortion and infanticide, or object that race-based admissions violate the spirit of equality under the law — and you are likely to face disruptions, protests, and verbal or even physical violence, with the wink and nod or appeasement of a terrified college administration.

Accuse someone of sexual harassment, and you will quickly learn there is not much left of the Fifth Amendment and due process on campuses. Gone also is the idea of the right to face your accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, to produce evidence on your behalf, and, most significantly, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty — the cornerstone of American and Western jurisprudence.

Then we come to the national crisis of $1.5 trillion in aggregate student-loan debt. For years, higher education has upped the costs of tuition and room and board above the annual rate of inflation to accommodate administrative bloat, an epidemic of non-teaching therapeutic facilitators and political commissars, and reduced faculty teaching loads.

Leftists are eager to insist for others on consumer-protection regulation, truth in lending, and contractual disclosure to apprise debtors of their interest obligations and long-term debt liability. Yet universities never fully apprise in-hock students exactly of the dangers of accruing too much debt each semester, of how long it will take them to pay it back, and of the average compensations after graduation that particular university degrees might likely warrant. How ironic that those who so often virtue-signal their concern for consumers offer less disclosure and fewer contractual warnings to their student debtors than used-car buyers receive from dealers.

The Trump administration is making noises about conditioning federal funding to higher education on protection of free speech for students, guests, and faculty on campuses. It is considering making universities partially responsible for defaulted student loans that they so often push down the throats of 18-year-old students through “student aid packages” and the hints that the U.S. taxpayer will always cover the bill if a graduate with an expensive but otherwise unmarketable degree cannot pay the federal government back for what he paid out to universities with sizable endowments.

A reckoning is on the horizon. If universities are overtly political and have one set of standards for left-wing faculty and guests and another for non-progressives, why are they tax-exempt? And why are huge donations to multi-billion-dollar endowments still tax write-offs? Why are there part-time helot faculty who teach the same classes as tenured professors and yet make a fraction of the latter’s salary —  in a progressive institution whose elites hector others on our culture’s neglect of equality and social justice?

Oddly, the best reform would simply to be to force universities and colleges to offer the same sort of exit exams as the admission exams they insist on for entering students. In other words, to earn a bachelor’s degree, graduating college seniors would be required to taking a national standardized test to ensure minimal competence in verbal and math skills. This would certify that the four- to eight-year undergraduate experience has led to at least minimal knowledge — much as welders or carpenters must show minimal competency to be licensed or to advance into union apprenticeships. Again, how ironic that the Obama administration once went after for-profit trade schools and colleges on grounds that their job-placement record was wanting, when supposedly nonprofit colleges (which are actually quite profitable for those in their administrative hierarchies) have a dismal record of ensuring that their graduates leave with basic language and computational skills.

Colleges demand that graduating high-school seniors take the SAT or ACT to prove that particular high-school diplomas ensure minimal competence. How odd again, then, that colleges would never regulate themselves in this way. The public might discover that the current college curriculum is mostly therapeutic and flooded with -studies courses that drown out traditional history, literature, languages, science, and math. College graduates therefore often read, write, argue, and compute in no better fashion than they once did in high school.

Something in this country went radically wrong in the 1980s and 1990s. We created an entire subversive ideology according to which loud allegiance to “progressivism” — decrying class, race, and gender “inequality” —  excused an institution or industry from bias, exempted it from following the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution, and made competency in its mission of educating youth irrelevant. And worse still, so-called progressive egalitarians transformed the idea of an elite college degree from a reflection of wide reading, inductive thinking, and scientific and mathematical literacy into a mere cattle brand, a showy trademark that advertised social-justice virtue and provided entrée into the well-paying capitalist rat race.

Yet once politics serves as such a blanket exemption for institutions, then it’s no surprise that the institutions ignore or even normalize fraud, racial and class discrimination, and consumer misinformation.

The rationale of contemporary higher education is that such progressive angels surely cannot be self-interested devils.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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