The Corner


Furious Leftist Prof Extols a ‘Documentary’ on Higher Education

Many films billed as documentaries are just propaganda and one that was recently released, Starving the Beast, pretends to enlighten viewers about the ominous right-wing plot to take over higher education. The film was screened last week at UNC-Chapel Hill and notorious leftist law professor Gene Nichol provided the color commentary.

In this piece published by the Martin Center, John Locke Foundation writer Dan Way gives us the nasty flavor of the event.

Nichol, always eager to hurl insults and impugn the motives of those who disagree with him, called the members of the UNC Board of Governors cowards and Republican lawmakers racists. He claims that the board and state legislature are conspiring to deprive poor people, especially racial minorities, of educational opportunities. Never mind that higher-ed appropriations have not been cut and college education in North Carolina is very heavily subsidized. Opportunities abound, even for weak students who really ought to be thinking of alternatives to college. Whenever the chance presents itself for Nichol to whip up leftist sentiment with cries of racism, he takes it.

As for the movie, Way writes that it “is a dark and brooding documentary that paints public higher education as being in a death struggle with diabolical, shadowy right-wing figures who want to slash funding.” The villains, naturally, include the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, Art Pope (whose family foundation helps fund the Locke Foundation and Martin Center), and other groups committed to downsizing the scope and cost of government. The people who produced Starving the Beast did a long interview with the Martin Center’s Jay Schalin and edited his remarks in, as Way writes, “an uncomplimentary fashion.” That’s a technique used by many documentary producers — claim to be “even-handed” by including some opposing views, but edit the interview to make them look bad. Think of Katie Couric’s gun-control documentary, for example.

Back to the ranting Nichol. He told the audience (mostly students), ”We are literally in a war about whether we’re going to invest in our people’s lives, whether we’re going to assure access and opportunity for those people who have the most difficult challenges, or whether we’re going to have government of the wealthy, the white, the straight, the Christian, the male.” Remember the Two Minute Hate from 1984? Same thing here, just longer.

One reason why he’s so angry is that the Board of Governors ordered the closure of a center he ran at Chapel Hill, the Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity. It was egregiously political and utterly incompatible with any conception of dispassionate academic inquiry. It was part of UNC’s contribution toward the statist vision of America. Nichol was a rabid proponent of “progressivism” before, but shutting it down seems to have taken him from red hot to white hot.

BTW, neither “the beast” (i.e., the higher-ed system) nor Gene Nichol is anywhere near starvation.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.