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Education: 2010: Strings Attached

by Frederic J. Fransen

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Suppose you were living in the American colonies in the 1760s and had painfully concluded that your governing institutions were no longer serving you and your neighbors. What would you do? The colonists created “committees of correspondence” to share their grievances, pool their efforts, and respond in concert. These committees laid the groundwork for the Boston Tea Party and other, more aggressive actions, culminating in the American Revolution.

What if the behemoth were not the British Empire, but the $375 billion–a–year U.S. higher-education industry? Suppose you concluded that certain aspects of it were failing American students and needed dramatic reform. What would you do? You might start by creating similar committees of correspondence to pool information and resources toward the end of producing a revolution in higher education. That is the idea behind the newly created National Review Collegiate Giving Clubs, a joint project between this magazine and the Center for Excellence in Higher Education to encourage donors to identify and fund initiatives consistent with the values underpinning our nation and our civilization.

Donors contribute about $30 billion a year to U.S. colleges. Let’s assume that a third comes from those whose values are at odds with the left-wing ideology that dominates our campuses. What if those donors decided to take 10 percent of their college giving and designate it for programs that reflect their values? Too ambitious? Even 1 percent of current collegiate gifts from right-of-center donors would add up to $100 million a year. Imagine what could be done if that $100 million were channeled into programs that focus on the achievements of the United States, the importance of free markets to wealth creation and the elimination of poverty, and the significance of Judeo-Christian and Western traditions. It would change the entire character of higher education — indeed, it might spark a revolution.

The idea of reforming higher education through the concerted action of alumni should be familiar to readers of William F. Buckley Jr. Sixty years ago, Buckley was teaching Spanish and working on the manuscript of God and Man at Yale, the book that would launch his career. He argued that alumni and donors have a “duty to interfere” in Yale’s academic life. Buckley would become a hugely influential public intellectual, but in a sense God and Man at Yale was a failure, because Yale, despite his counsel, became exactly what he feared: an institution characterized by hostility toward Christianity and capitalism.

And Yale is not an exception. Only about 15 percent of American professors are right of center. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor last year, Dan Lawton reported that the University of Oregon had only two registered Republicans among 111 faculty members in five major departments. On many campuses conservative faculty are shunned or punished. Those who control hiring and tenure often abjure any commitment to true intellectual freedom for the sake of a partisan agenda. This degradation of the American academy encourages the few conservatives who manage to sneak through the hiring process to keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

A common tactic of academic bullies is to ostracize those professors who don’t toe the line, and lash out at them in personal attacks. Psychology professor Laura Freberg of Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, is a good example. When her husband, Roger, became active in local politics, her colleagues discovered that she was a Republican. Soon she was the target of an organized campaign to drive her off campus. “We would have never hired you had we known you were a Republican,” one colleague told her. Ultimately, she was stripped of her chairmanship of the psychology department, and she suffered nonstop harassment. One particularly childish tactic Cal Poly’s leadership employed was to constantly move Freberg’s office; no sooner would she move into a space than she would be evicted and forced to move into another.

Prof. Robert Paquette of Hamilton College, in New York State, also found himself playing musical offices. After complaining that too many porn stars and anti-American radicals (Ward Churchill among them) were being invited to Hamilton, he was transferred to a third-floor carrel in the library, far removed from the history department. After writing an article criticizing the college’s hiring process, he was banned from participating in faculty searches. He now is referred to as “the Antichrist” by some of his colleagues.

Students also face discrimination. According to Princeton sociology professor Thomas Espenshade and co-author Alexandria Radford in 2009’s No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, having had a leadership role in the Junior ROTC or Future Farmers of America “is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission” at ten elite colleges whose admissions procedures were documented in the National Study of College Experience.

Christian beliefs can stop academic careers before they start. In his forthcoming book, Compromising Scholarship, sociologist George Yancey documents the attitudes of professors toward job applicants with certain beliefs. More than 70 percent of English professors thought being a “fundamentalist” was damaging to one’s career chances. Anthropologists agreed. Yancey found very high levels of antipathy among academics toward evangelicals, Republicans, and, especially, NRA members.

The skewed politics of faculties do matter, because they strongly influence students’ political views. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) surveys freshmen across the country and follows up with them during their senior years. In the most recent results available to outsiders (a 2007 study based on 2005 data), students showed a substantial shift in their politics during college. Liberal identification increased by 27 percent. The net result? From their freshman to their senior years, about 9.2 percent of students moved from the middle or right to the left. While the Iraq War and the presidency of George W. Bush surely had an effect on students during those years — and, no doubt, made left-leaning faculty even more vocal about their politics — the leftward march of campuses and curricula is by no means limited to that era.

And it’s not just the elite Ivies and big state schools: A few years ago, HERI provided the Cardinal Newman Society with data for Catholic colleges, and the results were not encouraging. On abortion, premarital sex, gay marriage, and similar moral questions, students graduated with views that were farther away from Catholic teaching than those they held when they entered. As a result of the subsequent controversy, HERI no longer releases data on Catholic schools to the Cardinal Newman Society.

In God and Man at Yale, Buckley suggested that alumni use the power of the purse to take a stand. Donors can achieve a lot simply by restricting gifts to programs that they know something about and that are run by faculty or student groups they trust.

For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a university can force student organizations to accept all comers as members: The Fellowship of Christian Athletes cannot exclude an atheist, the College Republicans have to admit Communists. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, believes that many schools will use the ruling to harass conservative and Christian groups that rely on their universities for funding and other resources. Even modest gifts could confer a measure of independence on these groups, making an enormous difference to such organizations.

Alumni making larger donations can support specific curricular programs. There are dozens of deserving programs around the country that promote the study of Western civilization, private enterprise, and the thought of the American Founders. A gift of $10,000 to $50,000 could launch or expand such a program. John Allison, retired chairman of BB&T bank, has used that company’s foundation and his own money to support faculty interested in teaching about capitalism from a positive perspective, and today, at more than 70 schools, students are exploring the virtues of capitalism as a moral system and not just a means to create material wealth. Annual budgets run from $50,000 to $100,000.

Students enter college with values mirroring those of the country at large but graduate having shifted to the left. This is the problem Bill Buckley identified when he was a recent college graduate, and since then, it has gotten much worse. Taking on this problem is now up to those he left behind.

– Mr. Fransen coordinates the National Review Collegiate Giving Clubs as executive director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education. For more information on targeting your donations, visit www.nrgivingclubs.org.

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