Phi Beta Cons

Core Considerations

Anne D. Neal makes a number of cogent arguments regarding the utility of legislative oversight in restoring accountability to higher education, particularly with respect to the broader conservative goal of establishing a Western-based core curriculum as the foundation of the academic mission. Yet, I still maintain that conservatives and libertarians should retain a presumptive distrust of legislative efforts in achieving goals in what is essentially still a free marketplace of ideas. In fact, the modern conservative movement in higher education was built around the battle against legislative edicts mandating racial and gender quotas in the form of affirmative action programs and Title IX policies, and all of the unintended consequences these efforts engendered.

And the issue of accountability in higher education raises a few related points. For example, one long-term method of ensuring accountability is to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, state and federal funding for higher education. Initially, the higher cost of college that would initially result would mean that only the most motivated and committed students would matriculate. Additionally, less public funding would almost certainly mean a drastic reduction in tendentious scholarship. Professors might still be able to conduct highly-esoteric studies, but without government funding, they would have to secure a private foundation or corporation to underwrite these studies, a development that would almost certainly mean a reduction in dubious research. The point is that without massive injections of public financing, higher education today would be a completely different market, not just a highly-efficient version of the status quo. And this “market” would be more conducive to establishing a rationally-based core curriculum.
Less government money for tendentious scholarship would ultimately mean that colleges would hire more professors who studied traditional academic subjects. Without public financing of research, the marketplace of ideas would be freed up to see which scholarship, without government money, would rise to the top on its own merits. And since decreased public funding generally means decreased government regulation, a drastic reduction in government higher education funding would mean that private universities, many of which are Christian, would be less likely to suffer the unintended consequences of paternalistic government mandates. Consequently, the argument here is that less state and federal involvement, not more, offers the best long-term prospect for restoring a Western core curriculum.


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