Con­ser­va­tive par­ents turn away from uni­ver­si­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

An ad­mis­sions let­ter from Har­vard Univer­sity was once con­sid­ered cause for cel­e­bra­tion, but in con­ser­va­tive house­holds, that may be chang­ing.

David M. Whalen, provost of Hills­dale Col­lege, a school with a con­ser­va­tive rep­u­ta­tion, said he has no­ticed an uptick in the num­ber of par­ents who send their chil­dren to Hills­dale to avoid col­leges where con­ser­va­tive thought is met with ridicule, sup­pres­sion and vi­o­lence.

“The ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment has be­come so dis­tem­pered that, in many cases, par­ents are now look­ing else­where,” Mr. Whalen said. “In fact, more and more par­ents tell us at Hills­dale that they had as­sumed their chil­dren would go to this or that in­sti­tu­tion, but they are deeply grate­ful to find Hills­dale in­stead.”

A sur­vey re­leased this week by the Wash­ing­ton-based Pew Re­search Cen­ter shows Repub­li­cans have never been more down on higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Just 36 per­cent say the in­sti­tu­tion has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the na­tion, com­pared with 58 per­cent who say it has a neg­a­tive ef­fect. Those num­bers were al­most re­versed two years ago, when 54 per­cent of Repub­li­cans said higher ed­u­ca­tion had a ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on the na­tion, com­pared with 37 per­cent who said it had a harm­ful ef­fect.

Book­end­ing those two years were mas­sive stu­dent demon­stra­tions that shut down the Univer­sity of Mis­souri and Ev­er­green State Col­lege in Wash­ing­ton, with count­less con­ser­va­tive speak­ers dis­in­vited, protested or shouted down on seem­ingly ev­ery other cam­pus in be­tween.

In Fe­bru­ary, pro­test­ers clad in black masks and armed with poles, fire­works and bricks set fires and smashed win­dows at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, to pre­empt a sched­uled lec­ture by con­ser­va­tive provo­ca­teur Milo Yiannopou­los.

“Higher ed­u­ca­tion has been pro­gres­sively rad­i­cal­iz­ing for a long time, but re­cent events have brought the ex­tent of it into high re­lief,” Mr. Whalen said. “It’s vir­tu­ally be­yond par­ody. Cam­pus vi­o­lence, sup­pres­sion of speech and in­tel­lec­tual in­quiry, and the rather haughty pre­sump­tion of moral su­pe­ri­or­ity un­der­cut con­fi­dence that much of real value is go­ing on there.”

The Pew study, which sur­veyed 2,504 adults from June 8 to 18 and has an er­ror mar­gin of 2.3 per­cent­age points, also showed Repub­li­can opin­ion of higher ed­u­ca­tion nose-div­ing among the party’s more con­ser­va­tive mem­bers.

Sixty-five per­cent of self-iden­ti­fied con­ser­va­tives say the in­sti­tu­tion has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the na­tion, com­pared with 29 per­cent who say it has a pos­i­tive ef­fect.

Of the five ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions mea­sured by Pew — churches, banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, la­bor unions, the na­tional news me­dia, and in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion — only the me­dia were viewed more neg­a­tively by Repub­li­cans than academia.

Younger Repub­li­cans tend to view uni­ver­si­ties more fa­vor­ably, but opin­ion about higher ed­u­ca­tion is down dra­mat­i­cally among all age groups.

Forty-four per­cent of Repub­li­cans ages 18 to 49 said higher ed­u­ca­tion has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the na­tion, down 21 points since 2015. Just 28 per­cent of Repub­li­cans older than 50 said academia is ben­e­fi­cial to so­ci­ety, down 15 points since 2015.

Seventy-two per­cent of Democrats said col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the na­tion, up from 65 per­cent in 2010.

Michael Po­li­akoff, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Trustees and Alumni, a higher ed­u­ca­tion think tank based in Wash­ing­ton, said opin­ions about academia do not fall neatly along party lines.

“Per­cep­tive thinkers of both par­ties have ex­pressed very le­git­i­mate con­cerns about grad­u­ates who do not have ap­pre­cia­ble re­spect for the First Amend­ment and are un­able to ra­tio­nally en­gage with so­cial and po­lit­i­cal views other than their own,” Mr. Po­li­akoff said. “Like­wise, look at the is­sue of cost and out­comes. Em­ploy­ers and ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum have sharp­ened their fo­cus on higher ed­u­ca­tion’s re­turn on in­vest­ment.”

He said think­ing about the prob­lems fac­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion in par­ti­san terms is a “missed op­por­tu­nity to talk about badly needed re­forms” with bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

If Repub­li­can views to­ward higher ed­u­ca­tion con­tinue to sour, Mr. Whalen said, then the ram­i­fi­ca­tions could be sig­nif­i­cant.

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