Commentary: Why the ‘War’ on college is justified

Feb 20, 2018
  • By Teresa Mull
Teresa Mull (tmull@heartland.org) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.

Writing in The New York Times recently, Frank Bruni declared it “unsettling” and “dangerous” that college is “regarded with skepticism by many Americans and outright contempt by no small number of them.”

This widespread attitude toward college is not unfounded. It’s based on years of true education taking a beating from progressive elitists who have infiltrated many institutions of higher learning and assaulted free speech on campuses, which are supposed to be the safe havens of open debate and dialogue. The prevailing skepticism is also a consequence of federal interference and perverse incentives that have diluted once-hallowed institutions and launched millions of young people into unnecessary, debilitating debt.

No, American skepticism toward college isn’t “unsettling” or “dangerous;” it’s completely justified and should serve as a wake-up call to colleges to change course.

“Not all Americans understand how universities function as vital engines of many cities’ and states’ economies or as cradles of the very innovation that keeps America great,” Bruni wrote.

If so many modern colleges are truly great, why do we need a Times editorialist convincing us of their value?

The problem is, Bruni is painting an idealistic version of higher education — one that hasn’t existed for a long time and can’t exist so long as the status quo remains and while people like Bruni turn a blind eye to what the real problems are. Instead, Bruni makes an inaccurate and bigoted accusation, blaming part of the downfall of higher learning on “Republicans (attacking) science and intellectuals.”

It’s true that in a recent Pew poll, 58 percent of Republicans said colleges have a negative effect on the nation, while 72 percent of Democrats said they have a positive influence. It’s also true liberal professors outnumber conservative ones 12 to 1. Bruni would have you believe conservatives hate education, but what students are being taught at colleges is so far from true education, that it doesn’t deserve to be called “education.”

College curricula have digressed into unabashed brainwashing seminars. Williams College, for instance, offers a class in “Racial Capitalism,” which, according to the class’s description, aims to “interrogate the ways in which capitalist economies have ‘always and everywhere’ relied upon forms a racist domination and exclusion.”

Not even the hard sciences are immune. Indrek Wichman, a professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State University, wrote in 2017 about how “a phalanx of social justice warriors, ideologues, egalitarians and opportunistic careerists has ensconced itself in America’s college and universities … now (reaching) engineering.”

The reason most kids go to college is because society tells them they have to if they ever want a job, and because government makes it easy by handing out student loans to young people who don’t know any better. Thus, we have the proliferation of colleges and college students, the latter handing over their “free money” to low-quality, high-quantity schools that accept students who have no interest or desire in attending college in the first place.

Bruni insists repair of the nation’s skepticism of college is “imperative, because the continued competitiveness of the American economy depends on the skills of our work force, the intellectual nimbleness of our citizens, the boldness of our scientific research and the genius of our inventions.”

Employers, however, want to hire people who are competent, reliable and trainable, not necessarily pre-programmed with the “skills” Bruni insists come with a college degree. Most college courses, especially when it comes to getting a job, are a waste of time.

College has morphed into simply another means by which progressive zealots can spread their beliefs and exert their radical influence. Americans are fed up with the intolerant nonsense spewed (sometimes violently) at so many colleges and are turned off by the ignorant, inept graduates these institutions produce, oftentimes at taxpayer expense.

There is a war on colleges, and it’s a war worth fighting.