October 26, 2020
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released a report decrying the politicization of public higher education governance, entitled The New Order: How the Nation’s Partisan Divisions Consumed Public-College Boards and Warped Higher Education. The report says more about the tunnel vision that pervades the liberal media and academic establishment than it does about the real state of politics in academia.
Politicization is indeed a major governance problem, as the report suggests. However, it is not, as the authors claim, a recent phenomenon resulting from Republican dominance in state politics, the Tea Party movement, and the surge in conservative populism.
It is instead a longstanding pattern that has been gradually increasing for over a century. The recent resurgence of Republican, conservative, or traditionalist involvement in higher education governance is not a cause, but an effect of politicization. It is the result of pre-existing political partisanship and extremism.
Only one side of the political spectrum—the left—has had significant influence at the vast majority of American campuses for a long time, and it has indeed been pushing a political agenda. Much of the country is waking up to an Ivory Tower that openly works against, not just their traditions and interests, but long-held standards of objective truth and merit. For many people, this situation is untenable, and they are just starting to demand that educational institutions serve their needs and respect their values, especially at the public universities they help to fund.
Naturally, that is causing dissension and controversy in university boardrooms.