November 13, 2023
Donald Trump’s proposal to create a national, free online university as an antidote to “woke” universities is “entirely politics”, adopting tactics from flagging Republican rival Ron DeSantis, but connects with wider concerns about higher education’s cost, inflexibility and perceived failure to use endowments for public good.
The front runner for the Republican presidential nomination has proposed the creation of an “American Academy”, funded by raising “billions and billions of dollars” from “taxing, fining and suing excessively large private university endowments”, to “compete directly” with “very costly” four-year universities.
Using divisions on campuses over the Israel-Gaza conflict as the pretext for his idea, Mr. Trump said the US spends “more money on higher education than any other country and yet they’re turning our students into communists and terrorists,” in a video shared on his Truth Social website.
Jon Fansmith, senior vice-president for government relations and national engagement at the American Council on Education (ACE), the main US higher education lobby group, said the plan was light on “specifics”, describing the proposed funding method as “erratic” and “clearly not viable”.
“But this is entirely politics,” continued Mr. Fansmith. “He [Mr. Trump] has made a point of demonizing colleges and universities and academics generally – the proposal is really about trying to co-opt some of the areas in which Governor DeSantis has gained attention.”
Mr. Trump, who previously created the failed Trump University, said the American Academy would be “strictly non-political and there will be no wokeness or jihadism allowed”.