How did radical ideas like abolishing or defunding the police move from the fringes to official policy seemingly overnight in cities like Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York? And after George Floyd’s killing by police touched off protests, why did so many prominent journalists and intellectuals rationalize looting and violence? For an answer, look to the nation’s politicized college campuses.
A well-known professional standard for college professors warns against “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.” That statement, from the American Association of University Professors, dates from 1915 but is still in force.
Most campuses have similar rules of their own. Yet across the country, these categorical prohibitions are now ignored. Academia has become politicized from top to bottom.
A typical example: California’s constitution spells out that the University of California “shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom.” Yet politicization is now routine. UC Santa Barbara’s History Department offers a minor in “poverty, inequality, and social justice”—that is, radical-left politics. UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare says it’s committed to “developing leaders for social justice.” Professors indoctrinate students, seemingly unconcerned with the vast gulf between what their rules forbid them to do and what they are openly doing.
Bitter experience has now shown us that those rules were there for good reason. Educators used to understand that politics would destroy academia’s public credibility and internal ability to function. Political ends would stifle free inquiry, tribalism would erode analytical thought, and emotion would replace reason. Those forebodings match exactly the distortions of higher education we are now seeing—and their results.
How long before “Defund the Police” becomes “Defund Higher Education?” Which one can society function better without?