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The Republican War on Higher Education

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Above: One of Many People the GOP Wants to Make Sure Students Know Nothing About

Another year, another set of Republican legislators seeking to engage in a political war on those liberals in higher education. First, Arizona.

Saying students are being taught hatred at public expenses, a Republican lawmaker from Flagstaff is proposing new limits on what and how schools, colleges and universities can teach.

Rep. Bob Thorpe said a 2010 law that targeted “ethnic studies” courses at some public schools, including those at Tucson Unified School District, does not go far enough with its prohibition against teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race. He wants to expand that list to include gender, religion, political affiliation and social class.

And Thorpe wants a ban on not just classes but any events or activities that “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.”

But it does not stop there.

HB 2120 would extend the new restrictions to community colleges and universities, not just in terms of what’s taught in the classroom but also any event or activity. And it gives the attorney general the unilateral power to withhold up to 10 percent of state aid if he or she determines a college or university is in violation.

Thorpe said Thursday his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.

This is of course nothing more than a politicized attack on higher education. Republicans want people like myself and the other members of this blog fired for teaching anything that does not confirm whatever the conservative talking points of the moment may be. And that takes us to Missouri.

College graduates in Missouri should be able to find jobs that correspond with their degrees, and their professors should help them do so, says State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican.

To make that happen, Mr. Brattin says, he would eliminate tenure at Missouri’s public colleges and universities. House Bill 266, introduced this month, would outlaw awarding tenure in Missouri after January 1, 2018. (The bill would not apply to faculty members awarded tenure before January 1, 2018.)

HB 266 would also require public colleges to publish more information, including the estimated price of individual degrees, employment opportunities expected for degree earners, and a summary of the job market for each degree, among other things.

But let’s be clear, for Brattin, a man who never attended college, this is about politics, not job prospects. The link also included an interview with him.

Q. Are you concerned that eliminating tenure would damage academic freedom, or professors could get fired for political reasons?

A. Like I said, in what area do you have protection of your job for whatever you say, whatever you do, you’re protected? You don’t have that. Their job is to educate, to ensure that students are able to propel themselves into a work force and be successful. That’s their job.

If they are going off the rails and not doing what they are supposed to as a hired staff of educating those kids, should they not be held accountable? Should they have the freedom to do whatever they wish on the taxpayers’ dime and on the students’ dime? That should be more the question: Should they have that freedom to do that? Their focus should be to ensure that we have an educated person to be able to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

Q. Specifically, what do you mean “things aren’t being done” according to a professor’s job description?

A. When we have college graduates making up 40 percent of unemployed Americans, after they have been promised if they come here and they receive this degree, they’ll be able to do this, that, and the other, and they find out it’s an out-of-date degree program or degree, it’s an injustice to our youth.

Something’s wrong, something’s broken, and a professor that should be educating our kids, should be concentrating on ensuring that they’re propelling to a better future, but instead are engaging in political stuff that they shouldn’t be engaged in. Because they have tenure, they’re allowed to do so. And that is wrong. It’s an abuse of taxpayers dollars. If you want to go get grant money, or you want to be privately funded to do your endeavors of whatever, that’s fine. When you’re on the taxpayer dollar, I don’t think that’s a proper use of the taxpayers’ money.

Q. Let’s say a geologist at the University of Missouri is tenured and his responsibility entails research. Part of his job is to do research on publicly funded dollars. Do you think that should be publicly funded?

A. If that’s his job and he was hired by the university to do x, y, and z, and he’s performing x, y, and z, that’s what he was hired to do. It’s when these professors receive tenure that they are all of a sudden allowed this astronomical freedom to do whatever they wish, and they’re virtually untouchable, I’m sorry, it’s taxpayer dollars.

There should be accountability with whatever you’re doing. And it’s quite clear by the numbers that what’s being done is not at the best level and the highest echelon that it should be.

Of course this guy doesn’t know anything about how higher education actually works. Since research is part of the job of a tenured and tenure-track faculty, maybe he could find out that his bill makes no sense. But then the issue is not “professors doing research” but rather “professors doing research conservatives don’t like.” You also have to love the a priori assumption that it is un-American to be able to speak your mind at work. This guy is a real peach.

I don’t know what the chances of passage of these bills are in the respective states, but given that Arizona already banned ethnic studies in K-12, this is certainly scary. And we can certainly expect many more bills like this as conservatives seek to destroy the American institution where liberalism remains the strongest.

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  • Lost Left Coaster

    But naturally if a conservative professor were to be fired for making a racist post on his blog, that would be the biggest threat to freedom in the history of America.

    • King Goat

      Conservatives swear academe is dominated by the left which works to enforce its leftist orthodoxy . There’s this thing that protects unpopular and dissenting speech. So they want to get rid of that. Genius!

  • Linnaeus

    Erik, they’re just fighting rampant political correctness.

  • Alex.S

    Eh, next you’ll say that colleges and universities are removing promised raises because they’re hoping a Republican President will remove (or refuse to defend) the new overtime rule.

  • MAJeff

    Legislation to end tenure has also been introduced in Iowa and Missouri.

  • rea

    “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.”

    Going to make it difficult to teach WW II . . .

    • Warren Terra

      One of the points that’s been made about these efforts to ban the teaching of anything involving race, ethnicity, or social justice is that if you take the rules literally it becomes awfully hard to criticize not only the injustices of Jim Crow but also the atrocities of Hitler or of Stalin.

      • Lurking Canadian

        That’s OK. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to take them literally.

    • Hogan

      Or even talk about Israel/Palestine.

  • King Goat

    Expect lots of crabs in the bucket type of stuff like ‘I don’t have these protections in my job so why should those ivory tower luberals have them?’

    • wca

      No one is left to speak for the tenured professors.

  • Mike G

    teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race

    Whereas Republicans fervently believe teaching anything that promotes resentment toward another race is properly the domain of presidential candidate rallies, privately subsidized right-wing propaganda outlets and stink tanks.

  • Warren Terra

    the issue is not “professors doing research” but rather “professors doing research conservatives don’t like.”

    Don’t forget “don’t understand”; leading Republicans have not merely opposed but publicly derided the use of fruit flies in the laboratory (keeping in mind that fruit flies are a relatively cheap way to do experiments, and that experiments with fruit flies were absolutely the foundation of modern experimental genetics and, I’d argue, experimental biology, meaning they led directly or indirectly to the development of many drugs and treatments that might save the lives of your loved ones) and of volcano monitoring (that instance, in Jindal’s SOTU response, came shortly before a major eruption in Alaska). Not to mention Climate Change, but there it’s never clear how to weight the relative contributions of “don’t understand” and “don’t like”.

    • Rob in CT

      Don’t forget “don’t understand”; leading Republicans have not merely opposed but publicly derided the use of fruit flies in the laboratory (keeping in mind that fruit flies are a relatively cheap way to do experiments, and that experiments with fruit flies were absolutely the foundation of modern experimental genetics and, I’d argue, experimental biology, meaning they led directly or indirectly to the development of many drugs and treatments that might save the lives of your loved ones)

      But evilution.

    • Is it just me or did “volcano monitoring” actually seem to kill the time-honored tradition of politicians doing standup routines about line items in spending bills? The last time I read something along those lines was recently when it turned out Monica Crowley plagiarized such a list in her book, and I realized I hadn’t actually heard anything like that for years.

      (That isn’t to say that the GOP doesn’t go all “robble robble Solyndra robble robble” from time to time, but the specific “$600,000 to watch meerkats have sex, can you believe this people?” routine seems to have died down.)

      • the specific “$600,000 to watch meerkats have sex, can you believe this people?” routine seems to have died down.

        It couldn’t compete with the “one entire country to watch Russian women pissing” routine.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        I seem to remember John McCain getting pretty upset recently about efforts to monitor grizzlies in Montana.

        Oh, but now that I google it, it seems that was from 2008. So it supports your point — that was the volcano monitoring era.

      • Redwood Rhiadra

        You don’t see it anymore because the GOP banned earmarks outright when they took over the House in 2010.

        • Warren Terra

          I’m sure this is relevant, but not sufficient. Peer-reviewed grants have been the target of public ridicule by Republican politicians, not just earmarked projects.

  • JKTH

    College graduates in Missouri should be able to find jobs that correspond with their degrees, and their professors should help them do so, says State Rep. Rick Brattin, a Republican.

    To make that happen, Mr. Brattin says, he would eliminate tenure at Missouri’s public colleges and universities.

    Huh? Usually “to make that happen” follows with something that has anything to do with the thing that precedes that clause.

    • Warren Terra

      Eliminating tenure is a necessary first step towards eliminating tenured professors in not-obviously-vocational departments.

      • muddy

        The worst thing about a liberal arts degree is that it has the word liberal in it.

        Like “this is a republic” they just don’t want to use the dirty word democracy, because it has “democrat” in it.

        It’s all part of their magical words issue.

  • Murc

    Like I said, in what area do you have protection of your job for whatever you say, whatever you do, you’re protected? You don’t have that.

    The only sensible response to this is “you should.”

    • Lurking Canadian

      Protected whatever you say, absolutely. Protected whatever you do…not so much.

      Of course many tenure terms do include dismissal for causes like malfeasance, dereliction of duty, etc even if administrators would rather not do the work of proving it.

      • Murc

        Well, if we’re talking working hours, then you shouldn’t be protected for whatever you say either.

        Off the clock, tho? I’m broadly committed to “if it ain’t illegal, it isn’t any of your employers business what the hell you’re doing and they should be legally enjoined from considering it a fireable offense in any way.”

  • muddy

    How is it that removing tenure would make graduates more employable? If he is so concerned with the amount of money students pay in tuition vs how much they will make at the end (learning itself is clearly worthless), there could be a rule that the administrative costs were not above a certain percentage. As in health insurance. Be more to the point, the admins don’t teach students anything.

    I guess the point is that they don’t want to teach the students anything, better to keep them ignorant. Don’t want them to become questioners. So liberal and gross.

    • Bill Murray

      If he is so concerned with the amount of money students pay in tuition vs how much they will make at the end (learning itself is clearly worthless), there could be a rule that the administrative costs were not above a certain percentage.

      or perhaps the state could kick in more money.

      • muddy

        Sure! And equally likely!

  • LastUniversalCommonAncestor

    How is it that removing tenure would make graduates more employable?

    Well, once they fire all those annoying tenured faculty, there’s going to be a lot of openings for adjuncts at $3,000/course. Winning!

  • DrDick

    Here in Montana, our Republican dominated legislature has led a decades long assault on higher education (the Montana University System has the lowest paid faculty in the nation!) and are targeting the University of Montana (with a liberal Arts focus) with funding cuts, while lavishing money on Montana State (the ag and engineering school). The voters just decided to expand the attack to K-12 public education, by electing a Republican (for the first time in decades) as Commissioner of Public Instruction who has a solid record as a legislator of opposing public education (she would fit right in with DeVos).

  • Steve LaBonne

    Electrolytes! They’re what plants crave!

  • jmauro

    If that’s his job and he was hired by the university to do x, y, and z, and he’s performing x, y, and z, that’s what he was hired to do. It’s when these professors receive tenure that they are all of a sudden allowed this astronomical freedom to do whatever they wish, and they’re virtually untouchable, I’m sorry, it’s taxpayer dollars.

    Correct me if I’m wrong if you’re not doing x, y, and z, I understood that you can be released even with tenure. You just cannot fire them on a whim and document it. No one likes doing that though, they’d rather let them go the moment there is any external pressure or they just don’t like them. They don’t want to do the work of due process and the like which takes time and effort to do.

    • Lurking Canadian

      That’s basically right. It differs from one institution to the next, but in broad outline, tenured faculty can be fired for malfeasance (sleeping with a student will often do it; stealing from the institution almost certainly would) and “abandonment of responsibilities”. In both cases, you’d need to prove the case. “Abandonment” is very hard to prove. If Prof. Smith hasn’t showed up to a scheduled lecture in five years, instead sending a TA or recommending a YouTube video…well, that might be enough. If Prof. Jones hasn’t published anything in five years…he better have a good reason.

      Tenured faculty can also be terminated if the entire unit (Department, School, Faculty, whatever the institution calls it) is eliminated.

      What *can’t* happen to tenured faculty (and the reason Republicans hate tenure with a fiery passion) is that you can’t just let them go to save money (one senior professor’s salary would probably pay for two junior tenure-track faculty or…twelve adjuncts) or because they pissed off some donor.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Gee, I wonder if this Rick Brattin’s concern about the practical application of college curricula extends to for-profit institutions. You know, the “schools” that get their tuition mostly or solely from taxpayer-guaranteed loans, charging double or more what the local community college does for “education” that is far less useful in getting jobs.

  • BethRich52

    Wait a minute, Mr. Brattin. Aren’t legislators pretty much free to say whatever they want? I’m also sick of people scaring students away from courses that do not somehow guarantee a good job.

  • bekabot

    “Like I said, in what area do you have protection of your job for whatever you say, whatever you do, you’re protected?”

    Political commentators can say whatever they like and be protected by the First Amendment, and they’re economically protected as long as the people who fund them decide to keep on doing so. They are not held responsible for the results of any of their recommendations. Their only purpose is to peddle a certain point of view, and as long as their efforts in that direction achieve success, or appear to, they are held blameless of the outcome, however unpleasant the outcome may be. This is true of political commentators all across the board, but it applies especially strongly to right-wingers.

    I’ve pointed this out at other times and in other places, but I’d like to repeat myself now.

  • AMK

    Blue states should just outlaw religious schools and homeschooling. Quid Pro Quo.

    • Joe Bob the III

      There is a decent-sized cadre of left-wing hippie home schoolers out there. Just saying.

  • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

    HB 266 would also require public colleges to publish more information, including the estimated price of individual degrees, employment opportunities expected for degree earners, and a summary of the job market for each degree, among other things.

    This would actually be a good thing. It’s pretty much exactly what Campos, LST and others have been pushing for law schools. Too bad it’s being pushed by this turd of a politician and packaged with the tenure thing.

  • charliekilian

    It’s an abuse of taxpayers dollars. If you want to go get grant money, or you want to be privately funded to do your endeavors of whatever, that’s fine. When you’re on the taxpayer dollar, I don’t think that’s a proper use of the taxpayers’ money.

    So if you want to go get grant money, that’s fine, as long as it’s not taxpayers money.

    Sounds like this guy has a real fine grasp on the details here.

  • Joe Bob the III

    …require public colleges to publish more information, including…employment opportunities expected for degree earners, and a summary of the job market for each degree, among other things.

    This is apropos to my graduate school years in the late ’90s. The dot com boom was on and people were piling into the Computer Science & Electrical Engineering Department. One of those degrees was considered the surest of the sure things. That job market blew up right when those people were graduating or shortly thereafter.

    What if you were running an accounting or business degree program in 2005-6? Your summary of the job market would tell people to jump into the thriving mortgage lending and banking sector.

    More generally, the problem with choosing a degree program based on whatever the hot jobs are at the time is that people go into areas they aren’t that interested in or have marginal aptitude for. They end up being unhappy, have to return to school to learn something else, or go through a painful career change later in life. Marginal candidates who get a hot degree and hot job end up being layoff bait because when the market cools off, they just aren’t that good at it.

    • Warren Terra

      My understanding was that in the late 90s actually completing your graduate work in computer science was seen as aberrant or suspect, that the expectation was that talented and promising students should normally be recruited away from the school into some dot com or other.

  • Davis

    They clearly have a fascist mentality; must be liberal.

  • 4jkb4ia

    Eric Greitens won’t sign that. His wife is a professor at Mizzou for crying out loud.

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