Issues & Insights

An Escape Route From The Liberal Campus Mousetrap

Photo by John Merline

It is a mistake to blindly believe that a college degree is a sign of superior intelligence. Often it’s just proof that yet another poor soul has been captured by the liberal mousetrap.

Five years ago, when I jumped into the trenches of college life, campus culture was nothing like what I expected. I envisioned open debate, learning, and the sharing of ideas. As it turns out, I had been thrown into a woke-indoctrination machine with a pre-determined agenda by which students were meant to be hypnotized.

The Higher Education Act (HEA), enacted in 1965 and revised in 2008, has helped to fuel this rise of leftism on college campuses and continues to slingshot its growth. The HEA is the primary framework of federal involvement in higher education and creates the standards that institutions must meet to receive federal grants. In 2020, federal funds accounted for half of the revenue of American higher education institutions, leaving these entities at the mercy of the government.

Thankfully the National Association of Scholars is busy aiming to reform higher education in order to protect intellectual freedom. In a recent report, Freedom to Learn, the association proposes changes to HEA in hopes of creating a better learning environment open to all viewpoints. In particular, Freedom to Learn calls on Congress to strengthen protections for students, to develop a detailed intellectual freedom charter, and to reform civics education – necessary steps if we are to cure the woke takeover of higher education.

As I have written before, campus viewpoint discrimination and shaming is never-ending, and produces three consequences:

  1. One strain of thought is amplified, so that ideology grows, making campus debate even more lopsided.
  2. Shaming of disapproved opinions increases divisiveness. When people only hear one perspective, over time they naturally accept that perspective as if it is an unquestionable truth. By contrast, if there are constantly dissenting voices, disagreements won’t seem as foreign, and students will learn to debate using facts rather than name-calling.
  3. If one ideological base consistently demonizes the other (e.g., students being called racist, sexist, and/or bigoted because of their conservative/libertarian political beliefs), a majority of the attacked students will withdraw from dialogue due to fear of being verbally shamed. As a result, open discussion, intellectual freedom, and learning will be crippled. I have unfortunately seen his firsthand.

Hundreds of college campuses have now also formed “bias response teams” to create “a safe and inclusive environment” by providing “advocacy and support to anyone on campus who has experienced, or been a witness of, an incident of bias or discrimination.” In simple terms, these teams are the woke police, and believe in inclusion, but only if you believe as they do.

In 2015, some 40 students met with James Wagner, president of Emory University, because they found “Trump 2016” written in chalk on a campus sidewalk. Wagner didn’t dare fail to bow to liberal feelings, so he assured them that if the chalk writers were determined to be students, “they will go through the conduct violation process.” In essence, these bias response teams are a way for liberal students to destroy campus discourse and further cripple one side of the debate in order to enhance their own ideology.

Civic education reform is also vital. Freedom to Learn calls on Congress to reauthorize and fund the American History for Freedom program to boost the study of liberty, the American founding and Western civilization under the tutelage of scholars with well-established credentials in those areas.

One of the biggest problems I have seen on campuses is a lack of understanding of American history and the values that have held our country together for nearly 250 years. Students no longer believe that the government’s sole purpose is to protect the rights of citizens, but rather, to be the holy gift-bearer to the people. Students’ increased love for big government and centralized social programs in part springs from a lack of knowledge and admiration for our principles, rooted in distrust of government.

The adoption of the Freedom to Learn provisions would be a small but important step toward much-needed reforms of our higher education system. The federal government controls a massive portion of educational revenue and therefore university curriculums; it must be held accountable in order to enhance intellectual freedom and learning for students of all perspectives and ideologies.

Davis Soderberg is an associate for the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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Issues & Insights is run by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

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