by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Stephanie Brenzel offers Martin Center readers suggestions for college reform.
In their recent Martin Center policy brief, Joy Pullmann and Sumantra Maitra get much right about the activist professor problem in academia. These professors are dominating the profession in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible three or four years ago. Their control has led to an ideological monoculture, which suppresses freedom of thought and creative inquiry.
One need not look further than the job boards to see how the cycle perpetuates. Here is a sample of some of the positions advertised in my field (religious studies) this year:
A global liberation professor with expertise in “global theologies of liberation and de-colonial theory”
A Latin Patristics professor who can apply the insights of Augustine of Hippo to race, ethnic, and indigenous studies
An Asian religions professor working on “critical approaches to race, gender, sexuality, social hierarchies, and inequality, and power struggles and political movements.”
But as much as I support their diagnosis, I strongly disagree with their proposed solutions. They advocate for the same tactics as the activist professors in order to right the sinking ship of higher education.
I don’t believe that approach will produce any long-lasting reform. Instead, it will further stoke the animosity between liberals and conservatives on campus. A better way for reform lies in targeting accreditation, bypassing the governance issues completely. …
… Rather than develop a strong-armed approach, reformers should instead focus on supporting business endeavors that offer sidelined scholars a platform to teach and present their research. Of course, bringing the free marketplace to higher education is easier said than done. Companies like Udemy—which allow anyone to create, upload, and sell online courses—are not allowed to issue degrees.
That trouble leads to the real problem with higher education: an overly stringent accreditation process.
Accreditation agencies are “independent” commissions that develop minimum standards for colleges. Their ostensible purpose is to hold universities accountable—to ensure that students are not wasting their money on diploma mills and other scams.
But here’s the kicker: the members of the agencies that determine whether universities are in compliance are from those very same institutions.