by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
On the campaign trail in 1912, former Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson argued that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution had outlived their usefulness. Now Hans von Spakovsky reports for the Daily Signal that another top university administrator seems to be making the same argument.
University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides is refusing to comply with a state law that requires all public universities to teach students about America’s founding documents, including the Constitution, calling it “archaic.” In a bit of irony that is apparently lost on Pastides, USC claims the state law is itself unconstitutional.
Section 59-29-120 of the South Carolina Code requires students be taught the “essentials of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers,” and goes on to provide that “no student in any such school, college, or university may receive a certificate of graduation without previously passing a satisfactory examination upon the provisions and principles” of those documents. A number of South Carolina universities do not require students to take such courses or pass such an exam—most notably the state’s flagship institution: the University of South Carolina.
When asked about this by a student at an academic forum in 2013, the vice provost of USC, Dr. Helen Doerpinghaus, claimed that while the university did not follow the letter of the law, it did follow the “spirit of the law” by handing out pocket-sized Constitutions on Constitution Day. Under this logic, the university must believe it could teach students chemistry by handing out a copy of the Periodic Table on World Science Day on Nov. 10.
Starting in December 2013, several concerned state legislators wrote to the university asking about this failure. President Pastides responded by saying the law was “archaic” and giving multiple reasons for the university’s noncompliance. He also claimed that about 60 percent of students take a political science or history class that discusses these documents, which, of course, means that approximately 40 percent of students don’t take those classes and do not receive a proper grounding in our founding documents and the principles that animate them.