Regulate Universities? No! (2023 Dec)

by Barry A. Liebling

Are American universities performing as well as they should? Your answer depends largely on your philosophical orientation. If you endorse liberty and individualism you will recognize that the quality of universities has been declining for at least half a century. While there are numerous factors that contribute to the decay, federal destructive actions are significant.

The cost to students has been rising steadily, largely due to the government encouraging and financing student loans. The more students are able to borrow (often “forced” to borrow), the more colleges scoop up the money and increase tuition and fees. This is a signal for the government to make more student loan money available, which feeds the vicious cycle.

The government is the largest source of grant money that finances research done in the major universities. Scholars applying for grants know that they are likely to get federally funded if they propose research that synchronizes with and supports the leftist agenda. Of course, the funding agencies are staffed mostly by professionals who proudly describe themselves as progressive leftists. Note that a proposal to demonstrate the catastrophic effects of human caused “climate change” has a good chance of getting approved. But do not even attempt to get government money if you want to investigate how the “climate change” panic is not justified. If you are a social scientist you can get paid to document “systemic racism,” “micro aggressions,” and “white supremacy.” But officials in government funding agencies are loath to award a grant to show that racialist smears are unjustified.

At the prestigious universities the dominant spirit is woke leftism. You can find faculty and administrators of every political stripe if you look hard enough for them. But the most influential and powerful officials on the elite campus are committed to the Neo-Marxist agenda. The people in charge do what they can to recruit and promote fellow true believers, and they actively discourage students and faculty from voicing opinions and attitudes that are not “politically correct.”

Recently Arthur Levitt, who is a past chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, published a column in The Wall Street Journal where he lamented the current state of American universities. Mr Levitt is particularly disturbed that there is an epidemic in colleges of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel demonstrations. The odious frenzy was energized after Hamas terrorists murdered more than 1,200 innocent people in Israel. Of course, his condemnation is entirely correct, and morally corrupt people in higher education who are praising evil behavior ought to be identified and shunned.

Mr Levitt’s proposed solution to the problem is government regulation. He envisions a federal agency that would oversee universities and mete out punishments to institutions and individuals that are bad actors.

In his column Mr Levitt does not acknowledge the root cause of anti-Semitism among American citizens (I am leaving out foreigners who may have a different malignant dynamic). It is spawned and fueled by Neo-Marxism. To review, to this odious coterie there are “oppressed” groups that deserve every consideration and have license to do and take whatever they want. And there are “oppressor” groups that ought to be ashamed of themselves and should be perpetually punished. In this abominable dogma citizens of Israel (and America, and white people, and Jews, and Christians, and males, and heterosexuals, and more to come) are smeared as “oppressors,” so if something bad happens to them they had it coming.

Step back and consider how government regulation would work. In the university setting how would bad behavior be defined and recognized? “Expert authorities” from academia and the federal government would be given the task to specify what is acceptable and what should be forbidden. Bear in mind that the most powerful and numerous “experts” are woke ideologues. The educational establishment – which includes school officials and government bureaucrats – is fully dominated by Neo-Marxists. What sorts of rules and regulations do you suppose they would invent?

The leftist spirit of forced compliance is a terrible problem in higher education. Forming a new government regulator – with the authority to implement policy – would make everything worse. Today those who defy the ruling class risk being ostracized. But with legal regulation a dissenter could be fined and even put in prison.

Again, the problem Mr Levitt describes is real. Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism is intolerable. But the solution is for good people to speak up and not permit the bad actors to go unchallenged. Private donations to universities can be turned on or off at will. There have already been wealthy contributors who assert they will not give money to institutions that promote or condone anti-Semitism. These same benefactors can redirect their money to universities with the condition that the funds support the right kind of programs, teachers, and students.

And speaking of money, in the long run it makes sense to extricate the government from funding and directing higher education. Let universities get their money from private sources. Citizens who want to help a particular university should be free to do so. In a society where liberty is cherished education should be paid for voluntarily by those directly involved and by philanthropy – not with taxes.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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