The Political Revolt against Higher Ed Builds Steam

Frank Antenori

I’ve been exploring the idea on this blog recently that the evolution of a mono-culture of left-of-center thinking on American college campuses is alienating a large swath of the electorate. On the one hand, public colleges and universities lobby for more public dollars; on the other, their actions vitiate the values of much of the tax-paying public. No wonder political support for public higher education is waning.

In an article entitled, “Elitists, crybabies, and junk degrees,” the Washington Post highlights the views of Frank Antenori, a former Green Beret who serves in the Arizona state legislature — a legislature that has cut state support for higher education by 54% since 2008. Writes the Post:

There is a growing partisan divide over how much to spend on higher education. Education advocates worry that conservative disdain threatens to undermine universities. …

In July, a Pew Research Center study found that 58 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents think that colleges and universities have a negative effect “on the way things are going in the country,” up from 37 percent two years ago. Among Democrats, by contrast, 72 percent said they have a positive impact.

A Gallup poll in August found that only about a third of Republicans had confidence in universities, which they viewed as too liberal or political. Other studies show that overwhelming numbers of white working-class men do not believe a college degree is worth the cost.

Antenori, who got most of his higher education by working through night school, thinks universities are becoming increasingly elitist and politically correct, that more kids should pursue vocational educations, and that taxpayers shouldn’t pay students to pursue “junky” degrees in “diversity studies and culture studies.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The backlash against higher education is just beginning. In a world in which every aspect of society and culture is becoming politicized — with the most heated rhetoric emanating from leftist echo chambers of the academy — don’t be surprised if taxpayers and tuition-paying parents begin evaluating higher-ed institutions through a politically polarized lens. If presidents of public universities in Virginia want to blunt that backlash — which seems to be gaining momentum — they might consider devoting at least a fraction of their efforts to attaining political/philosophical diversity as they do to racial and socio-economic diversity.

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28 responses to “The Political Revolt against Higher Ed Builds Steam

  1. I like this reporting solely because it gives several sides a chance to make their pitch for their ideas.

  2. Once again, as a faculty member at a Virginia university, I will reiterate that many faculty DO seek political/philosophical diversity. We seek to teach students TO think, not WHAT to think. I am aware of strong student groups with multiple perspectives at my university and much diversity of perspective within my students. In my classes we seek to have civil and respectful conversations on all issues. Students are routinely led to explore the perspectives of those who think differently than those who support various perspective, seeking to understand and find common ground.We also seek for people with different perspectives to be able to reasonably communicate with others who have different perspectives, not to just write each other off as “extreme” as so often happens today in the larger society.

    I found the attacks by Frank Antenori to be absolutely disgusting. As I read, it struck me that I have never heard a “leftist” use the kinds of strong language to disparage a “rightist” like he repeatedly does throughout the report. This report read more like something I see in the conservative media every day than what I see in the media Antenori would characterize as fake. As I read work across the spectrum of the media, I find the most heated rhetoric from those representing the ultra right.

    Putting value only on math and science and law and disparaging all other degrees as Antenori does is a sure path to disaster for our society. He is an example of the kind of person who truly needs to visit universities and learn more about what is happening and to investigate the degree programs he assumes are worthless to discover what is really happening. If he finds he is right, fine, but it’s hard to imagine that students are not finding useful ways to apply degrees across a wide array of disciplines in our marketplace .

    The strong push for university students to interact with multi-disciplines and to work across disciplines, like they will in the real world, is nationwide. It is a response to employers. Efforts to involve those who are active in our economy with students and academic programs are increasing but have long been part of the strategy of many disciplines.

    I find the repetitive attacks on and assumptions about faculty and university programs unfair and based on information that is flatly wrong. Before making such attacks, people need to visit our universities and spend time with our students and faculty (not just administrators and other university officials) instead of assuming they know what is going on or taking tidbits and either twisting their meaning or over-emphasizing aspects of university activities into something more than they really are.

    • vaconsumeradvocate – I am very sure that you know more about higher education than I do. However, I am a good example of an “average Joe” who has gone from being a big supporter of US high ed to a person with a very jaundiced view. I stopped donating to my alma mater (UVa) about 15 years ago and don’t see a reason to contribute in the future (although I could change my mind I suppose).

      Here is what I see and hear that bothers me:

      1. Tuition and fees continue to rise in price faster than inflation even after accounting for reduced state support. This makes higher ed less affordable. The response from college administrators never addresses the cause of this escalating cost of education. Instead, they want to over-charge students from relatively affluent families to subsidize the students from less affluent families.

      2. Executives from technology companies (who are often very liberal) absolutely insist that the H1B visa program has to be expanded because the US is not producing enough computer scientists, etc to meet the needs of those companies.

      3. As a business executive in Virginia I see no evidence whatsoever that Virginia’s flagship universities have any serious focus on business development within Virginia. The University of Virginia, in particular, seems completely content to sit inside their “Academical Village” in scenic but economically irrelevant Charlottesville. Where is the outreach to Virginia’s urban growth centers?

      4. If colleges really are encouraging diverse viewpoints they need new PR departments. It seems that every day I read about some really bizarre policy being instituted by one university or another. Certainly Berkeley didn’t seem to have any interest in hearing conservative viewpoints.

      5. The last time I checked (which was a few years ago) the University of Virginia was expanding its undergraduate student base at a slower rate that the state of Virginia’s population was growing. Assuming this is still the case, how does that fulfill that university’s goal of helping to educate Virginians?

    • I think that part of the problem is that conservatives read conservative publications/blogs, which highlight the most outrageous offenses of the Left on college campuses, leaving the impression that such behavior is ubiquitous. My sense is that Virginia colleges do have more intellectual diversity than the average higher-ed institution, and most professors are, like you say, less interested in indoctrinating students than in teaching them to think.

      What colleges and universities need to understand, however, is that the meme of colleges as leftist strongholds (a) is not entirely without foundation, and (b) is spreading unchecked, and (c) is rapidly reaching critical mass. While the perceptions may not be entirely accurate, those perceptions are themselves a political reality. Right now, college presidents are still more attuned to their internal constituencies than they are to the rebellion that is brewing in the hinterlands. That needs to change.

      • re: ” What colleges and universities need to understand, however, is that the meme of colleges as leftist strongholds (a) is not entirely without foundation, and (b) is spreading unchecked, and (c) is rapidly reaching critical mass. While the perceptions may not be entirely accurate, those perceptions are themselves a political reality. Right now, college presidents are still more attuned to their internal constituencies than they are to the rebellion that is brewing in the hinterlands. That needs to change.”

        only if you think the folks who think this way constitute a solid majority of folks.

        What we have is a lot of noise from folks with mostly minority views.

        It’s not that their views are not legitimate or important – but context involving ALL views is more important and relevant.

        Translation – the right is a lot like a child who feels like he’s not paid enough attention to – so he’s going to make a stink…

        we hear you on the right- but please.. stop acting like spoiled brats who think the world should be about you.

  3. hmmm… looks like someone left the ideological catnip unlocked again….

  4. there’s more:

    ” GOP tax plan rattles higher education
    The proposal reflects a growing sense of colleges, universities as bastions of privilege.”

  5. 1. Nobody ever asks why college costs have risen so dramatically. They only ask how can we send more money to the colleges. The colleges need to cut costs.
    2. The argument for state funding is that tuition is thereby decreased. The politicians decide how much to reduce tuition. Private colleges are handicapped because they do not get tax money, so their tuition is greater. A better system, one that levels the playing field of competition, would give the money directly to the students as education grants, based on need and aptitude. Let the students choose the college.

  6. “At the top of the list is the House GOP’s plan to tax as income tuition that schools now waive for graduate students working as teaching or research assistants. At some schools — where the tuition breaks run upwards of $40,000 — that could more than triple students’ taxable income, causing some to spend huge portions of their stipends, which are generally just around $25,000 to $30,000 a year, on massive tax bills.”

    Should a university be able to give an employee something of value for which that employee pays no tax? If I worked for GM and they gave me a Corvette without charge to use as long as I work at GM should I be taxed on the value of the car’s use?

    • Does your employer provide in-house training? That’s definitely something of value that employers provide to employees that is not taxed.

      Plenty of people in all industries receive priceless training in technical skills through their employers that others would (and do) pay an arm and a leg for….

    • re: ” should I be taxed on the value of the car’s use?” .. if it is compensation.. yes.. of course…

  7. You want to really torque off the higher ed folks?

    Consider this hypothetical scenario. A father of twin sons goes to his children’s high school graduation. Both sons are 18. One has enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and will report for training at the end of the summer. The other will be attending Yale. Dad says, “I am very proud of both of you. And I want to be fair to both of you. Yale will cost me $65,000 per year for a total of $260,000 over four years. I will pay all of those costs. I will also write a check to my Marine for $65,000 per year for each of the nest four years. You may spend it as you see fit.”

    How much in taxes do the two, twin sons owe the government for Dad’s largesse?

    As far as I know, the Yalie owes nothing for the very generous funding of his undergraduate degree by Dad.

    However, the Marine owes taxes on $51,000 per year ($65,000 minus the annual gift exemption of $14,000).

    Both sons are adults. Why should the parent’s gift to the college boy be tax free while the gift to the Marine is (largely) taxable?

  8. Gifts are tax-free, no?

    A BETTER scenario…. Dad gives EACH kid 250K and says – “I expect that 250K to be spent for whatever education or life experience that will make you a better person able to give your own kids 250K when they get to be 18.

    “Become a grad of Yale or a Marine or a dilatant – but at some point – be as financially able as I was to you – to your own kids… no excuses…

    let me remind everyone again – 1/2 of all births are paid for by Medicaid.

    • No. Gifts are not tax free. They are tax free up to a limit of $14,000 per year. Your hypothetical $250,000 gift would be taxed at $236,000 of income which would put both recipients into a very high tax bracket. Unless, of course, the gift in question was the payment of college expenses. In which case, as far as I can see, it becomes tax free.

  9. re: ” Nobody ever asks why college costs have risen so dramatically. They only ask how can we send more money to the colleges. ”

    well.. they want them to cut costs… and if they won’t they want the govt to “force” them to cut costs.

    The problem is that too many folks think “higher Ed” ought to be an “entitlement” and the REAL PROBLEM is that some folks think that means anything and everything that can conceivably to considered part of the College experience – qualifies as a justifiable govt subsidy and the colleges are more than happy to oblige.

    The ONLY thing that should be an “entitlement” is the education itself. Everything else is on your dime not the taxpayers and that’s why vouchers for tuition only will put those decisions and the financial responsibility for those decisions in the hands of those who want those things .

    The govt – taxpayers – should not be in the business of subsidizing the “college experience” for folks… How did we ever get to the point where we think this? How does anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative – believe this? How does anyone who claims to be a “conservative” believe it’s the job of the govt to force colleges to provide a specific product at a specific arbitrary price?

  10. Likely the problem with this Washington Post Article is that all the merits and demerits of the issues and controversies are discussed through the lens of today’s highly partisan American politics. As a result we go nowhere. And end up with irrelevant nonsense.


    Ongoing Partisan Politics always destroys effective education. This includes Ongoing and Overbearing Partisan Politics that typically destroys most every attempt to build and operate effective colleges and universities into places of real learning. Hence, too, the mess we are in all over the country no matter the subject.

    To help solve this problem, lets see what happens if everyone here (inc. vaconsumeradvocate) tries to address the particular concerns raised by Colin Chan Redemer in his article “7 tips From A Professor to Help You Hack Your College Visit.” This article is found at:

  11. Well.. .the ongoing partisan controversy is really not about “education” itself, and what “ideas” are presented and “tolerated” .. or not..

    If you look at the larger “culture war” context… there are much more serious challenges.. that just START with the concerns about “leftist” perspectives.

    read on……..

    Last night , I listened to an hour-long Board of Supervisors “discussion” about fluoridation in our local water system. The typical “suspects” were presenting to the BOS, the guy in charge of the water system, a local Health Dept doctor, and the guy who actually was in charge of procuring the fluoride material and gettinging it into the water.

    Earlier in the evening and in prior public comment periods – more than a couple of folks had expressed serious questions about Fluoridation.

    It became clear that the Conservative BOS had ALSO become “concerned” because of what they were hearing from the voices on the right about fluoridation which has, with the advent of the internet, developed a full and vibrant doubt and distrust of the “science” behind fluoridation, and in turn, the “government” decision to fluoridate the public water supply.

    As I watched it , it became apparent to me that some folks no longer really trust Science , the scientific community – and the scientific processes which generate the studies that are then used by various governmental organizations to base their decisions – MORE than just Climate science!

    The skeptics cited oppositional “studies” that question the very nature of the science that fluoridation is based on. The “studies” were not done by traditional College-educated scientists but rather those who no longer trust “science” as done by traditional research universities which the skeptics now have essentially separated themselves from trusting.

    The skeptics want a complete “re-do” of everything on the fluoridation issue and would prefer that we STOP fluoridation now and not start again until we satisfy ourselves that it has a basis in MORE science that is currently accepted and believed – including the questions about scientific investigation itself from the opponents.

    Now – take this back to the higher ed institutions that teach currently science and the scientific method… and you start to get a realization of how partisan politics actually IS affecting the very nature of science and how science is conducted in investigations that end up as “evidence” upon which to base – decisions by government – not only just things like fluoridation but things like what are and are not “pollutants”… or whether vaccinations are “safe” and/or appropriate for diseases like smallpox… etc.

    So .. YES… the current upheaval is more than just about political philosophies… it’s about how we develop “knowledge” itself and accept or reject it as the basis for government decisions…

    So… we are starting to see in the EPA and NOAA changes to how they treat “science” and to be honest, I’m not going to be surprised if they and other govt agencies change the way they do grants for science.

    Where we go next with “science” in the USA is an honest question…

    • How many were wearing their tinfoil skull caps to protect their brain waves from the aliens? Don’t even start a discussion about vaccinations….or evolution…

      • Oh, and my favorite, GMOs. The irrational panic over GMO foods is actually contributing to famine in places because disease resistant crops are banned. People of all political stripes routinely check their brains at the door….and teaching people to think through this nonsense is the point of a good education. I’m not sure that walking away from public support for higher ed is the correct response to the PC bullies, left or right.

        • Steve says:

          ‘People of all political stripes routinely check their brains at the door….and teaching people to think through this nonsense is the point of a good education.”

          I think Steve’s comment hits the primary importance and mission of higher education. And that this is why strident ideology and today’s hyper politics can have no legitimate part of education and learning.

          Indeed, strident ideology and hyper politics of the day are the very problems that a student’s education must teach him or her to see through and overcome, if they are to become effective and self activating people and citizens. Education is the critical tool we all need to liberate ourselves from today’s ideology and hyper politics, and thus to gain our freedom as individuals to act independently in our own interests based on own well examined and deeply held beliefs.

          This is the constant struggle of each and every generation. For, without true education, each and every generation will have (and has had) its own version of Salem Witch Trials and burnings at the stake.

          Make no mistake, this negative instinct lies at the heart of every human era and every human age since humanity has lived in groups.

          Breaking the iron certitude and rule of these false beliefs are very hard to do, for many reasons. One is that these negative herd instincts of human nature are the fuel that all leaders, particularly demagogues, use for private advantage, particular for dominance and hidden profit.

          Unfortunately too, this human weakness is a favorite tool of all of our societies high priests. This includes most lately its intellectuals and elites. Particularly those intellectuals and elites who have gained privileged positions of power in the modern day institutions, including academies or other intellectual and elite power centers, of all sorts, such as as today’s media. But it poisons not only the “establishments of power.” It is also the bread and butter of revolutionaries of all sorts in their quest for power, and their later fierce efforts to maintain and expand their power and privilege once its been gained.

          This flaw afflicts all of us and has for all time. Again I will quote from Doris Lessing’s book Prisons We Choose to Live Inside:

          “Anyone who reads history at all knows that the passionate and powerful convictions of one century usually seem absurd, extraordinary, to the next. There is no epoch in history that seems to us as it must have to the people who lived through it. What we live through, in any age, is the effect on us of mass emotions and of social conditions from which from which it is impossible to detach ourselves. Often the mass emotions are those that seem the noblest, best and most beautiful. And yet, inside a year, five years, a decade, five decades, people will be asking, “How could they have believed that?” because events will have taken place that will have banished the said mass emotions to the dustbin of history.

          People of my age have lived through several such violent reversals. I will mention just one. During the Second World War, from the moment the Soviet Union was invaded by Hitler and became an ally of the democracies, that country was affectionately regarded in popular opinion. Stalin was Uncle Joe, the ordinary chaps friend, Russia was the land of the brave, liberty loving heroes, and Communism was in interesting manifestation of popular will that we should copy. All this went on for four years and then suddenly, almost overnight, it went into the reverse. All these attitudes became wrong-headed, treasonable, a threat to everybody. People who had been chatting on about Uncle Joe, suddenly, just as if all that had never happened, were using slogans of the cold war. One extreme, sentimental and silly bred by wartime necessities, was replaced by another extreme, unreasoning and silly.

          To have lived though such a reversal once is enough to make you critical for ever afterwards of current popular attitudes.” From Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.

          This is why keeping our colleges and universities free to protect and enhance our inheritance and properly educate our children to be free and independent people able to think and act for themselves is so critically important if they are to avoid all the mistakes they otherwise will make or get caught up in to their great misfortune.

  12. re: ” … teaching people to think through this nonsense is the point of a good education. ”

    and these days – that process – as currently carried out – is no longer accepted by everyone – as a legitimate process…

    … because if it was… then from the perspective of “skeptics” of climate, GMO, vaccinations, evolution, etc… what is “taught” needs to “allow” for different “scientific methods” that would recognize the alternative views about things like climate, GMO, vaccinations, evolution… and … other touchy subjects like race and intelligence…

    Some folks want ALL of these alternative viewpoints “investigated” and “recognized” by a “science” that is more “open” to “diverse” views…

    got it?

    • Gee Larry, it has never been accepted by everyone (ask Galileo), and good science tends to gore somebody’s ox. I have no problem with the alternative viewpoints being investigated, but science is neutral and if the evidence and experiments demonstrate that GMO corn is safe to eat, vaccinations save countless lives with miniscule risk (and no link to autism), and natural selection explains the diversity of life, then science has done its job. Once DNA was discovered and understood, the arguments against Darwin should have melted away – but they never will. I also have no problem remaining skeptical about some things where the experimental evidence is lacking despite claims of “consensus.”

  13. Hey I see Antenori is a Penn State alum like me.

    Article says:
    “A lot of Republicans would say they go (to college) to get brainwashed and learn how to become activists and basically go out in the world and cause trouble.”

    Yes I agree with that, as a chemical professional.

    Why would any red-blooded American high school student , even slightly exposed to the liberal chemo-phobic view that industry is a pack of criminally unethical, deplorable, planet destroyers killing our grandchildren, want to consider a chemical degree other than to join an environmental group or something unrelated to making chemicals?

    The liberal anti-industry attitude is probably partially why foreign-born students, who have not yet adopted the anti-industry bent, tend to proliferate in the STEM fields.

    But I actually fault industry management as much as or more than liberals. Management focus for decades has been on reducing head count to the bare minimum, shifting jobs abroad, getting rid of R&D etc. to maximize profits. Not to mention failure to adequately counter the anti-industry sentiments.

    We now have 3 generation of liberals taught by their parents to hate industry, and I fear that hate will never go away in our lifetimes, even if U.S. industry “cleans up its act”.

    • Correction- apparently Antenori wanted to go to Penn State but never made it

    • re: anti-industry college …

      well.. all I can say is that we have a crap load of college grads working in American industry .. who apparently overcame the “anti” propaganda “instruction” they received…. while supposedly becoming College-educated Chemical grads.

      We even have a secondary cottage industry of industry lobbyists and govt regulators… who joust over words and phrases that translate into actions or non-actions.

      My concern is when/if we decide the basis for determining how many parts per million or billion actually constitute a threshold of perceived harm and we change that process based on some other kind of “science” that basically rejects the current scientific way of determining those thresholds – especially since we . .. over the decades… have a proven track-record of grossly underestimating the potential harm – until after the fact where-upon we go back and “re-look” after some number of unfortunates proved by their own harmed fates that we were a bit too optimistics on the threshold level of home. Of course – we now, as a result, having a thriving legal market to litigate those alleged harms … for compensation and such.

    • Hmmm … I was planning on getting a degree in assault weapons design and starting a new career. Are you saying I should put those plans on hold?

  14. re: ” ….. should have melted away – but they never will. I also have no problem remaining skeptical about some things where the experimental evidence is lacking despite claims of “consensus.”

    do you include the items that you say “should have melted away”?

    don’t you see a bit of a conflict in your view of what is “settled” and what is okay to be skeptical about – once you expand it out to include any/all things that you and others believe are “settled”?

    but go one step further here… do you accept the WAY that science does arrive at “settled” or are you with those who now question how science itself is conducted and that little if any of it actually deserves to be “settled”?

    Oh.. and folks who have no College education on science – are some of the skeptics who reject the way higher ed does science?

    I’m no defender til you die for Science or how science is conducted but at the same time – people who have zero background in science and math – who look at charts and data and declare them “bogus” and peer-review as just a kind of conspiracy… well.. at that point.. what would you believe and why?

    And would you change the way that Colleges currently do “science” to satisfy those who don’t buy the current approaches?

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