Reagan and Higher Education

Roundup: Talking About History

from the Chronicle of Higher Education (June 18 2004):

Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, who was buried last week, had an often-adversarial relationship with higher education, both as president and as governor of California.

To achieve one of his major goals as president -- the reduction of federal spending -- Mr. Reagan proposed numerous cutbacks in funds for colleges, although most of his proposals were rejected by Congress, and he abandoned the effort late in his presidency.

The Reagan era also saw the publication of a major federal report that criticized the state of American education; the first significant efforts to crack down on abuses in student-aid programs, especially at for-profit colleges; conflicts between government secrecy during the cold war and the free exchange of scientific ideas; a foreign invasion conducted in part to rescue American medical students; and the beginning of the culture wars that would roil many college campuses for years to come.

"Reagan saw his role as a preacher, but not necessarily as a policy leader or implementer," says Dick M. Carpenter II, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who has studied Mr. Reagan's impact on education."Reagan was not as disastrous or as significant as people think he was."

Mr. Carpenter does credit Mr. Reagan with prompting governors to play a more active role in education."He believed in pushing education issues back down to the states."

As governor of California, Mr. Reagan played a very active role, battling both student radicals and the state's higher-education establishment.

During his gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Mr. Reagan criticized the University of California's handling of student protests of the Vietnam War. Upon taking office, he cut the university's budget by 10 percent. Three weeks later, the university's Board of Regents voted to remove the system's president, Clark Kerr, who had refused to crack down on the protests at Berkeley.

When one meeting of the regents was disrupted by protesters, the governor, an exofficio regent, was overheard telling his fellow members of the board:"The regents must take over this university. Our asses are to the wall."

He later posted National Guard troops on the Berkeley campus after a demonstration in which one person died in clashes with police officers....

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