Colleges are Vulnerable to Political Attacks Because They've Abandoned their RootsRoundup
tags: higher education, colleges and universities, Ron DeSantis
Christine Adams is professor of history at St. Mary's College of Maryland and author of book on The Creation of the Official French Royal Mistress, with Tracy Adams.
Some Republicans have gone to war with educators and universities.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has bemoaned the “wokeness” of educators, while launching a frontal attack on universities in the state. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently threatened to eliminate tenure protections for professors at the state’s flagship university who defended their right to teach critical race theory. More generally, conservatives paint universities as the enemy, and call into question the benefits of academic freedom for professors.
These efforts build on long-standing conservative suspicion of higher education. In 1969, for example, Vice President Spiro Agnew (R) characterized professors and their students as an “effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
Despite the persistence of conservative campaigns against higher education, American colleges and universities have never really hit on an adequate response to these attacks.
Looking at the historical roots of universities hints at why they have struggled. These institutions began as collectives of teachers and students drawn together in the pursuit of knowledge that would prepare students for lives as productive citizens. They did best when administrators and state officials respected the expertise and independence of the scholars who shaped that education. In fact, in the earliest universities, when officials interfered, some faculties just picked up and moved.
Yet today, this focus has been lost as administrators compete to sell their “product” to consumers — students and parents — while trying to insulate their institutions from political attacks.
While the teacher-student relationship had been at the center of the educational project since Socrates trained Plato, a new kind of institution emerged in Europe in the High Middle Ages. Municipal and cathedral schools became centers of higher learning in the 11th and 12th centuries, forging the identity of the modern Western university.
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