Yale University, with more than $25 billion dollars in its endowment, is about to launch a new capital campaign to raise several billion dollars more. For decades, Yale and other elite university alumni, grateful for the education they received, gave back to help their alma maters build their financial war chest. The idea was simple: With greater resources, the elite schools could make financial aid more generous, hire more professors, and upkeep their infrastructure.
But in recent decades, universities have changed. They have prioritized politics and social justice activism over education. In the name of combating racism, they encourage it; indeed, campuses have become ground zero for 21st century segregation in the name not of conservatism but rather of progressive theory. And they have hired administrators at rates far greater than they have professors. For all their talk about diversity, they are superficial in its application: Skin color and sexuality count toward diversity, economic background less so. Intellectual diversity and respect for alternate viewpoints – what should be the basis of any serious education – hardly merits university consideration.
In 2012, for example, 97 percent of Yale faculty political donations went to Democrats. Three-quarters of Yale faculty members consider themselves liberal or very liberal, and the proportion is likely above 95 percent in the humanities and social sciences.
Yale’s main campus. Credit: Twenty20
And the problem is only going to get worse: Humanities and social science programs are producing record numbers of Ph.D.’s, many in narrow, obscure, politicized fields so consumed with theory that they have little to no real-world relevance. There simply are not enough teaching jobs in universities to offer graduates of these programs, nor do they have much qualification to work outside. To have an ever-expanding administrative class hiring from the pool of failed or failing academics solves that problem, and the politicized academics, sheltered from real-world accountability, then begin to impose their racial, gender, or political agendas upon college students, essentially treating them as postmodern lab rats.
So, what to do? It’s reasonable to question why Yale, whose endowment surpasses Estonia and Nepal’s gross domestic product, or Harvard, whose endowment surpasses Bahrain’s GDP and is equivalent to oil-rich Azerbaijan’s, need to solicit additional donations, especially given that they charge upwards of $60,000 per year in tuition, room, and board. Even with financial aid factored in, the inflow of cash is impressive.
Universities have for too long looked at alumni as cash cows. While alumni should not attach political demands in the cash they contribute and should respect academic freedom, universities should at the same time not simply look at alumni as cash cows who can be milked but who will not demand the university be accountable for its choices and spending.
Alumni should simply say no to Yale and other elite universities’ requests for money until these institutions implement certain very basic reforms:
- University applications should include an admissions essay asking prospective students what constraints, if any, should be placed on free speech on campus. At a time when activists suggest that words are violence and when large minorities of students believe there should be limits on free political speech, universities should know whether applicants are truly committed to an exchange of ideas, no matter how uncomfortable. Students might, of course, lie on their essays and pretend to be more open-minded than they are, but having such a statement would be useful when considering discipline for students who subsequently disrupt politically-unpopular speakers.
- Enough to the endless expansion of the administration and bureaucracy. It’s ironic that in an age of computers, universities hire far more staff than when scores of clerics were necessary to shuffle paper around campus. Yale and other universities should each year report to alumni on the total number of teaching faculty and administrative staff each year. The goal should always be to have teachers outnumber administrators, and until that goal is reached, alumni should realize their donations are subsidizing administrative bloat.
- The university’s chief job should be education. Period. They should not consume themselves with hot-button social issues, nor should they lobby Congress on political issues that do not directly impact their educational mission. Contravention of any law (sexual assault, for example) should be the domain of local law enforcement, not university administrators who might bring either ideological baggage to the table or a conflict of interest as they both prosecute offenses and seek to protect the reputation of the institution which pays their salaries. Kangaroo courts which place political theory above evidence will only bring disrepute to the university.
- The universities should be color blind. There should be no university administrative interference for any ethnic or gender-based center. That doesn’t mean cultural centers shouldn’t exist: Just let the students organize them. If nothing else, that would show a true metric of student interest in the topic and would also enable students to develop life-long leadership skills. If African-Americans want a very active African-American cultural center or Hispanics want a Hispanic cultural center, let students rather than administrators take the lead. The same holds true for women’s centers and, at non-denominational schools, religious organizations as well. But if diversity and exchange of ideas are the goals, these centers should never enable students to insulate themselves from contrary ideas.
- Universities should recognize the difference between appropriate subjects at a Bachelors’ degree, Master’s degree, and Ph.D. levels. Simply put, the earlier degrees should require the broadest base rather than enable extreme compartmentalization. Want to study the Hispanic experience in America? Study history for your Bachelor’s, American history for your Masters’, and only then delve down into such details in the final years of study. To allow otherwise is to do students a disservice by failing to give them a broad, solid base or allowing them the benefits of juxtaposing their own experience with that of other groups. Nor should universities blur the distinction between academe and journalism. For humanities and social science students to study something that occurred in the last 10 or 20 years when few primary source documents exist is to do a disservice to educational rigor and standards. Want to study the 2003 Iraq War? Tough luck. Study the Korean or Vietnam Wars instead. Want to write an op-ed about the 2003 Iraq War? Fine, that’s what the university newspapers are for, not university theses.
- Ideological diversity matters. Faculty members trend liberal not because liberals are smarter but because the tenure system and peer pressure enables universities to squeeze conservatives out for failing to bow down to the idols of certain academic theories. But even if faculty members deem conservatives insufficiently smart for admittance into the club of tenure, there’s no excuse not to bring them to campus to debate their ideas directly.
So, as Yale President Peter Salovey and leaders of other universities put their hands out for cash, what should alumni upset with the descent of beloved universities into a political swamp do? If balance is the goal, they might give money instead to institutions that encourage ideological diversity on campus.
The Buckley Program provides some balance at Yale University, and the Alexander Hamilton Society brings mainstream policy practitioners and right-of-center academics to university campuses to debate university professors on issues of the day. Stanford’s Hoover Institution probably contributes more to public policy debate than the rest of Stanford combined. Or, those wishing to support universities’ core missions can donate instead to institutions such as the University of Chicago, whose president has stood firm against the social and political trends buffeting so many other elite campuses. There are also worthy nonprofits, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which stand firm on free speech and academic freedom irrespective of politics. Indeed, in many ways, FIRE has been truer to its objective mission than even the American Civil Liberties Union in recent years.
Simply put, it’s time for alumni to recognize their annual checks, capital campaign commitments, and end-of-life behests do more harm than good and are killing the educational institutions which they hold so dear or to which they might feel obliged to give back.