This is a guest editorial from heterodox economist Dr. Charles Karelis. Dr. Karelis was professor of philosophy at Williams College and George Washington University, and president of Colgate University. He is author of The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can’t Help the Poor.
He who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s not normative, but factual. If the piper won’t play the tune, the man won’t pay. He may not stop paying immediately, and he may not stop all at once, but he’ll stop. In this case, the piper is New College and the man paying him is the taxpayers, speaking through their elected representatives, who are speaking in turn through appointed trustees.
On tunes and pipers in higher education, here’s a case in point. The most important trend in higher education funding in recent decades, here and in the UK, is privatization. The taxpayers want to pay less so they can cut direct budget appropriations to the public colleges, preferring to see the colleges depend more and more on student tuition fees. The usual explanation is correct. The public has come to understand that the benefit of higher education flows mostly to the individual student in the form of increased income. Soothing old banalities about the spill-over benefits of college for the whole of society, used to justify saddling the average Joe with sales taxes to fund the institutions directly, have lost much of the political traction they once had. The taxpayer was no longer happy with the tune and didn’t want to pay.
Does this mean that “the autonomy of public higher education” is a fairy tale? Better to call it a façon de parler. Public higher education will never have complete, true autonomy, but it can get close. Figuratively, the smart audiences have learned that they’ll get the best concert if they tell the piper the kind of music they like in general terms and then give the piper considerable discretion over the specifics. I’m all for the autonomy of higher education in that sense. I don’t think DeSantis’s trustees should be dictating curricular specifics to the New College faculty.
It's one thing for a politically-appointed board to insist that the president hire a provost committed to employing a philosophically and politically diverse faculty. That's appropriate and overdue, and it will get the taxpayers the curriculum they want in time. Balanced faculties will establish balanced curricula.
It's another thing for a board to take direct control of curriculum away from faculty. Number one, it won’t work. The faculty will outsmart them. After all, they’re on campus everyday, while the board members are often thousands of miles away. Number two, direct political intervention could lead to the loss of regional accreditation, which is not granted or withheld by bodies under the control of the governor. (There is one accrediting agency for the whole southeast. Note that some political actors in Florida are trying to circumvent that agency, but they’ll probably fail outright, and if they succeed they will dramatically undermine the reputation of Florida’s public higher education system.) Unaccredited colleges can hardly function, much less flourish.
New College is a fragile, underfunded gem of a place which isn't going to benefit from this kind of limelight. My opinion is that Governor DeSantis should make sure the board insists on a provost who is committed to hiring an intellectually diverse faculty and just live with a slower pace of change at New College.
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It's a tough needle to thread, isn't it. On the one hand, the academy has been largely subverted by a cult that is hostile in every respect to the proper function of the academy as an arena for the determination of truth and a distribution point for the same. On the other hand, simply banning that ideology by name is not in the spirit of the academy, and not likely to work for exactly the practical reasons you suggest.
My favored approach is more structural.
First, severely limit the portion of the budget that can be allocated to administration; that keeps costs down, benefiting students and taxpayers, and removes much of the ability to enforce ideological doctrines.
Second, open source souseveillance. Students are often reluctant to push back against the ideological bigotry of professors more intent on indoctrination than education, since that F can be quite costly to them. Set up a contest system with cash prizes for students who bring to light the most egregious such violations of the spirit of higher education. $10k in hand would take the sting out of an F for failing to agree with Mx. AWFLhair with sufficient enthusiasm. It would also keep faculty on their toes.
Third, simply deprive the grievance studies departments of students by refusing to provide grants or loans for such programs. Then cut off funding to anything that smells of DIE.
Fourth, strict bans on ideological loyalty tests, eg diversity statements in hiring, together with an insistence on a purely merit-based approach to admissions and hiring. If the bulk of new hires and admissions every year are suspiciously different from the distribution across the applicant pool, the relevant committees or departments should be subjected to external investigation; if it's found that they put their thumbs on the scales, all involved should then become ineligible for funding, and perhaps be sanctioned in other ways.
None of these would involve the state or board of trustees telling the professoriate what they can or cannot teach, but taken together such measures would largely shatter the spine of the woke subversion machine.
The critique is relevant if one assumes the purpose of paying, or not, this particular piper is narrowly confined to hearing one desired tune in this specific setting. The manner in which the New College story is unfolding strongly suggests that not to be the case.
Let's say you're instead paying an orchestra of pipers [Ed: all of the state schools], and they are generally shoddy, unproductive, and contemptuous of the score, conductor, and audience. You want correction of the whole. A common approach would be to make an example pour encourager les autres.
Lots of institutions of higher ed are going to go out of business in the next decade. Boards, legislators, and taxpayers (especially parents paying out the wazoo for their kids' degrees only to end up with unemployable graduates in the basement as the parents' paychecks and retirement funds evaporate) will take the axe to parts of higher ed that don't take the hint.