Florida Has a Right to Destroy its Universities
Category: Op/EdVia: hallux • 2 months ago • 13 comments
By: Tom Nichols - The Atlantic
Elections have consequences. Florida’s governor has decided to root out wrong-think at one of Florida’s public colleges, and his harebrained meddling will likely harm the school, but he has every right to do it.
Florida’s Soviet Commissars
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has set out to ruin one of Florida’s public colleges. He’s appointed several board members to the ideologically progressive New College of Florida with, apparently, a mandate to somehow rebuild it and thus save it from its dreaded wokeification. Helpfully for the cause of screwing up a college, most of the new overseers aren’t from Florida and don’t live there; one of them, in fact, is Christopher Rufo, a young man from the Manhattan Institute who has no actual experience in higher education but does have a genuine talent for rhetoric that he seems to have gained at the Soviet Higher Institute of Pedagogy somewhere in Moscow or Leningrad circa 1970.
Bristling at criticism from the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, Rufo fired back on social media. “We’re in charge now,” he tweeted, adding that his goal was “constitutionally-mandated democratic governance, to correct the ideological corruption of *public universities.*”
As they would have said during those old Party meetings: The comrade’s remarks about implementing the just and constitutional demands of the People to improve ideological work in our educational collectives and remove corruption from the ranks of our teaching cadres were met with prolonged, stormy applause.
Rufo is part of a new generation of young right-wing activists who have managed to turn trolling into a career. Good for him, I guess, but these self-imagined champions of a new freedom are every bit as dogmatic as the supposed leftist authoritarians they think they’re opposing. Their demands for ideological purity are part of an ongoing hustle meant to convince ordinary Americans that the many institutions of the United States, from the FBI in Washington down to a college in Sarasota, are somehow all scheming against them.
But Rufo is absolutely right about one thing: If Ron DeSantis wants to put him in charge of a “top-down restructuring” of a Florida college, the governor has every right to do it.
Elections have consequences. If the people of Florida, through their electoral choices, want to wreck one of their own colleges, it is within the state’s legitimate power to do so. In fact, Florida could decide tomorrow to amend its own constitution and abolish state universities entirely. There’s no national right to a college education, and if Florida wants to unleash a battalion of Guy Montags on its own state colleges and their libraries—well, that’s up to the voters.
But something more important is going on here. At this point in any discussion of college education, we are all supposed to acknowledge that colleges have, in fact, become ridiculously liberal. There’s some truth to that charge; I included some stories of campus boobery when I wrote about the role of colleges in America some years back. And only a few weeks ago, I joined the many people blasting Hamline University for going off the rails and violating basic principles of academic freedom while infantilizing and overprotecting students.
Fine, so stipulated: Many colleges do silly things and have silly professors saying silly things.
But the Sovietization of the New College isn’t about any of that. Something has changed on the American right, which is now seized with a hostility toward higher education that is driven by cultural resentment, and not by “critical race theory” or any of the other terms that most Americans don’t even understand . College among conservatives has become a kind of shorthand for identifying with all kinds of populist grievances, a ploy used even by Republicans with Ivy League educations as a means of cozying up to its non-college-educated and resentful base.
GOP attitudes about education have changed fast. As recently as 2015, most Republicans, by a wide margin, thought of universities as a positive influence on the United States. Four years later, those numbers flipped, and nearly 60 percent of Republicans saw universities as having a negative impact on the country.
It doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to realize that those four years tracked with the rise of Donald Trump and a movement whose populist catechism includes seething anger at “the elites,” a class that no longer means “people with money and power”—after all, Republicans have gobs of both—but rather “those bookish snobs who look down on our True Real-American Values.” The Republican message, aided by the usual hypocrites in the right-wing entertainment ecosystem (such as Tucker Carlson, a prep-school product who told kids to drop out of college but asked Hunter Biden for help getting his own son into Georgetown), is that colleges are grabbing red-blooded American kids and replacing them with Woke Communist Pod People.
This is a completely bizarre line of attack: It posits that a graduate student making a pittance grading exams is more “elite” than a rich restaurant owner. But it works like a charm, in part because how Americans measure their success (and their relative status) has shifted from the simple metric of wealth to less tangible characteristics about education and lifestyle. Our national culture, for both better and worse, has arguably become more of a monoculture, even in rural areas . And many Americans, now living in a hyperconnected world, are more aware of cultural differences and the criticism of others. Those self-defined “real Americans” partake in that same overall national culture, of course, but they nonetheless engage in harsh judgment of their fellow citizens that is at least as venomous as what they imagine is being directed by “the elites” back at them.
Which brings us back to DeSantis—a graduate, he would apparently like you to forget, of Harvard and Yale. DeSantis is now a “populist,” much like Trump (Penn), Ted Cruz (Princeton and Harvard), Josh Hawley (Stanford and Yale), and Elise Stefanik (Harvard and the Ferengi Diplomatic Academy). He has tasked Rufo (Georgetown and Harvard) to “remake” a school meant for the sons and daughters of Florida’s taxpayers not so that he can offer more opportunity to the people of his state, but so that he can run for president as just one of the regular folks whom reporters flock to interview in diners across the mountains and plains of a great nation.
Look, I live in New England surrounded by excellent public and private institutions, and I candidly admit that I couldn’t care less what kind of damage Florida does to its own schools. If Florida parents really don’t want Ron DeSantis appointing ideological commissars to annoy deans and department chairs, then they should head to the ballot box and fix it. But in the meantime, faux populists, the opportunists and hucksters who infest the modern GOP, are going to undermine education for the people who need it the most: the youngsters who rely on public education. And that’s a tragedy that will extend far beyond whatever becomes of the careers of Ron DeSantis or Christopher Rufo.
Maybe DeSantis is the destiny of Florida.
Maybe Florida would do better without education.
Speaking of Florida, my father, who served in WW2 also spent time training in Florida. He said the 'sand fleas' were awful. Is it possible that the 'sand fleas' are the real ones running the state of Florida and all of those retirees now dwelling in Florida are anxiously and with great hope waiting for the day when the GOP cuts their Social Security and Medicare?
Maybe DeSantis is the destiny of Florida.
Christopher Rufo was a relatively aimless wannabe grifter before he stumbled onto "critical race theory" while trying to devise a plan to organize against cancel culture in government agencies.
Now a couple years later he is a semi household name among political junkies. He has been on Fox News many times, and is now somewhat in Ron DeSantis inner circle.
So I guess he's been "successful".
Its been amusing watching New College students and officials and knee jerk left wingers like Nichols complain that DeSantis is trying to politicize their progressive school.
The cluelessness is off the charts.
Better a progressive school than a regressive one.
That's why it's called progress.
progressive school than a regressive one
Yeah, an actual liberal arts education where you have to read books and stuff is so regressive. Progress is represented by Progressive institutions like the Washington DC public schools where massive amounts of money ar spent to ensure that while the kids can't read, write or do math, they will damn sure know their hierarchy of racial oppression. Progressive education focuses on what's important.
It's just a start, before long he will politicize bedrooms and you'll be able to roar with laughter.
ong he will politicize bedrooms and you'll be able to roar with laughter.
How? Make laws about getting verbal permission before kissing your partner? I think Progressives have beaten him to it.
If you want to see glimmerings of this future unraveling of the Democratic coalition, look where the future is so often found: in California. There Governor Jerry Brown has recently signed an “affirmative consent law,” which requires all sexual activity among college students to obtain “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” and requires such consent be “ongoing throughout a sexual activity.” It is a massive broadening of the legal definition of rape, and a new blow in the culture wars that will likely reverberate in ways liberals have barely begun to contemplate.
nto it now and the MAGA crowd turn on him if he moves one step to the center.
Yeah, depoliticizing universities will really hurt him among sane people. Wait till voters find out he opposes spending tens of millions of dollars on useless DEI administrators. They'll really hate lowering costs.
With apologies to Gershwin:
The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
DeSantis and all his capers
And how it all will end
Poorly is my guess, Ron is selling out to the wadical wabbits.