What to Look For in Higher Ed in 2018

New Year’s Day means a time to take stock of what’s happened on college campuses. Higher education in 2017 had more of students leading campus protests, college administrators struggling to protect free speech for controversial speakers, and some politicians defending academic integrity. Some of those trends have been positive while others are, with any luck, isolated incidents. Keeping track of those developments helps to give some historical perspective as the news cycle shifts.

For 2018, the Martin Center staff offer a list of resolutions and proposals for how to improve higher education and what to expect in the new year.

Jenna A. Robinson, President

  1. States and Universities Should Continue to Improve Campus Due Process

Students saw a significant positive change for due process rights on campus in 2017: the repeal of an Obama-era “guidance” letter that required universities to employ a “preponderance of the evidence” standard when judging cases of sexual misconduct. A new guidance letter from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos allows—but does not require—colleges to use the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Many university administrators have announced their intention to continue using the lower standard, which means that students across the country will continue to be penalized, suspended, or expelled if campus courts determine that it is “more likely than not” that sexual harassment or violence occurred.

State legislatures now have the authority and opportunity to protect students’ rights by requiring public colleges and universities to use the higher “clear and convincing evidence” standard. Lawmakers in at least nine states have already begun the process.

A North Carolina bill that stalled last year in committee provides a blueprint for change. If enacted, the bill would require universities to give accused students “adequate notice including details of the allegations…and copies of all evidence at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.” It would also permit both parties in a case to question and cross-examine witnesses. And it states that the “standard of proof of responsibility for proving sexual misconduct shall not be less than clear and convincing evidence.” Enacting such protections should be a priority in 2018.

     2. Prospective College Students Should Use Available Data

For years, reformers and educators have demanded more transparency and accountability in higher education: better information about graduation rates, the true cost of attendance, and information about student debt in particular. For the most part, those demands have been met. Now, a student can easily find out the average debt at most schools across the country (from the Project on Student Debt), the percentage of students who default on their debt within three years of leaving each school (from the S. Department of Education), the average annual cost of attendance and graduation rates (at the new College Scorecard website) and, in North Carolina, average salary and employment rate upon graduation (from NC Tower)—for every major!

Despite this wealth of information, many students continue to make poor decisions. They borrow large amounts of money to major in low-demand fields. They choose universities with low graduation rates and high default rates. They fail to consider community college or trade school as an option. My hope for 2018 is that students, parents, and advisers begin to examine the evidence as they make plans for postsecondary education. And that more students make choices that lead them to greater knowledge and prosperity (instead of disappointment and debt) in the New Year.

Jay Schalin, Director of Policy Analysis 

  1. UNC Legislature Should Stay the Course

The North Carolina General Assembly should resolve to continue to make sensible laws regarding the University of North Carolina system. Academia has a way of spinning itself into its own private universe, with arcane rules and an agenda that is often at odds with much of America. Institutions have even had their own quasi-law codes that defy the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Only our legislature has the strength to pull them back from such extremes. For much of the UNC system’s existence, however, elected officials merely wrote checks and let the university create its own reality.

But no more. In 2013, they passed the Students and Administration Equality Act that restored some Fifth Amendment due process protections for students when they are accused of on-campus offenses. In 2015, they passed a Right to Know Before You Go Act that initiated the process of making once-invisible educational outcomes transparent.

In 2017, they passed several big measures: The Restore Campus Free Speech Act that gives students back some First Amendment protections; a provision in the budget permitting the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors to hire their own staff; and another provision finding a study on compliance costs.

Now that they have some momentum, the legislature should keep going in 2018 — there is still a lot to do that is in the legislative wheelhouse. One matter they should take up is looking into the murky relationship between universities and their non-profit foundations. Because these foundations are private and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, they enable public universities to avoid a proper level of transparency.

  1. Springtime for Antifa (with apologies to Mel Brooks)

The academic left should resolve to be just as irrational and unhinged in 2018 as they were in 2017—or even more so (if that is possible). Because if current trends continue, public awareness about just how radical and anti-intellectual much of academia has become will reach critical mass.

And that may be the only way positive change will occur. When a large majority of the country finally realizes how prevalent leftist ideas are in academia, and how empty and nihilistic is their message, people will change their behaviors. Students, parents, legislators, and alumni will reconsider forking over large sums that wind up funding the left’s destructive agenda.

Even looney-tunes Evergreen State College, with its mob of bat-wielding LGBTQ activists “guarding” the campus from white male students carrying their books to and from classes, has had to move toward the center to hopefully reverse a large drop in enrollment and state revenues.

So let’s have more madness: more white genocide tweets, more sado-masochism workshops, more unhinged shouting down of conservative speakers. Let’s have more academic research that beggars belief. For example, an article published in The Journal of Lesbian Studies by University of Victoria gender studies professor Heather Tapley, entitled “Mapping the Hobosexual-A Queer Materialism” in which she argues for resisting capitalism by having not-for-profit sex with homeless people.

Let’s have more masked zombies chasing speakers with alternate views off campuses. Go nuts, lefties—be as “woke” as you can be.

George Leef, Director of Research

  1. College Leaders Should Make This Resolution: I Won’t Fall for Any More Hoaxes

Higher education leaders could improve matters on campus in numerous ways. I would like to suggest a seemingly small one: stop falling for hate crime hoaxes.

Over the last several years, there have been quite a few reported cases of violence, threats, and hate speech on campuses nationwide. School officials usually treat reports of these incidents as proof that their campuses are gripped by hatred, which must be immediately attacked.

At Westfield State University in Massachusetts, for example, officials are about to spend thousands of dollars to buy and install 400 security cameras. The reason? Because they are determined to stop a supposed epidemic of hate crimes. No student has been physically attacked, but some complain about finding racist notes under their dorm doors. (Here’s the Westfield story.)

That reaction will probably win Westfield officials applause among fellow progressives for bold action, but is there the slightest reason to believe that a school in rural Massachusetts has an actual racial hatred problem? In truth, leftist students have learned that pretending hatred abounds on campus gets them what they want—attention.

For example, at Gustavus Adolphus College, the school’s “Diversity Leadership Council” admitted to posting flyers around campus that declared, “America is a White Nation.” This Inside Higher Ed story from 2012 recounts other hoaxes. Stop falling for it.

  1. College Officials Should Rein In Their Title IX Enforcers

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has revoked the government’s official support for the hyper-zealous enforcement of Title IX that was decreed by the Office for Civil Rights under Obama. But while that “guidance” is gone, many colleges still have Title IX bureaucracies filled with administrators who are eager to justify their paychecks.

Such administrators like to wield the power their offices give them.  A good example is the treatment of University of Utah Professor Nicholas Wolfinger, who was put through a Title IX ordeal just for his “body language.” As he writes here, “The Title IX machine continues to hum along, perhaps motivated by higher education’s broad hostility to the Trump administration.”

Back in September, Professor J. Martin Rochester wrote for the Martin Center about his nasty Title IX experience.

Leadership in Washington can’t tame the power-tripping of Title IX bureaucrats on campus. The main problem is that few college leaders want to confront them. Quoted here, Stuart Taylor, Jr., co-author of The Campus Rape Frenzy, said that college leaders are terrified that “they will be targeted for destruction by the ‘believe the woman’ activists in their own student bodies and bureaucracies” unless they allow the inquisitions to continue.

College presidents should resolve to downsize their Title IX bureaucracies and tell the remaining administrators to limit themselves to actual cases of sexual assault. Unfortunately, they’re afraid to.

Anthony Hennen, Writer/Editor

     7. Make Study-Abroad Programs Great Again

Sending a college student to study abroad can open up their world. They get a different perspective on the United States, must converse in a foreign language, and are thrown into an unfamiliar environment, which can promote independence and resilience. However, such programs can be expensive and light on rigor: with a price tag that can reach $25,000 for a semester, there should be lots more academic “bang for the buck.”

Despite those drawbacks, study abroad participation has steadily grown. More than 300,000 students enrolled in a study-abroad program in 2015-2016, often after strong encouragement from their home institution.

So how to improve study abroad programs? For one, colleges should charge students the average tuition of the foreign institution, not the going rate at their home institution. Living abroad for a year independently is often cheaper than some semester-long study-abroad programs. Lowering the cost would make it easier for more students to participate, and it would prevent colleges from treating the programs as a cash cow to raise more revenue.

Program administrators should also employ language immersion and full class schedules, collaborating with only high-quality institutions and testing students if necessary at the end of the program.

The European Union offers a glimpse of what study abroad should not be. Its Erasmus program, which sends students across Europe to study outside their home country, has a reputation as a glorified party subsidy. If American students want to party in Europe, they are free to do so, but not on the taxpayers’ dime. Student grants and loans should fund academic challenges abroad, not Spring Break escapades.

     8. Help Students–Don’t Call Them Snowflakes

Some conservatives have adopted a reactionary criticism of higher education, rather than the tactic of promoting better ideas. Though it is quite clear that the average college campus leans left, not all students are “snowflakes” who want paternalistic administrators to cover students’ ears when they hear a contrary opinion.

Disparaging all college students as coddled crybabies does them a disservice; conservatives should focus on helping them get a good education that will open their minds to reason instead of antagonizing them further. That is, conservatives should defend free speech and safeguard college campuses as places of open debate. Of course, it’s okay to ridicule those who would make college an indoctrination factory, but doing so should not dominate the discussion of higher education in right-wing circles. Exposing bias needs to be counterbalanced with the big picture of reforming higher education.

So let’s have more constructive criticism. Reforming college will be easier when we promote successes that can be duplicated. Give college administrators programs to copy, such as campus organizations that promote political debate that may make students uncomfortable—but well-informed. One example is the Center for Political Engagement at Davidson College; another is the James Madison Program at Princeton. Applaud colleges that take First Amendment protections seriously, like Purdue University and the University of Chicago. It will be harder for liberals to smear change as impossible when it becomes known that other American colleges are already reforming in a positive way

Shannon Watkins, Policy Associate

     9. Restore Academic Integrity in UNC-Chapel Hill Athletics

This year saw the conclusion of the infamous UNC-Chapel Hill athletics scandal. The NCAA opined that it had no authority to punish an abuse of academic integrity within the athletics department. What reasoning did they provide for their decision? That since other non-athletes also participated in academic dishonesty, it was not within the NCAA’s authoritative domain.

In other words, if corruption extends beyond the athletics department to the general student body, then the NCAA can look the other way. This clearly was a convenient stance for the “overseeing” organization to take: Chapel Hill athletics, particularly its basketball and football teams, are a huge source of profit for the NCAA. Perverse policies are still in place in the athletics department and will continue to tempt athletics officials to “bend the rules” in favor of sports over books. Even if those responsible for safeguarding academic integrity fail to do so, that does not give higher education officials license to idly stand by.

In this New Year, UNC officials can play a decisive role in rectifying poor policies that stand to further enable athletics departments’ neglect of academics. First, address the issue of academic waivers—all students who gain admittance to the university should be held up to the same academic standards. Second, eliminate athletics scholarships. Students—and coaches—should not be perversely incentivized to put academics on the back burner in order to score more wins. Playing sports in college can be a positive experience, but it should not come at the price of sacrificing a student’s ability to successfully learn and participate in the university’s primarily academic mission.

     10. Consider What “Relocating History” Means

Should the Confederate monuments stay or go? That may have been the question of the year, one that likely will not fade in 2018. Some students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill remain outraged that the campus’ 100-year-old Confederate statue, “Silent Sam,” is still permitted to stand. And despite current legislative barriers that prohibit the statue’s removal, Sam and other Confederate monuments’ days may be numbered due to intense pressure to “tear them down.” Indeed, in many parts of the country, thoughtful reflection seems to have given way to an influx of outrage and emotion spurred by the violent protest that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The violence that ensued in Charlottesville is undoubtedly condemnable, but impulsively tearing down and vandalizing historic monuments does not seem to be a prudent response. For one, the history of the Civil War, and especially of Confederate soldiers, is much more complex and nuanced than some protesters claim. That is not to dismiss the cause of the Confederacy as blameless, or even to suggest that monuments honoring Confederate soldiers were always dedicated with pure intentions. But to characterize Confederate statues simply as a glorification of slavery and racism is to oversimplify history. Furthermore, if a statue’s connection with racism is enough to justify tearing it down, then what does this imply about other historical monuments with even the most tangential ties to racism? Would this justify tearing down or vandalizing statues of prominent figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln?

As recent acts of vandalism on the Lincoln Memorial indicate, removing statues sets a dangerous precedent for the handling of other historically significant monuments. Going forward, state and university officials have an obligation to seriously consider what the implications of “relocating history” would be.