Each January, the staff of the Martin Center share our higher-ed-reform dreams for the coming year. Will all of our wishes come true? Probably not. Nevertheless, we offer them here in a spirit of optimism, for the reader’s enjoyment and edification.
Commit to Institutional Neutrality … and Handle Enrollment Declines Wisely
My first hope for 2023 is for more universities to commit to the principle of institutional neutrality by adopting the Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action. The report became a guiding policy document at the University of Chicago in 1967, “affirm[ing] the University’s commitment to the academic freedom of faculty and students in the face of suppression from internal and/or external entities while also insisting on institutional neutrality on political and social issues.”
Institutional neutrality safeguards dissenting opinions.As we have written elsewhere, “Academia’s primary mission is the discovery, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge in a free, neutral, and unbiased manner. The expression of dissenting opinions is crucial to this mission and to achieve a well-examined understanding of the world.”
Institutional neutrality safeguards dissenting opinions by ensuring that the university doesn’t take a position, as an institution, on controversial issues. This enables faculty, students, and employees to adopt and profess their own positions without fear of contradicting, or otherwise running afoul of, the “official” university stance.
In July, the Board of Trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill passed a resolution adopting both the Kalven report and the Chicago Principles, making UNC the first public institution in the country to do so. I hope it will be the beginning of a trend.
I also hope that university governing boards, especially here in North Carolina, will make wise decisions in the face of declining enrollments. So far, the UNC System has attempted to prevent enrollment decline by attracting new students, both from out of state and from the ranks of “almost home” adults who dropped out of college within sight of the finish line.
Despite those efforts, enrollment declined at many universities in the past half-decade. This is part of a nationwide demographic trend: The total number of high-school graduates is falling, and the proportion who choose to enroll in universities immediately after graduation has also declined in recent years.
It’s time for universities to acknowledge that enrollment declines are likely to continue and to adopt smart policies to adapt to smaller student bodies moving forward. The first move should be to eliminate unfilled administrative positions, followed by strategic cuts to the existing administrative sector—especially in areas that have grown disproportionately in the past decade. Next, universities should close or consolidate low-productivity academic programs. Universities should also carefully examine their planned capital projects in light of possible changes to anticipated facilities use. No projects that add to the total campus space should be undertaken.
-Jenna A. Robinson, President
Bring Back Amateurism in College Sports … and Kill Biden’s Hideous Loan-“Forgiveness” Debacle
On Saturday, November 19, my beloved Tennessee Volunteers were eliminated from College Football Playoff contention by a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks. The culprit? A world-historically bad defensive effort from UT. The cause? Well … rumors abound.
The NIL system is further severing the link between college athletics and academics.Absent from Tennessee’s lineup that night was star linebacker Jeremy Banks, one of the nation’s leading tacklers in 2021. According to both Twitter scuttlebutt and my own close-to-Knoxville sources, Banks’s failure to travel with the team stemmed from a practice incident involving quarterback Hendon Hooker. The precise words exchanged by the pair are lost to history, but the gist is (allegedly) as follows: Hooker, whose “name, image, and likeness” (NIL) deals are worth an estimated $1.1 million a year, attempted to instruct Banks, who must settle for the paltry annual sum of $123,000. When Banks responded with a poke at Hooker’s millions, fisticuffs shortly followed.
NIL deals—whereby college athletes receive formal compensation to hawk, e.g., French’s Mustard—represent the long-awaited triumph of the player profit-sharing movement. Looked at a certain way, they are a common-sense solution to a longstanding labor/management dispute. It is difficult to contend that college athletes should get none of the cash produced by their efforts. Yet, despite these noble arguments, the NIL system is ruining team chemistry, exacerbating the product-destroying “transfer” problem, and further severing the link between college athletics and academics. If college sports are to endure in anything like their historic form, NIL deals must be dramatically curtailed if not altogether eliminated.
But wait, there’s more! In the high-dollar realms of football and men’s basketball, there is simply no reason to sustain the illusion that the nation’s most talented 18-22-year-old athletes wish to be college students. Instead, we should scrap the whole fraudulent system, do away with NILs and sports scholarships, create a minor-league NFL for the best under-22 footballers, and allow high-school seniors to declare for the NBA draft once again. While we’re at it, why not get rid of the corrupt and demeaning recruiting process, whereby coaches throw everything from private jets to hookers at prospective stars?
What would the resulting system look like? Certainly, the level of play would be lower, as universities fielded teams composed of … wait for it … actual college students. And the television broadcasts could well lose some viewers—though far fewer, I think, than some might guess. As for my friends and me, we’re going to watch whatever players happen to run through the “T” on Saturdays. It would be nice if they were, in some real sense, University of Tennessee undergraduates.
Never gonna happen, you say? Perhaps not. So here’s something that will. Sometime in June, if not earlier, the Supreme Court will rule that President Biden’s illegal loan-“forgiveness” scheme is an unconstitutional abuse of executive power. The vote will be 6-3, unless Bad King John sides with the progressives. Sonia Sotomayor will write a silly dissent, or Elena Kagan will write a clever but flawed one, and we will all wave goodbye to the worst public-policy move since Woodrow Wilson re-segregated the federal bureaucracy.
As the hymnist once wrote, “Lord, haste the day.”
-Graham Hillard, Managing Editor
Require Civics Education in College … and Give Boards More Time to Make Decisions
There is widespread agreement that students should be taught to be civically minded and knowledgeable about America’s history, principles, and governmental structure. A chorus of teachers, academics, politicians, and notable historical figures all land on a similar note: The country’s health and stability depend on an informed and engaged citizenry. If that assertion is correct—and common sense confirms that it is—then serious steps must be taken to reform civic education in college and university curricula.
When asked who the author of the New Deal was, 12 percent answered Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) characterizes the current state of civic instruction as a “crisis of civic education.” The evidence supporting this claim is dismal and staggering. According to a 2019 survey by ACTA, 70 percent of surveyed college graduates thought that Thomas Jefferson was the “Father of the Constitution,” instead of James Madison. Sixteen percent thought that Independence Day commemorated the signing of the Constitution (four percent thought it was the British surrender at Yorktown). When asked who the author of the New Deal was, 12 percent answered Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The litany goes on. Large numbers of college students don’t know the term lengths of members of Congress, who the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is, and what branch of the government has the constitutional authority to declare war.
It’s time for state legislatures and higher-education boards to make civic education a priority. Some states, such as South Carolina and Texas, have already taken concrete legislative steps. Students should be required to take coursework that will force them to read foundational American documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They should have an honest grounding in the broad sweep of U.S. history and a baseline understanding of the country’s constitutional order. History majors should be required to take U.S. history (many top schools currently don’t require this). Students can also be introduced to key American ideals and principles through university programming such as freshman orientation. Make graduation dependent on students passing a college-level civic literacy exam.
It’s not too late to rectify the current state of civic ignorance, but that won’t always be the case.
Every university board member is entrusted with a serious responsibility: to lead the institution by implementing sound policy and making prudent decisions. Board members’ roles and responsibilities largely extend to “big-picture” items such as “overseeing the standards, values, and finances of the institution” and safeguarding bedrock principles such as open inquiry and academic freedom. They also review faculty hires, university operations, maintenance, and safety.
All decisions that come before a board merit time and careful consideration. Some decisions, however, arguably carry more weight than others. Matters that concern faculty hires and that impact academic standards, for example, are particularly important because they directly affect teaching and academic excellence, which are central to higher education’s mission. Especially in these cases, good decision-making is dependent on both time and information. Unfortunately, governing boards in North Carolina sometimes lack crucial information and have an inadequate amount of time to responsibly exercise their authority.
All decisions that come before a board merit time and careful consideration.A recent example is the hiring of the dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism, Raul Reis. The university’s Board of Trustees received Reis’s application materials on Friday, March 4, and had to vote on whether to hire him on Tuesday, March 8. It is absurd to expect board members to make an informed decision in such a short time (two business days). Since his hiring, Reis has made it clear that he plans to entrench “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) policies in the School of Journalism. Reis’s heavy DEI focus was not apparent in his application materials, according to an anonymous source.
Board members must be given more time to familiarize themselves with the materials presented to them and to seek out additional information.
-Shannon Watkins, Research Associate
End Racial Admissions Preferences … and Other Preferences, Too
Last October, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving the legality of racial preferences in the admission of students. (The Martin Center covered the arguments here.) Many observers think the Court will rule that the use of racial preferences violates either the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for institutions that receive federal funds to discriminate in admissions; the 14th Amendment, which requires that all Americans receive the equal protection of the law; or both. We will find out how the Court rules in June.
If the Court does hold that racial preferences are illegal, we’ll then have to see how affected colleges and universities respond. Many of them are so deeply invested in the “diversity” mentality that they probably won’t just quietly follow the law. We are apt to see outright defiance (as was the case in Michigan after it passed its own ban on racial preferences in 2006) and clever subterfuges as colleges try to continue showing favoritism towards certain groups (as Robert Weissberg suggests here).
What I hope to see, however, is the voluntary abandonment of racial preferences by higher-education leaders—no matter how the Supreme Court rules. The simple fact is that group favoritism in college admissions is a policy with many downsides and no upside.
Racial preferences catalyze racial separation on campus.If college officials would take off their ideological blinders, they’d recognize that racial preferences lead to severe mismatch problems because they bring in large numbers of students who are significantly weaker in academic preparation than the rest of their classmates. They would recognize that preferences catalyze racial separation on campus, the creation of identity-driven courses lacking in intellectual content, and the stigmatization of minority students who would have been admitted even without preferences. They would also realize that they are losing the support of the large majority of Americans who oppose racial preferences.
No matter how the Court rules, 2023 should be the year when colleges and universities drop racial preferences and admit students solely on the basis of academic ability and desire to study.
It will be far easier for college and university leaders to drop racial preferences if they make another good move at the same time: namely, dropping other kinds of admission preferences, particularly legacy and athletic preferences.
Many of our “elite” institutions have long favored the admission of students who are related to earlier graduates—“legacy” admissions. Thus, if Bill’s grandfather went to Princeton, and his father went to Princeton, then Bill should go to Princeton, even if his academic profile is weaker than other candidates for admission.
Legacy preferences are substantial. As we read here, 33 percent of Harvard legacy applicants were admitted, versus just six percent of all applicants. Schools defend legacy admissions on the grounds that they supposedly encourage more giving to the school by wealthy older generations. That claim is highly dubious, but even if such giving did decline, prestige schools could easily adjust their budgets. Johns Hopkins University has announced that it is dropping legacy preferences; others should follow suit.
The problem with legacy admissions is that places that would have gone to more academically able students go instead to the children of earlier grads. This leads to the same problem of mismatch that racial preferences do.
Legacy preferences don’t violate any law—they’re just a bad idea.Some people want the government to ban legacy preferences, but (unlike racial preferences) they don’t violate any law—they’re just a bad idea. They’re not consistent with the concept of educational merit. Schools should remember that their mission is the maximization of learning, not revenue.
Also, colleges and universities should stop admitting students with poor academic records simply because they’re good at certain sports. Many institutions are so intent on fielding winning football and basketball teams that they admit players (they’re usually not really students at all) who are certain to struggle with the required coursework. Admitting such “students” can lead to cheating to keep them eligible to play (the UNC scandal is just one of many), and it also deprives better students of opportunities.
I suggest a package deal—in the name of educational merit and integrity, drop all preferences and base admissions just on a student’s ability and desire to study.
-George Leef, Director of Editorial Content
No More Mandatory DEI Statements … and “Yes” to Freedom of Speech On Campus
Two reforms I’d like to see in the coming year are an end to the use of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements in faculty hiring and more universities publicly supporting free speech.
DEI statements have grown in popularity at institutions of higher education. They are often listed as requirements for job applications, included in course materials and syllabi, and pasted on university personnel websites. Usually, they express sweeping support for the principals of DEI and an unwavering commitment to furthering the DEI movement. While these statements may appear harmless based on the dictionary definitions of “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion,” as the Martin Center has previously shared, those seemingly bland terms are filled with mal-intent in practice. In 2023, I would love to see the UNC System and institutions nationwide publicly denounce DEI statements or at least begin reigning in the use of required statements.
Similarly, I’d be thrilled to see more institutions publicly support free speech. This year afforded us the pleasure of seeing UNC-Chapel Hill’s public statement in support of it. So I hope that their display will spur on other schools in the System (and nationwide) to do the same. Free speech is not only a constitutional right but is necessary to foster learning and discernment, especially on college campuses. Students need to feel safe to ask difficult questions or share unique opinions. This is how we learn: through open discussion.
Cheers to 2023 and all that it may bring!
-Ashlynn Warta, State Reporter