You might think that the takeover by the radical left of liberal arts instruction at American colleges and universities would be more difficult to accomplish at state institutions than at private ones. After all, state colleges depend on politicians for funding. And conservative to moderate politicians are in ascendency in many, if not most, states.
In fact, though, the rot appears to have spread largely unimpeded at state colleges. This is clear, for example, from David Horowitz’s work, including One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy. Many of the outrages Horowitz cites occur at public universities (Penn State seemed like a particularly chronic offender, if I recall correctly).
The fact is that politicians don’t seem interested in what occurs in the classrooms of state supported schools. Only in extreme cases that carry the possibility of significant embarrassment — such as Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado — do conservative legislators become involved. And once the storm blows over, their focus returns to the traditional political issues that they feel more comfortable with and that promise a higher rate of political return.
In South Carolina, though, the legislature may be serious about curbing the leftward drift of the state’s colleges. According to the Washington Post, the seriousness manifests itself in two ways. First, the legislature has paved the way for the appointment of Lt. Governor Glenn McDonald as the next president of the College of Charleston.
Second, the legislature has cut the budget of both the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate in retaliation for assigning students to read books with gay themes. In the case of the College Charleston the book was a graphic novel about a lesbian, which the college supplied to all incoming freshmen. The legislature is contemplating further cuts for the staging of a play, off-campus but hosted by the college, based on that novel.
The first move, appointing a political conservative, as president of a state university is, in theory, welcome. It probably represents the best way of ensuring that attention will be paid after the hoopla over gay novels and plays dies down.
As State Sen. Lee Bright, who happens to be opposing Lindsey Graham in the Republican Senate primary says:
We’ve got to start moving the debate. For too long, conservatives have just said “okay, these institutions are liberal.” Why would you cede that?
If the new president is intelligent, he will quickly see how far the left-wing rot has spread. Backed by the power of the state’s purse, he can then take measures to restore some semblance of balance to the school’s intellectual life.
Questions have been raised about the particular politician in question, Glenn McConnell. Critics point out that he is a Civil War reenactor who once owned a store that sold Confederate memorabilia. However, he also helped broker a deal that removed the Confederate flag from the top of South Carolina’s State House, and he helped erect an African-American monument near the capitol grounds.
From this, it sounds like he has at least some skills of a good college administrator.
As for the withholding of money, I have mixed feelings. In theory, it’s an appropriate, attention-getting method of reining in rampant leftism at state colleges. And I don’t believe that colleges should require students to read books of any political persuasion (other than our nation’s Founding Documents), which of course includes books promoting gay rights or gay lifestyles.
I’m not sure, however, that in this case the punishment fits the “crime.” And I’m very uncomfortable with withholding funds for the staging off-campus of a play that, presumably, no one was required to attend.
Politicians should oversee state colleges to make sure they don’t become centers of political indoctrination. But they shouldn’t ban expression they don’t like. Students should have the opportunity, if they wish, to be exposed to nearly the full spectrum of art, literature, and dogma. This easily includes gay-themed books and plays.
If South Carolina is too heavy-handed, it will become the object of deserved ridicule which, in turn, will discredit attempts by politicians to oversee higher education. But if South Carolina promotes true academic freedom, an endangered phenomenon on campus these days, it could start a trend.
And, by filling a huge void in higher education, South Carolina will gain for its colleges a potential competitive advantage over other state schools. Call it the “fair and balanced” niche.