Will President Trump take on Academia?

Recently, President Trump tweeted about his intention to use federal funding as a lever to stop that extreme politicization in our schools. The tweets were:

Too Many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education. Therefore, I am telling the Department of Education to re-examine their tax-exempt status…

And/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!

Immediately, education experts were contacted by reporters for verification that the president really can’t do that. The Associated Press cited Terry Hartle, “the senior vice president of the American Council on Education (ACE), which represents university presidents.” Hartle suggested that the president cannot revoke schools’ tax-exempt status because “ideology is not on the IRS’s list” of matters for which that action can be taken.

“I don’t think anything will come of this quickly,” Hartle added.

I can lay claim to being a higher education policy expert as well as Hartle. I’ve worked for a long-established higher education think-tank for 13 years. I have written substantial reports on academic freedom, university governance, the politicization of teacher education schools, the decline of English departments, general education programs, and more. I have written or edited nearly a thousand articles on higher education, and my work has appeared in major media markets such as Fox News, U.S. News, Forbes, and the Washington Times.

But no major media contacted my colleagues or myself for commentary about the president’s tweets. After all, unlike ACE, my organization is not part of the higher education establishment. We have been highly critical of higher education, instead of glossing over its problems. We seek ways to reform academia, not to maintain its status quo.

Even though deemed unworthy, I now offer my unsolicited thoughts about the president’s tweets:

Please, Mr. President. Please, please, please do this! Find a way, end as many programs that funnel money to academia as you can. Starve the beast instead of feeding it!

To be sure, federal student aid and veterans benefits are politically off-limits at this point. But the federal government funds nearly $42 billion of research in academia; trimming some of that would be a good start. And there are other programs that bear looking at.

As far as the tax status of universities goes, they are organized as 501(c)3 non-profit institutions for educational purposes. IRS Publication 557 states:

Advocacy of a particular position or viewpoint may be educational if there is a sufficiently full and fair exposition of pertinent facts to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion. The mere presentation of unsupported opinion isn't educational.

It adds that:

The method used by an organization to develop and present its views is a factor in determining if an organization qualifies as educational within the meaning of section 501(c)(3). The following factors may indicate that the method isn't educational.

  1. The presentation of viewpoints unsupported by facts is a significant part of the organization's communications.
  2. The facts that purport to support the viewpoint are distorted.
  3. The organization's presentations make substantial use of inflammatory and disparaging terms and express conclusions more on the basis of emotion than of objective evaluations.

Much of what passes for education today fails these tests. Much of the information offered in the humanities and social sciences is completely one-sided. How is “white privilege” not disparaging? How is the claim that science is not universal but dependent on culture -- and that indigenous myths are science -- substantiated? The examples are infinite.

The problem is not that the president was wrong about universities’ tax-exempt status. The problem is that nobody has taken academia’s abuse of the tax regulations seriously until now.

It was no great secret that academia was already politicized to an extraordinary degree before this summer’s Black Lives Matter campaign. Academia created the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter and the critical race theory upon which that organization is based. These ideas are not uplifting. Just the opposite: they focus on condemnation of an entire race. They propose taking resources legitimately created or earned by innocent people and redistributing them based on distorted beliefs. They divide people into those who are deserving and those who are guilty and must make amends for history through no fault of their own.

Now, in response to this summer’s riots, universities are creating programs that will shift the academic Overton Window even farther to the left. For instance, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the administration is planning student and faculty “diversity, equity and inclusion” training sessions to, in part, “create a common set of terms” about race. These common terms will make such disreputable concepts as  “structural racism” official and inarguable. It is hard to imagine any good coming to anybody who openly refuses to participate or dissents; the training essentially makes compliance with the radical agenda mandatory, either explicitly or implicitly. For, if one dissents, even if no official punishment is forthcoming, one will be “outed” as an opponent, which opens one up to all manner of abuses such as “doxxing,” Twitter mobs, and the like. Just ask Brett Weinstein, a biology professor who was hounded off his campus for refusing to submit to racial intimidation.

UNC’s program violates the principle of “institutional neutrality” to which public universities are supposed to conform -- and may very well violate the school’s tax-exempt status.

Many other schools are planning similar programs and initiatives. Using tax dollars to promote the ideas of critical race theory and force the targets of those theories to submit to them is especially perverse. It means taxing people to fund their own degradation. It means making them pay for their own degradation to another caste because of their birth. This goes way beyond taxation without representation.

So, do it, Mr. President. Don’t just tease us with a tweet. In the past, you issued an executive mandating campus free speech. But there has been no further action, and the ideological bias in academia has only gotten worse.

We can tell by your tweets that you comprehend the symbiotic relationship between academia and the forces that are trying to transform this country into a totalitarian hellhole. A lot of people won’t go down without a fight; according to a recent Rasmussen poll, “34% of Likely U.S. Voters think the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years.” Think of the human devastation should such an event comes to pass.


Recently, though, you showed some backbone with your executive order ending visas for foreign students who will not be taking in-person courses. The intent may have only been to force academia to open up its campuses, as part of the push to get the country to return to normal, rather than to directly address academia’s intellectual dysfunction. But then, in what is becoming a disturbing pattern, you backed down when all the vested interests squealed. 

That was a mistake. Appeasement and feigned threats don’t work; they merely embolden the mob that is pushing this country to the brink. Attack the beast in its heart. Cut its life source -- the flow of government dollars.

Jay Schalin is the Director of Policy Analysis for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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