The riots in Berkeley (yes, they were riots, not protests) were as shocking as they were productive. For many Americans, this was a first view into the decadence of higher education.
To see mobs of irrational people setting fires, smashing windows, and shooting fireworks at people on balconies, all while a disco rainbow is projected in fluorescent rave colors on a nearby lecture hall, one could not really hold the naïve view that higher education’s doing okay. Absent a war in Vietnam and a draft threatening to snatch young men and send them to the jungle, there is precious little to justify the intensity or vehemence.
In the wee hours, Donald J. Trump tweeted America a game-changer. No other president was really as blunt as he was in saying, plainly, that universities could no longer count on indefinite patience from taxpayers underwriting such gross indecency. For the first time, the highest office-holder in the country sees how the collapse of academia actually poses a serious danger to civil society.
As a Trump supporter and scarred survivor of academia’s bedlam, I was exhilarated to see direct discussion of funding. But I’m also worried. Having been at this for a while, I know how deviously the collegiate lobby can protect its money by deflecting public attention and tricking critics.
As Berkeley burned, I was finishing the last edits on my book, Wackos Thugs & Perverts: Clintonian Decadence in Academia. Conservatives are the most sincerely alarmed at the academy’s unraveling. They’re perennially angry about what’s happening on campuses but never make any headway. Why? I have five tips to share.
First, we can’t embarrass or sue universities into changing. We’ve had years of David Horowitz, Mike Adams, and pro bono lawyers assailing academia in the courts and the public square. The end result after decades is: they just trashed Berkeley. We’ve accomplished little by scaring them with bad press or legal damages; they’ve gotten better press offices and lawyers. So cut to the chase—get the federal government to hold hearings and start figuring out who’s going to lose tax exemptions, grants, or student loan eligibility. Then they’ll change. (Trump’s right.)
Second, stop talking about “liberal bias.” This isn’t Marxism. The universities are not run by liberals or by leftists, really. They are run by racketeers who have no real ideology. They cloak themselves in lefty terminology because leftist agendas create decadence and dysfunction, both of which make people feel helpless and lost. What do helpless, lost people do? They go to college or grad school. The money rolls in. I do refer to “the left” sometimes, but when I do I refer to racketeers running colleges, rather than schools of radicalism or revolutionary thought.
Third, don’t get hung up on “academic freedom” or “free speech.” Conservatism doesn’t mix well with relativism. As conservatives, we don’t foreground the notion that anybody gets to say anything. We should want to be heard because we are firmly convinced we are right. (If you aren’t convinced, spend some time rethinking things until you are.) Conservatives are exponentially outnumbered on campus so if every person gets equal time we will be drowned out anyway. We need to argue our points, not belabor the general idea of having points whatever they may be. Quite often, for instance, I find that “conservative” dissidents on campus aren’t conservative once they’re prompted to explain what they believe. Few are interested in chastity; many smoke pot.
Fourth, focus less on guest speakers. Milo’s a very interesting guy but let’s face if he had lectured in Berkeley it would not have made much difference. The people in classrooms teaching young people day in and day out hold the real power. Just in the last two years, they’ve managed to expel even more conservative professors (me included) all while Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff-Somers, and Milo were burning up the lecture circuit. The needless focus on extracurricular events is part of what has driven administrative costs and student fees higher. Such activity is far adrift from what universities are supposed to do. To change things, attack the tenure system.
Fifth, remember that academia is a racket. It’s toxic because of the gangland pact between the Democrats and the academy (“we’ll send you dollars, you boost us with propaganda and discredit our enemies.”) Fiscal abandon on campuses is sinking a huge part of our national economy. But in the end it isn’t about ideas, ideologies, or the pursuit of truth. To shut down a racket you need to pull from the history of antitrust and anti-racketeering efforts. This is more than the First Amendment.