College bias is a problem: Building a better university | WHAT IF?

College bias is a problem: Building a better university | WHAT IF?

August 21, 2019 10 By Stanley Isaacs


Colleges and universities are vital to
our country. They determine what knowledge is pursued, they legitimize
ideas, and they shape public debate. In 1989, liberal faculty outnumbered
conservative faculty by 2 to 1. By 2014, that gap was 5 to 1. If we want a more
balanced and intellectually inclusive academic environment, we may need
to try something new. So. what if we built a university that
challenged campus groupthink? I know what you’re thinking: “Why a new
university?” After all, there are plenty of elite universities in America already.
The problem? Today’s academic monoculture has stifled
and decimated the ranks of conservative intellectuals and done little to explore
or explain fundamental conservative ideas or what conservative ideas can
teach regarding civic life, social policy, and American culture. Of course, many have
sought to push back on the campus monoculture. These locales provide
purchase for individual scholars, but they lack the infrastructure and
critical mass to cultivate scholarly lines of inquiry or a pipeline of
rigorously trained, pedigreed conservative scholars. Still, all this
raises the obvious question: is it even possible to create a university that
would be serious, elite, and influential in the span of a generation or less? It
is! New York University did it. As recently as 1984, NYU was regarded as a
safety school for local high schoolers, drawing more than 80% of its students
from New York City. Beginning in the 1980s though, NYU proceeded to
raise one billion dollars to rebuild itself and poach scholars from the Ivy
League. Within a decade, NYU had remade itself into a top-shelf,
name-brand university. Other universities have started with even less and reached
elite status in just as much time. This university should not have an
ideological agenda, but it should have an intellectual mission that is
unapologetically hospitable to conservative views and to values that are
marginalized within the academy. Hiring would target scholars looking to pursue
rigorous, important work that challenges the prevailing campus orthodoxies.
And, to be crystal clear, the university will embrace unfettered academic freedom
in accord with the highest principles of free inquiry. Unlike many of today’s
institutions, it will not kowtow to demands for safe spaces or to the political
enthusiasms of the moment — left or right. So, what exactly do we have in
mind? The place to start is by purchasing a big chunk of land outside of a major
metro area, providing enough room to build a university and infrastructure
competitive with other elite institutions. There would be a decided
focus on the social sciences, humanities, and professional schools, but this would
be a full service institution. The model envisions paying to get the best faculty
and to create departments comparable in size with those of elite universities
across the US. A handful of esteemed scholars would anchor each department,
lending prestige and mentoring colleagues. To help cultivate a pipeline
of talented students, the institution would offer generous, immensely
competitive stipends to graduate students and competitive scholarships to
undergraduates. At the same time, the model envisions slashing by 40% or
more so many of the dubious outlays and swollen bureaucracies that prevail in
higher education today. The cost? In total, we’d estimate it would come
to around three billion dollars to build, endow, and then operate such a university in
perpetuity. Of course, this is no small ask. But consider: about 44 billion
dollars was donated to higher education in 2017 alone. The top 20 fundraising
institutions by themselves brought in more than 12 billion dollars. Within the
span of a few decades, this venture holds a promise of changing academia across
the land for the better — in a manner that may well prove vital to the
nation’s intellectual well-being and cultural and civic health. To learn more
about my proposal for a new university, check out the link in the description
below. Also, let us know what other topics you’d like AEI scholars to cover on
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