Excuse the awkward headline and focus on the content in “The right really was coming after college next.” Relatively few people point out that college has been coming after the right for a very long time; sometimes college correctly comes after the right (e.g. Iraq War II), but the coming after is usually indiscriminate. I’ve spent my entire adult life hearing professors say that Republicans are stupid or people who vote for Romney or whoever are stupid. Perhaps we ought not to be surprised when the right eventually hits back?
A few have noticed that “Elite colleges are making it easy for conservatives to dislike them.” A few have also noticed that we ought to be working towards greater civility and respect, especially regarding ideological disagreement; that’s one purpose of Jonathan Haidt’s Heterodox Academy. Still, on the ground and on a day-to-day level, the academic vituperation towards the right in the humanities and most social sciences (excluding economics) has been so obvious and so clear that I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a backlash.
Because I’m already imagining the assumptions in the comments and on Twitter, let me note that I’m not arguing this from the right—I find that I’m on the side of neither the right nor the left, in part because neither the right nor the left is on my side—but I am arguing this as someone who cares about freedom of speech and freedom of thought, which have never been free and have often been unpopular. It’s important to work towards understanding before judgment or condemnation, even though that principle too has likely never been popular or widely adopted.
It seems to me that homogeneous, lockstep thought is dangerous wherever it occurs, and increasingly it appears to be occurring in large parts of colleges. One hopes that the colleges notice this and try to self-correct. Self-correction will likely be more pleasant than whatever political solution might be devised in statehouses.
I think the tax on scholarships is pointlessly cruel and petty, like several things in the proposed tax bill.
That said, I wouldn’t mind if the proposed tax on the largest private university endowments got the public to take a hard look at what elite universities do with their money, because I think there’s much there to unite the Trump right and the activist left and a good many people in between. Harvard has a $38 billion endowment—why? Are they planning to launch a spacecraft? Do most people know that Harvard has a separate management company for the endowment, which until recently had 220 employees, internal hedge funds, and a CEO with a $15 million salary, which is somewhere between 15 and 20 times the salary of the actual Harvard president? If a university can own a private corporation to manage a pile of money that’s more than one-tenth of the GDP of Massachusetts and nearly 15% of the market capitalization of Walmart, is it still a “nonprofit” in anything but the most strict legal sense of the term?
The proposed tax—the last I read, a 1.7% tax on endowments that add up to more than $250,000 per enrolled student—would have cost Harvard $19.6 million on its $1.4 billion earnings last year. I don’t see how anyone can credibly claim that Harvard can’t afford that; it’s the price of two fund managers. I don’t doubt that the endowment provides funding for much worthwhile research, but when a university broods dragon-like over such obscene wealth, much of it destined for nothing more than reinvestment, people aren’t wrong to start noticing that that institution’s relationship to the rest of society is rather unclear.
…but, Republicans being Republicans, they never fail to bundle their better ideas with five times as many awful ones. And, interestingly, if you go back to the distant world of 2008 to 2015, you can find liberal pundits and Democrats from Massachusetts kicking around the idea of a college endowment tax, with Republicans expected to oppose it. That Seattle Times writer would be wise to consider the proposed endowment tax separately from other tax proposals that would genuinely harm the average household.
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