Why I Am Joining the Reconquista

Why I Am Joining the Reconquista

Taking back power from the academic left depends on storming the public institutions, not fleeing from them.

For 50 years, conservatives have been complaining about the leftist capture of American higher education. It’s a real problem—trust me. Far less than a tenth of the faculty in most humanities and social sciences departments, as well as many professional schools and science fields, are conservatives. The syllabi and curricula are leftist ideology run wild. College campuses feel like Democratic Party summer camps. Students graduate without ever hearing the rational, evidence-based arguments of half our citizens. The odious Leninists of the faculty lounge tell them that Republicans are reactionaries and anti-intellectuals. 

I’ve done my share of complaining. Now, I am taking action. On February 29, Richard Corcoran, president of the New College of Florida, announced that I will be spending my sabbatical from my home institution in 2024–25 as Presidential Scholar at the college. It is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term engagement.

While there have always been private institutions in the United States that offer intellectual diversity, New College is the first Reconquista of a publicly-funded venue. Since virtually every college and university in other Western countries is what we would call “public,” this has broader significance. Taking back power from the academic mullahs who have turned higher education in the West into little more than a madrassa system of leftist thought depends on storming the public institutions, not fleeing from them. My shield is raised and my visor is lowered.

Predictably, the establishment media and professors unions have been alarmed that the battlements have been breached at New College. They have thrown remarkable energy into repulsing the effort initiated by a democratically elected state government to hold a taxpayer funded institution accountable to the citizens (Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis won re-election in a landslide in 2022 by 59 percent to 40 percent against his Democratic opponent). 

DeSantis has rightly banned the apartheid systems known as “diversity, equity, and inclusion” from college campuses in Florida. This form of systemic racism has no place in a society founded on fundamental equality. He has also appointed a distinguished former Secretary of Education in Corcoran to overhaul the college. Cue the howls of academic freedom under assault.

It is ironic to hear critics complain that a once “progressive” institution has been brought under democratic control, as if the “progressive” ideology sedulously implanted at New College was natural and uncontroversial. 

It’s also odd for the intellectuals who guide our cultural institutions to claim to be defending democracy and “science” when their methods in higher education are so illiberal and so antagonistic to the free flow of ideas that defines science. One faculty member who left, neuroscientist Elizabeth Leininger (“she/her”), told Nature magazine in February that “science thrives if we make sure that everybody has a place in it, and that everyone feels like they can be a scientist.” Actually, she/her has it wrong. Science thrives when the most capable people are scientists and when facts, not feelings, drive the field. 

It is yet more obtuse to hear them speak of New College before the takeover as “excellent” or “successful.” The USA Today, in a typical emulsion, complained in January that an “excellent state liberal-arts university” had been handed over “to a bunch of right-wing goons so they could make it less diverse, less inclusive and more conservative.” In fact, in addition to being bankrupt, New College was an educational failure. In the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce college value-added rankings for 2022 based on data from 2019, it ranked a dismal 111th of the 218 institutions of higher education in Florida, hardly indicative of a high-performing “honors college” that it was supposed to be. Governor DeSantis’s description of New College as a “Marxist commune” was apt—an economic and social failure.

There is now what we might veritably refer to as “New College Derangement Syndrome” among our nation’s liberal establishment, which has resorted to nuisance litigation to block the will of the people of Florida. The dark money-funded NCF Freedom, for instance, has filed lawsuits alleging infringements of due process and freedoms, so far to no avail. Its public face is a former environmental studies lecturer at the college whose only academic work I could find was “a collection of stories about the cabbage palm.” He is aided by “a certified homeopath and psychotherapist” and an antiques dealer.

What will I do at New College? Rush in with a syllabus filled only with Great Conservatives and convince the students that Democrats and Greens are enemies of the people? If I did that, I would simply be replicating the problem. Much teaching, even in the social sciences, should be of a technical character that avoids ideology altogether. Where debates on values and ethics arise, my aim is always to help students understand the logic of different perspectives. 

But there is a broader mission. Education needs to be more than non-indoctrination. It should also be empowering. Today’s universities claim to “empower” students by telling them that they are victims, that they are nothing more than their skin color or sexuality, that the world is controlled by elites and their only option is street antics, that the planet is doomed. This is disempowerment. 

Students should instead leave college with a strong sense of individuality, personal responsibility, humility, and open-mindedness. I hope to help the New College to structure its programs with a laser focus on this character formation. 

One year and one person is not much. Yet if others take up the task at their institutions, we can hope that the New College of Florida is the proverbial beachhead that portends the defeat of the ugly menace that has darkened the face of learning for too long. All hail the Mighty Banyans who will stand tall for a brighter future!

The post Why I Am Joining the Reconquista appeared first on The American Conservative.

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