Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 15, 2019

How Popular Discontent Is Reshaping Higher Education Law

Ben Trachtenberg (Missouri), The People v. Their Universities: How Popular Discontent Is Reshaping Higher Education Law, 106 Ky. L.J. ___ (2020):

Surveys taken since 2015 reveal that Americans exhibit stark partisan divisions in their opinions about colleges and universities, with recent shifts in attitudes driving changes to higher education law. In recent years, Democrats have become slightly more positive about higher education. Concurrently, Republicans have become extremely more negative, and a majority of Republicans now tells pollsters that colleges and universities have an overall negative effect on the country.

Particularly in legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, public and elite dissatisfaction with higher education has led to legal interventions into the governance of universities, with new laws related to faculty tenure, the treatment of undocumented immigrant students, the use of state funds for disfavored programs, the composition of university governing boards, and campus speech, among other topics. At the federal level, during the Obama Administration advocates persuaded the Department of Education to demand sweeping changes to how institutions adjudicate allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. At the behest of different advocates and critics, Trump Administration officials have rescinded the prior guidance and are in the process of enacting new regulations on the same campus processes.

Higher education has real problems—such as skyrocketing tuition—which inspire real anger. Right-wing media outlets amplify this discontent, and politicians respond to voter outrage with hearings and legislation, deepening the lack of confidence. These phenomena are likely to endure and even to increase in intensity. Accordingly, higher education law has entered a new era in which college and university leaders must anticipate growing legislative intervention into day-to-day campus operations. Remaining true to institutional values in a newly difficult legal environment will challenge higher education administrators across the country, both at private and at public institutions. In particular, leaders of public institutions will face increasingly daunting tasks in states with conservative electorates.

Legal Ed Scholarship, Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Universities keep producing research that shows that industrial pollution is unhealthy, that man made Global Warming is real, that tobacco isn't good for you even in e-cigarette form, that lots of processed food is unhealthy, that gun ownership increases suicide risk, that tax cuts don't magically pay for themselves, and that income and wealth inequality are becoming more extreme.

Naturally, this sort of thing makes Universities a target for politicians who'd rather not be contradicted when citing bunk think tank studies instead of real research.

This whole culture war thing is basically made up. It's easier to pretend that you're going after scientific researchers and educators because of some imagined disagreement about abortion or gays than to admit that you're watching the back of Big Oil and Big Tobacco and making the world safe for corporate misinformation.

Posted by: First we kill the universities | Aug 21, 2019 9:25:10 AM


Per NCES data from the Department of Education we have never produced so many vocationally-oriented graduates as we are of late, whether we are talking percentages or sheer numbers. 'Twas the spoiled Boomers who all got humanities degrees. Millennials study business, STEM, nursing, and still can't get jobs. Take your lame straw argument elsewhere.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 19, 2019 8:52:45 AM

"A majority of Republicans now tells pollsters that colleges and universities have an overall negative effect on the country."

I agree with this to the extent that we have too many college graduates with worthless degrees. For many kids, "going to college" means deferred decision making or, said another way, the party lives on.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Aug 16, 2019 6:19:47 AM

Quote: Higher education has real problems—such as skyrocketing tuition—which inspire real anger.

That's all you need to know to understand what side to be on in this dispute. The cost of a college education has been growing three times faster than inflation for decades and academia, particularly the administration, doesn't care that students leave saddled with huge debts. Censorship and star-chamber-like trials merely show that "remaining true to institutional values" means creating an environment that coerces both thought and behavior in ways that aren't true to what a university should be doing.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Aug 16, 2019 5:00:28 AM

When you start a culture war, expect the people that you attack to counterattack. Oberlin College anyone?

Posted by: Arie Korving | Aug 16, 2019 4:20:59 AM