A Liberal Professor On the GOP’s Higher Ed Platform
“The status quo is not working.” That’s the message Republican delegates attached to a party platform detailing several policy goals affecting higher education that was formally approved on Tuesday night at the GOP convention in Tampa. Citing the ever-rising cost of college — student loan debt rose $914 billion in the second quarter — convention speakers particularly highlighted the need for “lending support to new learning systems that compete with traditional four-year colleges,” says the Chronicle of Higher Education.
These alternatives are
- community colleges and technical institutions
- private training schools
- online universities
- life-long learning (rather vague, this one)
- work-based learning in the private sector
Not surprisingly, Republicans want the private sector to play a greater role in providing college education for students and also in funding it by restoring the sort of bank-based lending program that Congress ended in 2010. Rather than the federal government itself providing student loans, the GOP wants it to serve as an “serve as an insurance guarantor for the private sector as they offer loans to students.”
That is, if a private sector institution fails, the government can pick up the tab? That’s a scenario that sounds familiar — ever heard of a bank getting a government bailout? — and ill-advised.
Universities, Those Bastions of Leftist Ideology!
Well, that’s my opinion but you would hardly think I’d be a bank-loving free-enterprise favoring capitalist. I’m a so-called “tenured radical,” which position I made clear in my title, as the Republican platform makes especial mention of a liberal “ideological bias” that is “deeply entrenched within the current university system” and the need to combat this and save our children.
In particular, says the GOP platform, the trustees of public institutions “have a responsibility to the public to ensure that their enormous investment is not abused for political indoctrination.” Accordingly, state officials must
…ensure that our public colleges and universities be places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.
As the Chronicle of Higher Education, points out, the 2008 Republican platform similarly criticized “leftist dogmatism that dominates” on many college campuses.
The platform’s claim that faculty could be subjecting students to “political indoctrination” smacks of conspiracy theories of an earlier era. I can’t vouch (I don’t think anyone could) for the political persuasion and positions of faculty at my own institution or in the US as a whole. Teaching students to think critically for themselves is a fundamental of university teaching.
While myself a liberal, I teach a supra-traditional subject, Classics, to many students who don’t agree at all with my position on (to name a potentially inflammatory topic when you’re teaching seminarians) abortion. My students want to learn to read Latin and ancient Greek and I want to teach them to learn these dead languages that we can sit and read ancient writers together rather than going through yet another verb tense. We focus on the grammar, we get along and when, a sensitive topic comes up, we know that we may disagree about many things. But we already have learned how to talk to each other and we share a love of learning, in our different ways.
I will note that (good news for the GOP), there are indeed educational institutions in the US that don’t exactly have such a liberal bias. They do tend to be private ones, Ave Maria University or Christendom College (as you can see from the names of those schools, they are religiously affialiated).
Let’s Get Some Facts Straight
The Republican platform also said that students considering colleges should be better-informed about their financial prospects as well as colleges’ degree-completion rates and loan-repayment rates.
The Obama Administration has been working to ensure that students know about just this sort of information. The Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center seeks to help students and their parents make sound decisions about the costs of college.
Students should also keep in mind that data reveals that the majority of students in default attended for-profit schools and that graduates of for-profit schools “lag behind their peers in earnings and employment.” Indeed, a report has shown that the “same kind of lending frenzy that created the subprime-mortgage crisis also fueled a dangerous boom in private student loans.”
Some information Republicans have not been so forthcoming about is how many of them have benefited from federal student loans. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the fathers of both New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Senator Rick Santorum went to college on the GI Bill.
Which brings me to another skill a teacher strives to teach, that of doing research and of dealing with facts and information thoughtfully, critically and comprehensively, even when they do not cohere with your own viewpoint. As FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact.com have found, Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan made a couple of errors in his speech on Wednesday night.
Since you know where I stand politically, I’ll just say it: It seems he could benefit from a refresher course about research methods?
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