The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Partisan Split on Higher Ed

A Troubling Trend


A new Pew survey reveals that the partisan split that became visible a couple of years ago in public perceptions of American higher education has continued. In the long term, this cannot be good for American colleges and universities.

A lot of American institutions have taken it on the chin in recent years as Americans have become less trusting of any of them. Some of those declines reflect a general eroding of public confidence, but some institutions tend to see a specifically partisan split with supporters of one political party continuing to like that institution as supporters of the other party express dislike. This is not terribly surprising for political institutions like the presidency, which tend to be seen through a partisan lens depending on who currently occupies the White House (though notably this stark partisanship about the presidency is itself a relatively recent development).

Colleges and universities are fairly distinctive in being non-political institutions that are nonetheless seen in increasingly partisan terms. There is an extensive conservative infrastructure now dedicated to publicizing the foibles of academia. Of course, the reality is that college professors and administrators lean heavily to the political left, though this has been true for decades. Republicans now perceive universities as politicized, partisan institutions.

Republicans continue to send their own kids to college. They continue to recognize the personal economic value of a college degree. But if Republicans continue to believe that on the whole universities are damaging American society, they are unlikely to try to defend them against misguided political interventions from the political left and are more likely to propose misguided political interventions of their own. There is probably a limit as to what universities themselves can do to improve the situation, but they would be wise to take a serious look in the mirror and consider how they could win back the confidence of conservative Americans.

Details here.