If DeVos is really hostile to higher education, she should double down on the liberal follies of the last 8 years.
One of Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics is that “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Odd as this may sound, it seems to have pretty good predictive power. And President Obama’s Department of Education seems like a good example.
Higher education, after all, is one of the Democratic Party’s biggest sources of support: Financial (according to Open Secrets, 4 of the top 10 organizations furnishing donors to the Obama 2012 campaign were universities: The University of California was #1, ahead of Google, and the others were Harvard, Stanford and Columbia), ideological (faculties lean far-left and the lefty faculty members tend to be much more outspoken, on average, than the conservative or libertarian faculty), and grassroots, with students, faculty and administrators serving as foot-soldiers (sometimes with university funding) for Democratic candidates and causes. And as Case Western University law professor George Dent notes, “Most state colleges and universities now serve as political action committees for the left, and their political spending dwarfs that of all other PACs.”
So you’d expect the Obama Department of Education to be doing whatever it could to nurture, support, and protect colleges and universities. But instead, it seems to be acting almost as if it were controlled by . . . a cabal of its enemies.
For example, in the area of Title IX enforcement Obama’s Department of Education has taken a statute that simply reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” and turned it into an Orwellian nightmare of what Harvard law professors Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk call "bureaucratic sex creep.”
As a new book by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor, Jr., The Campus Rape Frenzy, makes clear, the results have been bad for victimized students (almost always male), but they’ve also been bad for colleges and universities, producing horrible publicity, a growing number of expensive lawsuits, and increased trouble recruiting male students for what is increasingly becoming a pink-collar higher education system. This “rape frenzy” wasn’t the product of anti-sex religious fundamentalists, but of hard-core gender-war feminists. And Obama has doubled down by, at the very last minute, appointing a new, hardline head for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which oversees this debacle. She can be expected to double down, unless Trump replaces her.
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And, in many other ways, the Department of Education’s pro-diversity efforts have — entirely deliberately — fostered a climate of racial balkanization and division on campus. Again, the results have empowered a small number of student “activists” and administrators, but with destructive, and sometimes genuinely disastrous results. That's that case at the University of Missouri which has seen enrollments and donations plummet by astonishing amounts, genuinely disastrous results.
Most recently, the Department of Education struck the Charlotte School of Law off the eligibility list for federal student aid, because of its graduates’ low bar passage rate. That’s pretty much a death blow. But why Charlotte, and why now?
Well, there’s a good argument, as education expert George Leef notes in Forbes, that we have too many law schools and that we should thin the herd. But as another expert I discussed this with noted, there are probably ten or fifteen other law schools that are just as strong candidates for this treatment as Charlotte. Charlotte is a for-profit school, and the Obama administration has been notably hostile to for-profit education in general, but the precedent set here is just as applicable to traditional “nonprofit” schools, many of whom also have lousy records at having their students pass the bar and find gainful employment.
Much of the hoopla about Trump education nominee Betsy DeVos has involved her views on K-12 education, though some critics have, absurdly, complained that her donation to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties outfit that has, among other things, opposed the Title IX kangaroo sex courts on many campuses, is somehow disqualifying. The critics fear that she’ll reverse course on Obama’s education program.
But if DeVos is really hostile to higher education, she should probably just double down on these Obama policies. Because that would probably do more damage than anything she has in the works.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.