The mission of a university is to discover truth and transmit that essential knowledge to future generations. That has been achieved by what we call in the West the Socratic dialogue—that is, ferreting out what is good, true, and beautiful by testing ideas in an academic setting.
None of that is possible in an educational environment controlled by a Marxist Left that denies the existence of truth, that seeks to stop the transmission of past traditions to future generations, that decries Socrates and Western concepts, and that wages war on beauty.
Now that this Left is entrenched in academia, it uses myriad ways to impose its views and suppress others.
The concept that the good, the true, and the beautiful are transcendental “properties of being” goes back to Plato, Socrates’ disciple. It was explored further by St. Augustine in the transition between antiquity and the Middle Ages and by St. Thomas Aquinas in the High Middle Ages.
Quoting Aristotle recently, Peter Berkowitz rightly noted that the purpose of right education consists of “cultivating the virtues and transmitting the knowledge that enables citizens to preserve their form of government and way of life.”
But the leftists running America’s institutions no longer want such preservation. Rather, they see it as their quest to “decolonize” the university from Western thinking and believe that class time must be used instead to study non-Western (read “victim”) ways and works.
This particular Left, which focuses on culture, has gained ascendancy in universities since the 1980s, when the student radicals of the 1960s discovered that they could carry out their revolutionary mission culturally by taking over academia.
The chant “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go” refers to the time on Jan. 15, 1987, when Jesse Jackson rallied 500 students to march on Stanford University. As Robert Curry at Intellectual Takeout reminds us, “They were protesting Stanford University’s introductory humanities program known as ‘Western Culture.’ For Jackson and the protesters, the problem was its lack of ‘diversity.’ The faculty and administration raced to appease the protesters, and ‘Western Culture’ was formally replaced with ‘Cultures, Ideas, and Values.’”
In the past decade and a half, this destructive mission has been accelerated, first with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, then with the creation of Black Lives Matter in 2013, and finally with BLM’s damaging riots in 2020. The shock was so great that the leaders of key societal institutions surrendered and accepted the facile, but bizarre, notion that America is systemically racist and oppressive and thus in dire need of systemic overhaul.
During this evolution, the culturally Marxist Left has increasingly used racial and sexual characteristics as determinants of victimhood status and thus as reasons for the supposedly aggrieved to tear up the system.
Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 provided a new interpretation of Title IX in its “guidance” on how universities were to judge sexual accusations. John Schoof of The Heritage Foundation explained at the time that this guidance “pressured schools to use the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard of proof rather than the much stronger ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard applied to sexual assault cases in our criminal justice system.” (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
This new guidance soon became “about policing and disciplining speech on campus—especially speech that deviates from the orthodoxy of progressive politics,” as professor Adam Ellwanger explained in 2015.
He was in a position to know. Four years after Obama’s letter, Ellwanger had a Title IX complaint lodged against him because he had not sufficiently “affirmed” a student’s homosexual life choice.
“Title IX in its expanded articulation,” he wrote, “is nothing less than an attempt to advance the ideological objectives of the Left on campus. It has been weaponized to silence dissenting speech and chill open debate of leftist ideology on campus.”
The letter led to a second way in which the new Left polices conservative ideas: the boom in diversity, equity, and inclusion offices. The letter “exploded upon impact into a thousand Offices of Diversity and Inclusion,” wrote Ellwanger.
These DEI offices employ a growing bevy of officers who are nothing more than political commissars, imposing the Left’s view on faculty and students alike. As Heritage’s Jay Greene and I wrote recently, the University of Virginia alone has 94 of these officials, or 6.5 for every 100 tenured or tenure-track faculty members.
A third way (out of many) to suppress thought that does not conform to the Left’s orthodoxy is to demand that faculty sign statements declaring loyalty to DEI and promising to further the mission as a condition of hiring or promotion. These are nothing more than loyalty oaths to the extreme wing of the political spectrum that is dedicated to the victim-oppressor paradigm. They are intended to shut down the Socratic dialogue.
And yet The New York Times informs us that “nearly half the large universities in America require that job applicants write such statements.”
How do we get out of this fix? First, we need to explain to the public what has happened to create a favorable climate of opinion. That is already happening.
Then, political figures must understand that their political longevity depends on delivering solutions. Most universities, public and private, depend on taxpayer money. And the taxpayers have been clear: They want it to pay for the good, the true, and the beautiful.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal