Corrupting The University

In order to take control of a country, zealots have to undermine not just people who may have been educated to be independent thinkers, but the very idea and legitimacy of a liberal education. Those intent upon spreading belief in “the Big Lie,” for instance, must attack the institutions committed to truth-seeking and a commitment to verifiable evidence.

So we see the escalating attacks on knowledge, on science , on expertise. We see a co-ordinated effort to replace the very concept of education with the far less threatening goal  of job training.

And we see unremitting attacks on the nation’s universities.

I spent twenty-one years as a faculty member at a public university, and I would be the last person to claim that all is well in academia. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can–indeed, should–be leveled: bloated administrations, too-cozy relationships with moneyed donors, a knee-jerk tendency to “cancel” proponents of currently unpopular positions, and a depressing willingness to equate academic success with job placement statistics.

That said, the degree to which the GOP is waging war on education–at both the public school and college levels–  seems unprecedented.

I’ve previously posted about former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the University of Wisconsin–including his attempt to change the century-old mission of the University system by removing language about the “search for truth” and “improving the human condition” and replacing those phrases with “meeting the state’s workforce needs.”

At least Walker understood the need to be sneaky.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–a poster boy for today’s GOP–hasn’t bothered to hide his animus for science, truth and higher education. The results have been ugly.

A special panel created by the faculty at the University of Florida has completed a review of the academic environment there, and what it has to say is not flattering.  As The Miami Herald reports, the report shows that academics in Florida live in a literal state of fear; one where they don’t dare tell the truth out of fear of reprisals from Gov. Ron DeSantis. That’s particularly true when it comes to revealing the facts about COVID-19.

The report makes it clear that researchers felt a great deal of outside pressure in preparing research information for publication. That sometimes meant that information was delayed, or not published at all. In some cases, scientists were told not to reveal their affiliation with the university when releasing information, or to take the University of Florida name off presentations.

All because they were not allowed to do anything that could be viewed as criticizing DeSantis, or policies related to COVID-19. Faculty in the university’s Health Department were warned that funding might be “in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles.”

DeSantis’ attacks went well beyond his approach to COVID.

Course descriptions, websites, and other materials concerning the study of race and privilege had to be hidden, altered, or removed. The persecution in this area became so ridiculous that instructors were told:

“The terms ‘critical’ and ‘race’ could not appear together in the same sentence or document.”

Much of this bullying has occurred “under the radar,” but a few months ago, national media reported that the University of Florida was prohibiting three professors from testifying as experts in a lawsuit challenging a new law restricting voting rights. The prohibition was justified by the the University on the grounds that “it goes against the school’s interest by conflicting with the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.”

There was a sufficient outcry that the University reversed that decision, but it is blindingly obvious that less well-publicized efforts to “get along” with the Governor remain in place.

It isn’t only Florida.

At a time when University Presidents are chosen more for their fundraising abilities than for their devotion to scholarship, some are using their authority to simply remove inconvenient scholarship from  their institutions. Here in Indianapolis, the administration of Marian University has simply eliminated its department of political science. 

The school’s administration has failed to offer a rationale for removing political science, a program with as many declared majors as most other liberal arts programs on campus —and which you would think is especially important, given the troubled state of U.S. political life–and especially since the faculty vociferously opposed the decision. The linked report notes that no other major was targeted for elimination.

The dispassionate pursuit of science, evidence and “inconvenient”  knowledge is being targeted by ideologues, autocrats and their facilitators. To the extent that they are successful, this country is in deep, deep trouble.


  1. I was a political science major at DePauw University. I’ve reflected on my major many times over the years. It’s appalling that a department would be eliminated for what one may reasonably infer is an act of deterrence of dissent. There should be dialogue about whether poly sci should be a major apart from history, philosophy and various aspects of statistics. Polling methods had become a focus by the time I graduated. Such methods are important if we are to fight various forces of what only can be called “evil” in today’s system, but “stat” and epidemiology are disciplines apart from politics and government. The nature of goverment, and the need for it, are what I thought poly sci would be.

  2. Higher education is heading for a reckoning and I suspect lawsuits will accompany many of the governor’s attacks as parents/students begin suing over the high price paid for inflated diplomas.

    The government was asked to cancel student debt for many reasons but I suspect one of the most basic is their kids didn’t receive a college-level education after spending $50K in loans.

    I could go on but COVID-19 related issues are more nuanced and will expose academia and media for the complicity. It will also expose the healthcare industry for fraud and Big Pharma for corrupting the health industry and academic sciences.

    In case you haven’t read Robert Kennedy’s book on Fauci and Big Pharm, do yourself a favor for Xmas. I download it on Audible because you can’t find it on bookshelves. All it did was confirm my suspicions and make me upset that my older sister has been hospitalized twice for inflammation around her heart and lungs after the second Pfizer jab.

    I expect HUGE lawsuits coming all across the nation and beyond the borders. Stay tune…

  3. Zo, vats neu? In 1978 or so, my memory has always been faulty, John Ryan, President of IU, declined to provide an analysis of the Indiana economy to Governor Bowen because it might not be favorably received and the University depended on the Governor’s support for its budget request. Incidentally, my research assistant at the time, who did wonderful work on the report, today heads the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which is not always in accord with Governor. The report, and today’s Chamber, supported stronger measures to develop Indiana’s economy, despite current feelings by political leaders that the state is riding high.

  4. Todd, I’m going out on a limb here but have you noticed there has been and is a co-ordinated attack on Dr. Fauci by the trump loving, truth fearing fascist right and the usual suspects in the anti-vaccine movement? I’m not saying the man is a Saint but he was, and remains, a voice of reason and sanity. Although he has made mistakes he acted quickly to correct them when the science showed something was wrong and his information has saved thousands of lives in the current pandemic. That isn’t something one can say about anti-vaxxers like RFK jr. or team trump.

  5. The Trump team is anti-government and our corrupted government IS the problem. So, yes, I’ve noticed.

    However, their solution is no government so the free market dictates. That is the Koch solution and has been since FDR made their daddy pay for the New Deal.

    Most on the right are being manipulated by the media because the agenda of the Koch’s isn’t really popular, so they have to manipulate.

    Well, the DNC is owned by Wall Street and does the exact same thing.

    The bottom line is Big Pharma owns Dr. Fauci and our government. Big Pharma owns the doctors too. They also own the media.

    As you watch this unwind, you will see the truth and it’s going to be ugly to gaze upon. Academia will get very bloody as well. IU Health will take it on the nose for colluding with the government over Big Pharma.

    The doctors have been forced to go against their own Hippocratic Oath for decades. It’s all unraveling as we speak.

    As the sunlight begins to rain down from the heavens…the truth will be revealed. 😉

  6. When someone starts talking about the”you will see the truth” sides with anti-vaxxers who have no education in virology and tries to deflect from topic of an article… QANON anyone?

  7. Todd, I disagree with your comments about Tony Fauci and I can tell you that big pharma isn’t controlling the research being done by physicians and PhDs on the medical issues that face us all. There is a reasonably rigorous peer review requirement, so an investigator (that’s what we call the researchers) has to convince a committee of his/her peers in that specific area of study. If they get approval, there are additional approvals that are required for animal or human studies. Big Pharma is NOT represented on any of the committees. One of the requirements for funding is benefit to the public or, in the case of the VA, the veteran population.

  8. I taught in higher ed for 20 years and never found a “liberal” college or university. Instead they were full of right wing hate mongers who made it quite clear they did not like my liberal politics and social stance.

  9. St Augustine argued, I have read, that the public ought not be educated, and I argue, for the very same reasons academia
    is under attack, here. Pres. GWB was against using certain words that referred to some of the reality in the world that he did not like.
    I thought that that was an egregiously undemocratic, imbeclilic thing to do, but Bubba was the president (thanks to Florida politics), not me.
    Trump “outlawed” a little bunch of words, DeSantis has followed suit, the dumbing down runs apace, and the dolts were out there storming
    the bastions of our social experiment!
    Carl Sagan wrote about his “Bullshit detector,” and if he had one working today, it would be screaming like a banshee!

  10. How many ubber wealthy people, intent on harvesting the maximum wealth produced by workers in a country, does it take to render the country a third world economy? I believe that it could be one but let’s agree that it’s a small number.

    We know in the US that this plot now includes the Murdoch and Koch and DeVos and Trump families. There are probably others in on and supportive of the strategy. It grew from seed but the exact start is hard to pinpoint exactly but Fox Entertainment Media has been part of it since Rupert Murdoch bought it.

    The plot includes the Tea Party that most people regard as grassroots but this tells the story better.

    Now it has morphed into the “Moms for Liberty”.

    Same pedigree. Same M.O. Same funding?

    The key product of this effort is to foster blame by maintaining anger. Sounds so simple, right? But we learned long ago how effective it is at bringing a country to its collective knees. All it takes is wealth and will.

    This is how the few forge a country that is theirs from a democracy.

  11. Education needs to be a place where students are free to raise questions and are encouraged to engage in the process of critical thinking. In a democratic society, such educational principles are essential to the health of the democracy.

    I note that President Biden picked a vice president who openly challenged him in the debate when she was still running for president about his past choices as a senator on legislatives bills that addressed racism and the need for desegregation in our public schools. DeSantis, Abbott, and the former president want agreeable automatons not people who were trained to openly question and debate issues. They want people who will believe anything they tell them.

    All universities should be free to encourage their students to raise questions and debate issues in the public forum. An educational system that creates brainwashed automatons will serve a dictator like Mao Tse Tung.

  12. Honest to goodness Professor!

    If your commenters continue to push contempt against Dr. Fauci, I’m going to blow a gasket! This virus is worldwide and it’s not about Dr. Fauci! We need to get control of it already. I don’t know what it’s going to take but these conspiracy theorists are really hurting people. All. Over. The. World.

    I swear, the only saving grace is that most of these idiots will get the virus and hopefully shut the hell up already by dying off. Good riddance!

  13. The move by the Marian U. president to deep-six the poly sci dept–a dept with lots of students and doing well–appears to be the product of personal spite directed at faculty in the department.

    By the way, no local news outlets covered this nefarious act, or none that I have seen. The Marian president made his move knowing it would get little or no notice in today’s news media. This goes back to the hollowing out of local news reporting that Prof. Kennedy has commented on.

  14. AgingLGirl, Theresia, Jeffrey: you are right. I’m a scientist, and Fauci is one of my scientific heroes; he steadfastly embodies what a scientist is in the face of ignorance and the constant stream of malignant misinformation, typified by the likes of RFK Jr., QAnon, Fox, Rand Paul and the other sycophants of our 1st orange president), etc.

    Steve: I don’t know, but I imagine you’re right, too, about Elsner. Being a somewhat disgruntled and definitely elderly alumnus, I could go on and on about Marian U, and Dan Elsner’s personality cult, the shortchanging of the Medical School (which is actually something Elsner can take pride in), the enormous debt, but that’s a discussion for another forum; I’m getting too worked up and have had to stifle myself several times over the last few minutes. Happy and Merry to all.

  15. Thanks ThSh, PH, and ALG! With you all the way! Sometimes I wonder just who some of these people are anyhow. It’s really dark where they are. Really dark!

  16. What is feared by the likes of DeSantis was summed up by my old sociology professor, the late Jesse Pitts, decades ago.
    He stated – the real purpose of a college education is to have the students develop a “crap detector”.

    DeSantis, Trump, Walker, and the likes would be totally tuned out if people had working crap detectors – they’d be known as the B**** Boys (pick your adjective – I’ll be nice and go with balderdash)

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