Why Republicans Hate Higher Education

Most recent coverage of “elite” colleges and universities has revolved around the much-derided performances of three college presidents at a congressional hearing on campus anti-semitism. I addressed that testimony–and the basis for finding it unsatisfactory–yesterday.

But as an article from the Washington Post reminds us, 

This was not the week’s only development in the intersection of higher education and politics, however. An assessment from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and reporting from the Chronicle of Higher Education both delineated the extent to which the efforts of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to reshape education in his state have constricted educational opportunities, spooked instructors and threatened academic freedom. Those reports, despite affecting far more students, attracted much less attention.

The university system in Florida educates more than seven times the number of students in the three schools represented by those university presidents, and a report by AAUP summarizes the extent of the damage done by Governor DeSantis in his relentless attack on higher education in his state.

Academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance in Florida’s public colleges and universities currently face a politically and ideologically driven assault unparalleled in US history, which, if sustained, threatens the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state, with dire implications for the entire country.

The report detailed the legislative and executive efforts that resulted in changes not just to the leadership but also to the governing structures of the state’s universities–changes aimed at reversing efforts to expand diversity, and actually blocking the study of certain subjects, especially those implicating race.

As a number of media outlets have reported, professors are leaving the state in increasing numbers, and thanks to widespread recognition of what is happening to Florida’s universities, it has become difficult to recruit competent replacements.

The obvious question that arises is: why? What is the reason for the GOP’s animus toward higher education? Because–although DeSantis is “out front” in the assault– that animus is not confined to Florida. (For that matter, it isn’t confined to higher education–Republicans in numerous states have been waging an on-going war on the nation’s public schools.)

The linked article, written by Philip Bump, addresses the reasons for that animus.

It’s worth pointing out why this is a focus for DeSantis. Why is he trying to reshape higher education in Florida? What’s the problem he’s ostensibly trying to fix?
There are at least two clear, overlapping answers.

The first is that DeSantis, like many on the right, believe that colleges and universities deserve specific blame for the generally liberal political views of younger Americans. Young people are more liberal than older people, and young people are also more likely to have attended college. So it has become an article of faith on the right — despite a dearth of supporting evidence — that colleges are turning young people into liberals. And that, therefore, colleges need to be overhauled and their instructors scrutinized and purged.

This idea is not limited to colleges, it’s worth pointing out. The right regularly assumes that those who don’t share its politics must have been brainwashed somehow by someone. It seems likely that this is, in part, a function of the increasingly closed information universe in which the political right sits, the “epistemic closure” of right-wing media and rhetoric in which assumptions are often unquestioned and unchallenged. If every observer you track agrees with you about an issue and every source of information you consume is in consensus, anyone who disagrees must somehow have fallen victim to some liberal Svengali. Like a professor, say.

The other reason DeSantis is targeting higher education is that college education often serves as a proxy for being in the “elite,” a member of the nebulously bounded class of Americans that is viewed with disdain (or worse) by the political right. That’s particularly true of those who attended schools such as Harvard, a school whose name is functionally synonymous with elitism. House Republicans brought Ivy League presidents to answer questions about antisemitism in part because of reported incidents on their campuses and in part because they are ready-made punching bags for the Republican base.

There is something sad–tragic, actually–about people who are threatened by science, by empiricism, by the very process of intellectual inquiry. Worse still, those threatened people actively resent anyone who is engaged in that inquiry–but they especially resent those who excel in it.

Their motto might as well be “We real Americans don’t need no smarty-pants!”

The cult that was once a political party doesn’t just want to replace democracy with a theocratic autocracy. It wants to take humanity back to the Dark Ages, where the GOP base will feel comfortable.


  1. In Kokomo a person’s question (in 1978) exemplifies the prejudice against people whom one might refer to as intellectuals: “You ever know of a [5-letter word that begins with the letter Q] who couldn’t read?”

  2. When the dumb asses went after the UW System in Wisconsin, researches started loading their research and heading for more rational states like MN. People get to vote with their feet. FL will loose a lot by being so stupid.

  3. Nothing illustrates this backward march better than the movie “Inherit The Wind” staring Spencer Tracy. It is as relevant today as the day it was made. And for perspective, we are faced with the fact that this tendency to march backward has always been there, hidden mostly but ever-present just waiting for a new leader to take us all to some imagined promised land.

  4. Once again we see a page from the Nazi playbook, circa 1933. Indoctrinate. Eliminate. Terrorize.

    So what if professors leave Florida and/or Texas? What good does that do anyone BUT Republicans. Indeed, it would seem, theoretically, that suppressing education would drive more young people away from right-wing idiots like DeSantis and whatever passes for human in Texas politics.

    I will continue to raise the specter of a second hairball presidency: Those of us who spoke out against this horror will become targets of the retribution. After the monstrosity gets through destroying the Constitution and all the government apparatus that maintains the guardrails against a psychopathic leadership, they will come for us. After all, liberals are poisoning the blood of our country, right?

    Let Ian stew on that while bashing anybody and anything that opposes his view… good soldier that he is. Will guys like that actually hold the flag while they pledge their oath of fealty to the worst human being since Hitler?

  5. “The obvious question that arises is: why?” The current Trump neo-Republican caucus cannot afford to have higher educated people than themselves sitting in judgement on their fight for dictatorship.

    Thank you, Theresa; that court scene in “Inherit The Wind” is as timely today as when the actual “monkey trial” happened in Tennessee decades ago. The pompous, Bible thumping anti-science public rallied around creation as truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, fiction that ruled their lives. It continues today, renewed by the fervor of White Nationalism.

  6. In in some times and places democracy can be turned into tyranny by creating politically, tribes at “war”.

    The reasons people are easily led there are many. Race, religion, regionality, country of origin, wealth, or “class”, formal vs informal education.

    Democracy leaves who governs up to a majority of voters. Political divisiveness can create alliances that jointly become a majority.

    Donald Trump is a slow learner but listens to lawyers because he has to trust them to keep him wealthy and free.

    Some lawyers defend the obviously guilty to ensure they get trials by law not public sentiment.

  7. It seems Republican animus towards general public education is because they want all government money funneled to churches. I assume if public education began to require prayer everyday (to a Christian God, obviously), the objection to public education would go away.

    The anger at colleges (at least partly) seems to be based on the fact the the college/university system involves general education, rather than just job training. If you want to create a a large group of worker bees, not much reason to allow them literature, history, science, philosophy, etc. Colleges (ideally) create a whole, thinking person. Not much good for the “shut up and work” crowd.

  8. I don’t know who to feel worse for… those who are aware all of this is going on or those who have no idea. Frankly, all of this gives me the chills.

  9. Even if Trump doesn’t win in 2024, we are still in deep shit because his thousands of minions will be outraged to the max (as he will once again tell them “his” election was “stolen”) and they will go crazy. And, I’ll say it again, these folks are the ones that own the majority of the AR15s. So, folks, prepare to hunker down as I “see a bad moon arisin’!”

    BTW – does anyone have an idea as to why NH gov Sununu endorsed Nikki Haley for president?

  10. “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

    — Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951)

  11. I think Bump’s analysis hits the key point. But, a secondary point is that colleges tend to make people less religious. To true believers of eternal hellfire, sending children to college is terrifying, of course. I think the ones unhappy about the potential political changes are happy to abuse this fact to increase the fear of the religious among them.

  12. No, Kathy, “minions” works just fine.
    I do not think that if prayer were allowed in public education the right-wing nuts would be happy, as long as the education taught people how to engage in critical thinking. That, I believe, is what scares the heck out of them, because critical thinking can, heaven forbid, lead to questioning, lead away from blind faith.
    Vernon, that title, much as Trump might have a weird love of it, as in being best at being worst, might belong to Idi Amin, and others like him, but Trump is certainly in that camp.

  13. Many years ago, while enjoying the 19th hole at my golf club, an ongoing discussion inquired of me: “Why are most college professors so liberal?” Promptly , I answered with deliberate emphatic vigor: “Because they ARE SMART!”. Which resulted in a room full of laughter of a nature that put the joke in them.

  14. Florida’s educational system is in bad shape because the governor wants to be President, so he goes out of his ways to stir up animosity among the Republican base. Castigating college faculty members is basically reaching for the low-hanging fruit, because most people have no idea what the average college instructor does in class, but they are sure that people with several degrees must be at best, socialists, and at worst, communists. Can you imagine “wokeness” being spread in a class in Physics, or French Literature (in French), or Economics, or Differential Equations?

  15. When the researchers leave, the money leaves with them. I’m pretty familiar with University of Florida’s medical research program and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the loss of NIH funding alone would be devastating.

  16. I have to wonder whether those “lib” professors will simply be replaced by “conservative ones”. This might be another step in not only making the whole state “red”, but keeping it that way from K-college.

  17. MAGAs have their own: Bob Jones U, Liberty U, Cedarville U, Grove City College, Samford U, Hillsdale College and many more (I left out the long list with Christian in their name.)

  18. The Khmer Rouge targeted anyone who wore eyeglasses.

    We are witnessing a rural peasants’ revolution in 21st Century America.

  19. My sense is that multiple issues are tied in with what you are referring to including:
    1. Super-Wealthy/Powerful – working together – with “accomplices”
    2. Christian Hegemony – Christian Evangelicals + (some) Catholic – forces
    3. The Changing – Demographics – from white – male – protestant – northern/NE dominated to a world increasingly BIPOC – more Southern/SW – where we still have “affirmative action” – keeping the (Patriarchal)males – in elite schools (note: Tulane U – didn’t discriminate against Women – and its class is 2/3 Female (appearing) – while Harvard/Yale etc. stay close to 50/50 – by clear gender discrimination tied to:
    4. Fear – Hatred Building – with large cities – “liberal” and the rest of the country – “conservative” – a Divide that has built up over decades of Movement to The Right – towards Fascism
    The New Yorker often warns us. The New York Times – and other “liberal voices” – including CNN and MSNBC – look for PROFITS – and they warn us – but also thrive monetarily on the Profits to be made from Division. PROFIT – in our Culture – is Money made over the “long term” which is less than a year generally. There are Plenty of Incredible books – complementing each other – such as: White Flight… – Kevin Kruse, Paul Tough’s “The Years That Matter Most…”, The Color of Law… (Rothstein), J Stiglitz (only a Nobel Laureate) – People, Power and Profits…, and Hochschild’s – Stranger in Their…
    Underneath – these realities – we – who are Upper-Middle Class White Cis – can criticize – while the Black, Queer, Working Class People – Both are stuck trying to Survive and are the One’s Doing the Most Organizing. I’m “different” – in that my Black, Female, Queer Partner – realistically – recognizes that we may need to flee our Homeland – our Black – Gender-Non-Binary – Severely Physically Limited almost 28 year old – can’t “wait it out” – like I could! I write and try to Organize- We Do Need to Build – Alliances and Community! There is no Single Answer! Gaza – Trump – Bezos – Musk – Johnson – Graham and their/its ilk – teach us a lot – but Do We LISTEN? – I’m happy to dialogue!!!

  20. Sheila mentioned empiricism.
    Think of the irony (or sadness, your choice) of these “Real Americans” hating the one school of philosophy with purely American roots.

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