Tag Archives: Ron DeSantis

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.

 

Unprecedented Lunacy

Wow. Just wow. Someone has opened the asylum door….

It’s hard to overstate the lunacy of Trump’s “legal” team defenders. Rudy has been making himself a pathetic figure for several years now, but he isn’t the only bizarre figure who once somehow managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam.

Politico reports on Sydney Powell, recently expelled from those designated as official Trump lawyers for being too wacko even for a group that often seems certifiable.

Sidney Powell released the Kraken. And it turns out the mythological sea beast can’t spell, is terrible at geography and keeps mislabeling plaintiffs in court.

A congressional candidate Powell claimed to represent in one lawsuit said that, in fact, he had nothing to do with Powell or her quixotic effort, which she dubbed “the Kraken,” arguing the election was stolen from President Donald Trump. An expert witness cited in another suit named a nonexistent county in Michigan. A Wisconsin lawsuit sought data on alleged irregularities at a voting center in Detroit, which is in Michigan. And a filing in federal district court signed by Powell misspelled “district” twice in the first few lines.

According to Politico, Powell has, “at least twice,” sued on behalf of a plaintiff who had not agreed to be a part of the case.

Judges reportedly have been flummoxed/bemused by the multiple errors committed by Powell, who has continued crusading to overturn the election results even after she was booted from Trump’s legal team.

Powell and another Trump-supporting lawyer, Lin Wood, are causing chaos in Georgia, in advance of the Senate runoffs there. They have been soliciting donations and urging Republicans not to vote for the GOP candidates in those runoffs, because they say those candidates have been insufficiently supportive of Trump.

Powell and Wood allege a vast conspiracy in which states’ electronic voting systems have been manipulated by a company with ties to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. What has set them apart from Trump’s official legal team, which has offered similarly unsupported claims of fraud, is their willingness to accuse sitting Republican officials of committing crimes to aid Biden’s election.

Pro-Trump crazy hasn’t been limited to lawyers. The Republicans with whom I used to work would be equally appalled by today’s GOP officeholders. Florida Governor DeSantis is a good example of just how detached from competence and reality these people are.

In addition to urging Trump to “fight on,” DeSantis has continued to be one of the President’s staunchest supporters. He has publicly urged Republican-controlled Legislatures in Pennsylvania and Michigan to overturn results in those states. He also has accused Chief Justice John Roberts of undefined “crazy stuff.” (Perhaps, in addition to being a Trump ally, he has taken vocabulary lessons from The Donald.)

DeSantis’ lack of competence has been most damaging, of course, in his refusal to follow medical advice with respect to the pandemic. In a recent speech, he criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its “ridiculous” studies on the Covid-19 outbreak, which he said were more about “affirming” the positions of “bureaucrats” than science.

I don’t think this guy can spell science. He has steadily resisted imposing state-level restrictions on gatherings or mandating–or even encouraging– mask-wearing, even as Florida has reported more than 1 million cases.

If DeSantis were the only Republican governor inhabiting an alternate reality, you might chalk up his election to the fact that Florida voters include lots of elderly folks with dementia, but there are several others. Just last week, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has refused to issue a mask mandate, declared a “day of prayer and fasting” for those affected by the pandemic. (I thought God helped those who helped themselves…)

And that, of course, leads me back to my recurring question: who believes these clowns? Who takes them seriously?

Evidently, thousands, perhaps even millions, of people do–they send money to the demented lawyers, vote for the science-and-expertise-rejecting politicians. They post comments to Facebook asserting that an election that was won by over seven million votes was somehow “rigged,” and that failure to acknowledge that “fraud” is to believe “fake news.”

If there’s a psychiatrist reading this blog, can you weigh in and explain the appeal of obvious lunacy? Because I really, truly do not get it.