By Richard Vedder
I should probably not write blogs 12 hours after beginning work, but I am mightily annoyed again, by another example of how universities are emphasizing things that do not resonate well with the American public, and for good reason.
The American Association of Colleges and Universities is run by the very capable Carol Geary Schneider, and is interested in liberal education, a topic on which we need thoughtful dialogue. Today I received an email from AAC&U saying they are renaming and strengthening a publication. The new Diversity & Democracy will "explore questions of race and gender, class and ethnicity, sexual identity and religious identity." Of the four publications of AAC&U, two are on race, class or gender matters. None are on the debate over core curriculum. None are on ways of enhancing efficiency and productivity in the teaching of the humanities.
AAC&U is doing what many colleges do these days --"celebrating diversity" -- as long as diversity is about race, class, gender and sexual orientation. Much attention is placed on whether restrooms are transgender friendly, or whether faculties have an optimal type of skin pigmentation or the proper balance of reproductive organs. Hardly anyone is clamoring for intellectual diversity, the free market in diverse ideas. Colleges are becoming increasingly racist, sexist, and intolerant of those who hold mainstream values. Nationwide, skepticism about the direction of affirmative action at the college level is growing, and voters in states as diverse as Washington and Michigan have put limits on university obsessions with diversity. Even if you believe, however, that affirmative action is an appropriate policy, should we be putting more attention on it than on issues that are of vital concern to the American public, such as the cost of higher education and how to contain its growth?
This leads me to ask, again and again, the question: why do we continue to provide public subsidies to institutions so far removed from the mainstream of our society, institutions that are arrogant and elitist? As the late Milton Friedman put it to me in an email a few years ago, perhaps the time has come to tax universities rather than subsidize them. It is time for them to get back to basics and stop trying to outdo one another on issues that are receding from the forefront of American life as the discrimination and abuse of certain groups that once plagued America dissipates in importance. I have a feeling if we got rid of every affirmative action official, multicultural affairs guru, and diversity coordinator at my university, the relations between groups of students would not change much --and we would save a few million dollars. However, universities live in there own little world, and will continue to do so as long as we write them checks to pay for their questionable idiosyncrasies.