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How the Tea Party Delayed the Political Indoctrination of America’s College Students

May 4, 2011

By Dr. Richard Bishirjian and Dr. Peter Wood1

As academic administrators and instructors who closely follow Obama Administration higher education policies, Dr. Peter Wood and I are fearful that President Obama will further politicize higher education.

The key is federal regulations governing federally subsidized student loans. These regulations almost all trace their beginning back to the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, one part of which—Title IV—set up the basic structure of federal control over colleges and universities that President Obama seems intent on expanding. Title IV, enacted with President Lyndon Johnson’s blessings, stipulated that to receive the dollars that students borrowed with federal help, the colleges would have to be “accredited,” and the accreditation would have to come from bodies chartered by the U.S. Department of Education. This might sound like a round-about way to exert federal authority over higher education, but it worked. Only two colleges in the U.S. that we know of—Grove City and Hillsdale—have dared to forego access to federal student loans.

During the Great Society era of the Johnson Administration, the president of the United States enjoyed majorities in both houses of Congress which steamrollered the opposition and engaged in a massive expansion of federal government power and programs. Did President Johnson imagine that if he could control the financing of higher education, he would ultimately be able to control its content? Certainly he understood the idea of turning formerly independent institutions into clients that are dependent on an uninterrupted flow of government largesse. After almost fifty years of such largesse in the form of federal financing of college tuition, we are at a point where all the pieces of a comprehensive politicization of America’s college students are in place.

And president Obama was poised to do exactly that by requiring compulsory community service from every student who draws upon federal subsidized tuition loans and grants. Poised, but just before he could carry out the plan, he got that famous “shellacking” from the Tea Party activists.

We are scholars, not Tea Party activists, but we are relieved that the Tea Party arrived when it did. The problem with requiring “community service” in exchange for federal student loans is the near certainty that the community service in question would prove a backdoor to propagandizing students to support the various left-wing causes favored by a large majority of college and university administrations. Community service can mean a multitude of things, of course, from ladling in a soup kitchen to minding the kids at the shelter for battered women.

But on a hunch we’d say it is more likely to include a clean needle exchange for drug addicts than volunteering with the Minute Men to keep watch for illegal immigrants crossing the border. More likely to include efforts to spot recyclables in people’s regular trash than efforts to catch the placement of NOAH temperature reporting devices next to heating vents. More likely to include programs at Planned Parenthood than programs at crisis pregnancy centers.

Higher education is skilled at this game, and even has developed a theory for it. The theory is that students need to be “transformed” from the supposedly naïve narrow-minded sons and daughters of complacent middleclass families into “aware” progressively-minded activists. Some universities such as the University of Delaware have put in place dorm-based programs aimed precisely at breaking the independent will of students to get to them to conform to the political standards that the campus official prefer. At Delaware, they called this process—without a trace of irony—”the treatment.”

The professional group that represents residence hall and student activities “professionals” is the American College Personnel Association, ACPA, which has been honing programs of this sort for some twenty years. ACPA members are ensconced on campuses everywhere and many of its programs are flagrantly political in character.

We expect that if President Obama had his way, ACPA-style community organizers would be getting their way. And that would mean that if your children or grandchildren are taking a federal loan to go to college they would become even more vulnerable to forced indoctrination in programs centered on the idea that traditional American values are an obstacle to overcome and that every student is a ripe material for enlistment in the armies of progressivism.

It is a danger for the moment averted, but the conditions that gave rise to it are still present.

1Dr. Richard Bishirjian is President of Yorktown University, Denver, Colorado and Dr. Peter Wood is President of the National Association of Scholars, Princeton, New Jersey

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