Republican politicians are angry about public higher education in America. The ideas they and their conservative supporters cherish are repeatedly demonstrated by academic experts to be false.
While every Republican presidential candidate argues that creationism should be taught, either alone or alongside evolutionary biology, biologists at every state university dismiss creationism as nonsense. While every Republican presidential candidate argues that climate change is a hoax, or a natural occurrence, or anyway nothing to worry about, physical scientists in every field at every state university have overwhelming evidence that human-caused global warming could lead to a global disaster.
These are just the most obvious examples of how unhappy Republicans are with the work of America’s professors. Scientists across the disciplines keep demonstrating that industries create health hazards and that fossil fuels contribute to warming. Social scientists around the country discuss how we should deal with the continuing legacy of racism and sexism. Political scientists cast doubt on the Constitutional interpretations Republicans use to justify their political preferences.
Historians keep digging up incidents in our past which discredit the dreamy illusion of America as God’s country and Americans as God’s people. They put words like “race” and gender” into their book titles and courses, when conservatives would rather not think in those categories. They disparage the publications of Ted Cruz’s favorite historian, David Barton, head of Cruz’s super PAC. Barton claims that it is a myth that the Constitution insists on separation of church and state, and whose “historical” research is devoted to proving that the US was founded as a Christian nation.
How can the collective wisdom and work of the best educated people in American society be dismissed as unworthy of attention? The Republican answer: America’s professors advocate these ideas because we are both liberal and dishonest.
It’s not hard to find statistics that show the great majority of professors to be liberal. There must follow another logical step: we pursue our liberal agenda by ignoring evidence, cooking the numbers, and making things up. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael says that evolution is a communist plot. Donald Trump offers a different political reason why science isn’t scientific, but political: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” The extraordinary claim that the world’s climate scientists are engaged in an international conspiracy to tell a big lie is one part of their broader argument that academics are liars.
Across the country Republican politicians are attacking public universities. Governor Scott Walker sought to promote his presidential ambitions by trying to cut the funding of the University of Wisconsin and repudiate its fundamental intellectual mission. He proposed to remove the phrases “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” from the University’s charge, replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs”. The Republican-dominated Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina voted to close UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity because it advocates for the poor, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at historically black North Carolina Central University, because it promotes voter empowerment.
The Board is hiking tuition and capping financial aid, after years of state cuts to higher education spending.
While attacking public universities, Republicans lavish attention on Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Liberty University promotes a “Christian worldview” that “leads people to Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe and their own personal Savior.” Cruz announced his candidacy there, and Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump also spoke there.
Another favorite is Bob Jones University, whose ban on interracial dating lasted into the 21st century. Cruz, Carson, Bush, and Marco Rubio appeared there this month, Cruz and Carson for the second time. BJU scientists say that “claims which contradict scripture cannot be true”, such as that the earth is more than a few thousand years old.
Republican politicians deliver to the American public the idea that every field of knowledge is dominated by political interest, that there is no “science”, only advocacy. Republican know-nothingism has contributed to the assault on vaccines, one of the greatest public health triumphs of the 20th century. Trump has repeatedly claimed that vaccines lead to autism. Ben Carson equivocated about vaccination, saying “we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time”. Carly Fiorina argued against mandatory vaccination, as did Rand Paul, who also claimed that vaccines cause mental disorders.
Public education decreases public ignorance. The Republican attack on institutions of higher learning whose budgets they control, their slandering of our nation’s professors, and their dismissal of the Enlightenment idea that better science means a better society are a comprehensive political strategy to maintain and even increase public ignorance.
Combined with the much more vicious attack on private and public media as politically biased and unreliable, the Republican Party seeks to rule a dumbed-down America. Are we dumb enough to support that?
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, February 16, 2016