WASHINGTON -- Readers of this column are familiar with my argument that a conservative tide is sweeping the country, contrary to the mainstream media. In the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014, the gains made by conservatives have been substantial in governors' mansions and in state legislatures. To be sure, they have been substantial in Washington, too, at the House and Senate level, but I would argue that they have been more consequential at the state level. There, old conventions that have been in place since the left-wing 1960s are being heaved out, and a clamor of protest is being heard from the evicted. It can only get worse.
Since the late 1960s, state universities have established departments and "learning" centers that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with advocacy for a certain narrow points of view -- say minority studies, feminist studies, advocacy for the poor, the people with eating disorders, the chronic bedwetters -- that sort of thing. State governments, too, have allowed taxpayers' dollars to be skimmed off into similar projects. Now state governments, recently taken over by conservative Republicans -- possibly even by tea partiers -- are closing down such boondoggles and provoking howls of indignation from the so-called aggrieved.
Last week, North Carolina made national headlines when its board of governors -- appointed by the Republican-controlled legislature -- shut down the University of North Carolina School of Law's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and two other so-called "academic centers." The board claimed that the shutdowns occurred because the centers were not producing work that was useful to the state's educational goals. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me that all they were producing was propaganda for the failed policies of the past. Why should North Carolinians pay for such propaganda mills as the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and the other two bogus academic institutes, East Carolina University's Center for Biodiversity and North Carolina Central University's Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change. Needless to say, when the board of governors met to announce its decision there were noisy demonstrators and not much civic engagement.
Educators at these North Carolina universities have been complaining about fanciful threats to academic freedom and the specter of political partisanship, but their complaints have come at an awkward time, particularly for the University of North Carolina. It claims to be one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the land, but a recently released study, "Cheated" by Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham, has come up with shocking findings, findings that do not put North Carolina's bogus academic centers in a very good light.
According to the authors of "Cheated," both of whom have been on the university's faculty, during the past two decades the university has tolerated cheating, plagiarism and lax standards such as students taking fake courses, mostly basketball players and football players but also non-athletes. The center for this corruption was none other than the African and Afro-American Studies Department under Prof. Julius Nyang'oro and a department administrator. The book mentions basketball players at the University of North Carolina who could barely read at a third-grade level. Its wider point is that these students were cheated out of an education. They will never have a second chance at higher education, and the vast majority will not go on to play in professional sports.
Other states are, of a sudden, giving close scrutiny to the boondoggles that have burdened their budgets over the years; for instance, in Texas, university regent Wallace Hall has braved the threat of prosecution to blow the whistle on serious corruption. After all, what is a Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity doing on a college campus or an Institute for Civic Engagement? At the University of North Carolina, where reportedly star athletes are proficient in Swahili, some cannot read English at a grammar school level. Is it not time to teach these Tar Heels to read and write while foregoing the Swahili at least until graduate school?