The War on Higher Education Puts America Last

Evergreen State College became embroiled in the recent anti-college uproar.
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Olympia's Evergreen State College became a flashpoint amid protests over alleged institutional racism.

Forget the “war on Christmas.” It’s the war on colleges that you should be concerned about.

Republicans have now turned against higher education. A recent Pew Poll indicated that a majority of Republicans—58 percent—think that colleges and universities are a negative influence on the country. Democrats, on the other hand, are 72 percent positive on higher ed.

We’ve long been told that populism is seeded with anti-intellectualism. Here’s some proof. Worry is that this attitude is also reflected in current policies being pushed by the GOP and the Donald Trump administration. The new Republican tax plan makes getting an advanced degree much more expensive, for example. The denial of the causes of climate change suggest an anti-science stance, as does the cutting of research budgets, much of which would take place at universities.

Some of the anti-college attitude is very recent, and a reversal of mainstream GOP attitudes of only a few years ago. It appears to be the result of relentless assaults on “elites” and outrage over alleged PC behavior on the part of academics and students. Also, political realities: People with a college education are more likely to vote for Democrats these days. According to Pew, the turn against college and universities has occurred since 2015.

Washington state has played a role in both the positive and negatives.

On Fox News, the Evergreen State College in Olympia became a poster child for PC politics run amok. And it’s true that Evergreen is a public college where students and faculty often challenge the status quo. But people who think the colleges and universities are all about political correctness misjudge what really goes on at such institutions. Yes, PC politics can sometimes be frustrating, but such acts are a drop in the bucket compared to the learning that happens, the horizons opened, the minds stimulated every day.

Judging Evergreen—and I am an alum—by its extremes negates the education it provides, the entrepreneurship it promotes, the independence it can cultivate among its students. It’s long been an innovative institution and will always be pushing the envelope.

In Washington state’s territorial days, the story goes, Seattle could have chosen to host one of three major institutions: the territorial capital, the penitentiary or a university. It providentially chose the last of these, and it has been a cultural and economic engine for the city ever since, much more useful than a prison (see Walla Walla) or a legislature (see Olympia).

The University of Washington is not a flawless institution, but it is one of the nation’s top research universities. In science, medicine, tech and general education, it supports the entire region and produces work that impacts the world.

You would think that people who cry “America First” would be leading the charge for higher education, rather than denigrating it, seeing knowledge and innovation as a malign influence. That’s a path that will certainly lead to a place in the world that we can describe as “America Last.”

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