While American college campuses often look like war zones on the outside, inside the battle of ideas is eerily quiet because most undergraduates are too afraid to speak up in class.
A recent poll found that a majority of college students agreed that their professors “often” use class time to express personal or political views that are unrelated to the course, 52 percent. Slightly higher majorities said they often “felt intimidated” sharing their views in class because they differed with their professors (53 percent) or fellow classmates (54 percent). This fear seems justified given that one-third of undergraduates believe that using physical violence against someone whose views they find hateful is justified. As James Freeman writes in the Wall Street Journal:
American academicians unfortunately appear to be just as political and overbearing as one would expect. This column isn’t old enough to remember when university faculty were thought to be conscientious adults in loco parentis. But perhaps the actual parents who write checks can someday find some way to encourage more responsible behavior.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman made a similar argument nearly 40 years ago when he quipped that higher education should be taxed to help offset its growing negative impacts, especially politicization.
Higher education officials shouldn’t laugh off such notions.
Today, the American higher education system ranks as one of the world’s most expensive—second only to Luxembourg. Yet a majority of Americans no longer have confidence in higher education and oppose raising taxes to subsidize it.
Most undergraduates tolerate the ideological bullying that goes on in their classrooms because they want a good job after college. The solution? Employers should stop requiring four-year degrees for every job under the sun, as economics professor Bryan Caplan argues in his provocative book The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.
We’ve allowed degree-granting colleges and universities to act as the de facto gatekeepers to the workforce for too long. Employers should work with current and prospective undergraduates directly, plotting out the courses necessary to succeed. Next, employers and undergraduates should contract with each other to pay for them so that undergraduates could work and take the courses that they need to advance.
This scenario is a free-market fix for the college bullies who treat college classrooms and campuses as their own personal fiefdoms.
Students would get the preparation they need for their chosen careers without all the crushing debt. Employers would get highly qualified employees who can actually do their jobs. There would also be powerful pressure on colleges and universities to end the politicization and intimidation on their campuses, or risk losing students and their tuition dollars to intuitions that do.