Ben Carson wants to put the nation’s federally funded colleges and universities on double-secret probation.
The genial neurosurgeon and Republican presidential hopeful told our editorial board this week that he would direct federal education officials to investigate claims of “extreme bias” on campuses leveled by students or faculty members. He insists it could be liberal or conservative bias, but I have a feeling the guy who once compared Obamacare to slavery isn’t all that worried about rightward excess.
He first rolled out the idea last fall. I figured he might have dropped it. Not a chance.
“I think our institutions of higher education are supposed to be just that, a place where ideas can be explored,” Carson said. “And when we have situations where faculty members and administration try to shut down certain areas, and don’t even want to talk about them, and intimidate the students who want to do so, if those people want public funding, I think that’s inappropriate.
“And if complaints are received in a consistent basis that that is the case, I think that needs to be investigated. And if in fact that is true, then I think those funds should be deprived,” Carson said.
Carson said details would have to be worked out, but they may not be shared because he doesn’t want the purveyors of extreme bias to know how they’re being watched. He told the Des Moines Register editorial board a day earlier the monitoring of campus speech would be done “surreptitiously.” That’s in secret, for all you non-English majors.
He compared it to a “secret shopper,” except with full federal authority.
I’m not surprised a conservative candidate for president thinks liberalism is running amok on college campuses. Pretty standard stuff in the red-blue wars.
But channeling outrage over what conservatives complain is leftist academic thought police targeting conservatives into a plan creating federal thought police targeting liberals is a really bad idea, stuffed with irony, and served with a side of the creeps.
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It’s a bad idea that’s astounding even in a campaign that’s seen Ted Cruz cook bacon on the barrel of a machine gun and Donald Trump speak in public. You really have to work hard to stand out.
And you have to wonder how Carson’s secret investigation idea would work. Who decides what “extreme bias” is, exactly? Doc Carson? A federal political bias commission? A secret bias court? A consortium of conservative commentators? An academic funding death panel?
Regardless, so much of this campus angst, from “safe zones” and “trigger warnings” to Carson’s surreptitious bias hunt is fresh evidence of the breathtaking lengths we’ll now go to save ourselves from provocative speech that may bring offense, outrage or discomfort. Having to sit through a class taught by a professor you don’t agree with is what passes for oppression.
What conservatives deride as “political correctness” in higher education is, in many cases, simply an effort to treat people with respect and correct past wrongs. When politicos such as Trump assail it, they’re really sending a shout out to folks who liked the good old days, which were actually the very bad old days for many of their fellow Americans who happen to be black, female, gay, etc.
But when that positive corrective impulse is used as a muzzle, as a pretext to rip down artwork, put certain subjects off limits or punish faculty who aren’t afraid to stir things up and make students think, that’s where a guy like me who makes a living off free speech has a real problem. Conservatives sometimes have a point. These are, of course, complicated issues that so many campus communities are struggling to address.
But for the love of comparative cultural studies, the last thing we need are federal bias gumshoes sneaking around the Quad. Round up suspects, disheveled guys in tweed first. Oh, the humanities.
After Carson left our editorial board, he spoke at a Cedar Rapids private school. In an attempt to make a joke about his own academic woes in elementary school, Carson asked fifth graders “Who’s the worst student?” Before he could finish the joke, several kids pointed at one student. Awkward.
Carson was trying to make a point and, by all accounts, meant no harm. Still, if I were that kid, I’d report him to the proper authorities.
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