Polls indicate that while a majority of Americans feel colleges play a vital role, that sentiment isn’t shared by all. The problem is not caused by colleges themselves, or the opinions of low-income Americans, but by “professional provocateurs,” whose actions actually hurt the conservatives they claim to support.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center finds that while most Americans approve of college, those sentiments aren’t shared by Republicans. A majority of them disapprove of institutions of higher education. It’s a sharp reversal from just two years ago, when a majority of Republicans gave their approval to colleges. That rules out college costs as an issue. And enrollments are up.
For those who think this is just some “trailer-park Republican” phenomenon, or other put-down of low-income conservatives, think again. First of all, having been a registered Republican who lived in a trailer park, I know that insult pretty well. Second, low-income Republicans actually support higher education at higher levels than those of higher incomes on the GOP side.
So what changed between 2015 and 2017 to make Republicans mistrust colleges? Numerous articles offered a single issue: controversies over controversial campus speakers.
There are Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Richard Spencer, who had their speeches cancelled, moved to a different date, or experienced campus violence. And the decisions of colleges to either disinvite or cancel their talks have been cited as the issue which has led to the negative polls among Republicans.
So here’s a little truth about these speakers: Colleges weren’t the only group to disinvite Yiannopoulos. In fact, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) blocked him from speaking at their event, and Breitbart News forced him to resign. It turns out there are limits to free speech for conservatives, especially when he issued his support for pedophilia.
As for white supremacist Richard Spencer, who legally forced Auburn to let him speak, he was booted by CPAC, too. When he came to Auburn, a student told me that attendees were made up of people he brought to his talk, and protesters came from Atlanta. Auburn was just a prop for him.
Ann Coulter refused to speak on a different night than the one she wanted, and threatened to sue the University of California at Berkeley. Her reactions to being moved from her seat on Delta, tweeting that the passenger who took her seat was an immigrant, and falsely claiming that Delta employees were unionized (they aren’t) show that whether it’s academia or an airline, she’s all too quick to claim she’s the victim. Ironically, a book she wrote is titled “Liberal Victim.”
In fact, that’s the problem. These speakers aren’t really all about the conservative ideology, unless that ideology leads with racism, sexism, homophobia, and insults. They demand very high speaking fees. A student asked me if I would invite one such speaker. When I called about his availability, I was told I had to pay a fee that was twice my budget for the entire year. For them, it’s about selling books, making fees, and making more controversy to make more money.
Meanwhile, I’ve had conservatives ranging from politicians to business leaders to those in the military speak. They are all too happy to be invited to a college, and never request a fee (though I spend a little from my budget on a gift and spring for a campus lunch with them and the students). They focus on issues of economics, policy, budgets, national security … you know, stuff conservatives actually stand for. But you’ve never heard of most of them, because they aren’t hucksters.
Yet a small cadre of professional provocateurs, with a career of complaining, quick to play the victim card in all situations, seeks to undermine what Americans have built to become the envy of the world. And all they have done for conservatives is take their money, distort their ideology, crowd out the true believers, and undermine the U.S. university.
By all means, bring true conservatives to campus, but not these attention-seeking agitators.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JohnTures2.