Governor Kristi Noem insists our kids are being indoctrinated in liberal dogma. Our public university students are saying, What indoctrintation?
According to a survey sent by the Board of Regents to students last March in compliance with our Republican Legislature’s meddling directives about the fake crisis in “intellectual diversity”, the vast majority of responding students said they feel no great hindrance to their freedom of speech and political association on campus:
Q1. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: The culture at this institution discourages students from saying things they believe, because others may find them offensive.
- 43% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
- 12% of respondents Mildly Disagree
- 20.1% of respondents are Neutral
- 12.1% of respondents Mildly Agree
- 12.8% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree
Q2. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: During my time as a student at this institution, I have felt silenced from sharing my views.
- 57.1% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
- 10% of respondents Mildly Disagree
- 13.7% of respondents are Neutral
- 9.2% of respondents Mildly Agree
- 10% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree
Q3. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: Faculty at my institution respect free speech rights.
- 3.6% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
- 3.6% of respondents Mildly Disagree
- 12.3% of respondents are Neutral
- 11.8% of respondents Mildly Agree
- 68.7% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree
Q4. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: I feel comfortable expressing my political views with faculty.
- 14.8% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
- 9.2% of respondents Mildly Disagree
- 24.6% of respondents are Neutral
- 15.3% of respondents Mildly Agree
- 36.1% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree
Q5. To what extent do you agree with the following statement?: As a student, it is important to me to enroll in courses designed specifically to enhance my knowledge of different political perspectives.
- 19.7% of respondents Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed
- 8% of respondents Mildly Disagree
- 30.4% of respondents are Neutral
- 11.6% of respondents Mildly Agree
- 30.3% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree [South Dakota Board of Regents, “Annual Report on Intellectual Diversity and Free Exchange of Ideas,” submitted to South Dakota Legislature, 2020.11.30].
I’m not sure Question 4 accurately measures “intellectual diversity”. I can think of plenty of settings in which students and other citizens might feel uncomfortable expressing their political views, not because of some prevailing dogma and potential for political retribution, but rather because all participants in the setting recognize that it just may not be the right time or place for expressing political views. Take work. I really don’t know how intellectually diverse my office is and I don’t care, because we’re there to do our jobs, not engage in vigorous political discourse. Among the small minority of students who responded to Question 4 with an indication that they feel uncomfortable having political conversations with faculty, there may be students in engineering, nursing, agriculture, mathematics, or other fields where political discussion isn’t really central to their necessary interactions with faculty. Their discomfort may actually be a respectful response to professors who properly keep political discussions out of their classroom activities so students can focus on their studies without any perception of distracting political pressure.
Question 5 may be the most important question in the survey… and maybe the single truly troubling one. Only 41.9% of students recognize their vital role in promoting real intellectual diversity by their own educational choices. Only 41.9% say they ought to study different political perspectives (and note, that’s a virtue signal, not a statement of whether they actually register for classes providing such study). 27.7% of respondents dispute the notion that they have an obligation to broaden their horizons; 30.4% just shrug.
The apparent apathy toward a broader, liberal education suggested by the responses to Question 5 does not make me want to require Republican kids to take courses in Marxism and subject the hippie kids to a semester of lectures from Rand Paul. But it does make me want to ensure that we make sure every student, even and especially those in the shrugging 30.4% who maybe just come for the degree and don’t seek out different perspectives on their own initiative, gets the kind of rigorous and well-rounded humanities education that keeps the soul and the state healthy:
Early Thursday, the Association of American Colleges and Universities issued a statement saying its pro-liberal education mission took on new urgency following the Capitol attack. “The task of an education allied to democracy is not simply to help students gain knowledge and skills,” the group said. “It is also to assist students in forming the habits of heart and mind that liberate their thinking and equip them for, and dispose them to, the creation of a more just and inclusive society through civic involvement.”
Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U’s president, later told Inside Higher Ed that if colleges and universities are to develop the “independent and critical thinkers necessary to ensure that democracy is more than a tyranny of numbers,” they must affirm that a liberal education helps students — citizens — discern the truth, recognize and digest narratives, and promote “an understanding that the world is a collection of interdependent yet inequitable systems,” among other aims.
If nothing else, Pasquerella said, “the current culture wars being played out on the national stage highlight the inextricable link between a strong democracy and liberal education.” Citing economist Anthony P. Carnevale’s research on the inverse relationship between liberal education and authoritarian tendencies, Pasquerella said higher education must play a leadership role in confronting the day’s most pressing issues. That requires colleges and universities to serve as “anchor institutions,” demonstrating that their success is “intertwined with the economic, social, psychological, physical and educational well-being of the communities in which they are located and those they seek to serve.”
At the same time, the historic mission of educating for democracy is being “challenged by attempts to reduce the value of a college education to employability” or “tuition in exchange for jobs,” Pasquerella added. “In the end, the question we are facing in the aftermath of [Wednesday’s] riots is, ‘What is college for?’” [Colleen Flaherty, “A Failure to Educate,” Inside Higher Ed, 2021.01.08]
And that brings me right back to where I started this morning. The Republicans in Pierre manufacture fake crises of liberal indoctrination in our schools and respond with plans for indoctrination of their own. Meanwhile they undermine the efforts our teachers and professors make, against a Governor and Legislature from whom the best they get is negligence, if not outright verbal beatings, to preserve a learning environment that fosters critical thinking and intelligent, civic-minded expression.
The Legislature went fishing for a problem; their mandated survey found their problem doesn’t exist on our campuses. Since those results differ from their political view, legislators will likely dismiss this survey (step one: complain that not enough students took it and try again, maybe forcing students to take it before they receive their final grades) and look for another way to promulgate their narrow view. Hmm… it sounds like the real crisis of intellectual diversity is in Pierre.