Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote a piece for National Review Online this week where he discused a leaked plan embraced by Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis to “save” colleges and universities around the country.
In the piece, Kurtz noted that the plan, much of which has not been formally introduced to the Florida legislature, was discovered by Jason Garcia at the Seeking Rents Substack, who went on to criticize it as “an all-out assault on public universities.”
Kurtz, meanwhile, said that he views the governor’s plan as “a basis for the restoration of authentic liberal education to America’s over-specialized and heavily politicized public universities,” but went on to offer a plan of his own with “a few tweaks.”
In a subsequent interview with The College Fix, Kurtz elaborated more.
“The campus culture wars over what was then called political correctness remained at a fever pitch for around a decade, from about 1987 through 1997. After that, the public largely gave up on higher ed reform. Campus developments were only getting worse, so opposition looked futile,” Kurtz explained when asked why he thought it took so long for a governor to propose such a plan.
“…[C]razy postmodern jargon seemed incapable of doing serious harm in the real world. People assumed that graduates would buckle down and abandon leftist radicalism once they found jobs and started paying taxes. On top of that, campus communities often vote based on university-related issues. In contrast, the average voter decides based on a huge range of issues, with public universities far down the priority list. It’s only in the past few years that the wider public has begun to take seriously the threat to American life from the dominant campus ideology, which has now spilled out into society as a whole,” he added.
Kurtz was then asked to name the best aspects of DeSantis’ plan and which provision would likely be most adopted by other states.
“If I had to single out one item, it would be the push for trustees to more actively craft the university’s long-term academic strategy—and to bolster that strategy by active participation in faculty hiring,” he said.
“But note that technically, DeSantis’s plan doesn’t grant trustees any powers that they don’t already have. The plan only works if trustees begin to take their existing responsibilities more seriously. That is more a question of expectations and attitude than law,” he added.
“In any case, no single part of the plan I outlined will make a truly transformative difference unless it is combined with the other elements. To be genuinely transformative, every part of the DeSantis plan must be linked, then turbo-charged by the specific suggestions I add,” he said.
One plank of DeSantis’ plan is to reinvigorate university boards of trustees, who are supposed to be in charge of all functions, including hiring — powers they often delegate to university presidents and provosts.
“Trustees legitimately represent the core values and priorities of the general public. Certainly, their decisions should be informed by the expertise of faculty members at their own universities. Yet trustees are also charged with setting the big-picture direction of the university,” Kurtz said.
“If it turns out that faculty are making hiring recommendations based on a politicized ideology—or cutting out important areas of study (like, say, military and diplomatic history) because of ideological bias—then trustees have the right and obligation to rebalance the university’s priorities,” he added.
At National Review, Kurtz noted: “DeSantis’s draft legislation publicly reminds trustees of the power over faculty hiring that they already have, yet seldom use.”
DeSantis’ plan also requires all graduates of any public university in Florida to take and pass basic general education courses: communications (i.e., writing and public speaking), humanities, natural science, social science, and mathematics:
DeSantis’s draft legislation lays out guiding principles for general education programs at Florida’s public universities. General education should create “informed citizens” and “promote democratic values through traditional, historically accurate, and high-quality coursework.” Course curricula based on “unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content,” the draft continues, are inappropriate for general education and should be confined to advanced electives instead.
The draft then adds: “General education courses must promote the philosophical underpinnings of Western civilization and include studies of this nation’s historical documents,” mentioning the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers as examples. DeSantis’s draft legislation then adds definitions of the communications, humanities, and social-science subject areas that link them to “the Western literary tradition,” “classical works on logic, rhetoric, and ethics,” and “basic principles of government of the American republic” respectively. In other words, the DeSantis draft establishes a robust general-education requirement grounded in the classic conception of Western civilization and traditional American civics. That may sound commonplace, but in today’s woke university it is revolutionary.