During a previous political uprising in the 1980s, academic institutions managed to fend off conservative attacks on some of the subjects taught on their campuses - from "peace studies" to kinky sexual practices, to bad history - with cries of "academic freedom." Where are those cries now that the federal government is on the verge of regulating the content of subject matter on college campuses and changing the way these institutions are accredited?
According to the Centennial Institute, www.ccu.edu/centennial/, a proposed new rule by the U.S. Department of Education "would place private colleges and universities under the ultimate control of state governments, rather than independent accrediting agencies. The notice of proposed rulemaking was posted in the Federal Register on June 18 for a public comment period ending Aug. 2. It could take effect as soon as November."
Former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, now president of Colorado Christian University, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on July 30. In it, he warned of an "all-out politicization of American higher education, endangering academic freedom, due process and First Amendment rights."
The American Council on Education, in a letter of its own, warned of "heavy compliance burdens" and "regulations that appear to overrule state law."
Armstrong says the attempt by the government to regulate curricula "is part of an unprecedented power grab in which government has already moved to dominate such industries as automobiles, energy, health care, banking, home loans and student loans - and now seeks dominance over the colleges and universities themselves."
Two Colorado Republican congressmen, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman, have also sent letters to DOE in which they noted the proposed ruling would undermine "long-established independent accrediting agencies" (Lamborn) and potentially involve the government "in setting course requirements, quality measures, faculty qualifications and various mandates about how and what to teach." (Coffman).
Imagine the outcry if someone identified with the tea party movement had made similar demands of a Republican administration concerning what is taught at Harvard or UC Berkeley. There would be protests in the quads and a lawsuit by the ACLU.
Conservatives have long believed that most universities are part of an "iron triangle" (along with big media and government) that keeps liberals and secularists in power. Controlling what is taught in schools, rather than encouraging true academic freedom, has been a successful strategy for shaping - some would say twisting - young minds and directing them in accordance with what statists and "living constitution" advocates believe.
If imposing outside agendas - from textbook content to course selection - is supposedly bad when conservatives do it (mostly in reaction to the liberal assault on any ideas that conflict with theirs), why is it not equally onerous when liberals push for state control and the dictation of course content at private colleges and universities?
It's going to take more than one college president and two congressmen writing a letter to the secretary of education about this latest attempted government power grab. More members of Congress, other college presidents and newspaper editorialists must express opposition to this attack on the right of educators to teach what they believe to be essential courses that will result in a properly educated student who is fit for the real world.
This should not be confused with the liberal-secularist view of the world, which is what those behind this regulation apparently want to impose on students and their parents who, in many cases, are footing the bill and too often contributing to the destruction of young minds.
Cal Thomas is the nation's most widely syndicated columnist.