“But in the 1970s, the department turned away from educational practice”

Christopher Rufo

The process of shutting down the education department at University of Chicago was more orderly. The department’s pedigree was impressive: it was founded by reformer John Dewey and had been home to prominent scholars such as Bruno Bettelheim and William S. Gray, creator of the “Dick and Jane” reading series. But in the 1970s, the department turned away from educational practice and focused more on left-wing educational theory. Over time, the quality of academic work declined, and external funding began to dwindle. Finally, in 1996, after a formal review, the dean of the social science division, Richard Saller, recommended that the university close down the department, citing “uneven” research and “low expectations.” It was officially shuttered soon afterward.

These examples establish an important precedent: it is not a violation of “academic freedom” to close down ideologically captured or poor-performing academic departments; it is, to the contrary, part of the normal course of business. Legislators in states such as Florida and Texas, which will both be considering higher education reform this year, should propose the abolition of academic departments that have abandoned their missions in pursuit of shoddy scholarship and ideological activism.

It is time for the “victim’s revolution” to be met with a meaningful counter-revolution. Legislators have an opportunity to abolish academic programs, such as critical race theory, ethnic studies, queer theory, gender studies, and intersectionality, that do not contribute to the production of scholarly knowledge but serve as taxpayer-funded sinecures for activists who despise the values of the public whom they are supposed to serve.

Enough is enough. It is time for principled action, not fatalism and defeat. Conservatives have an opportunity to move beyond critique and enact meaningful reforms that will restore the pursuit of truth as the telos of America’s public universities.

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