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Elite universities are beyond repair

When America’s most elite credentialing institutions have fallen, a bleak future is on the horizon

Student protesters march around their encampment on the Columbia University campus on April 29. Associated Press/Photo by Stefan Jeremiah

Elite universities are beyond repair

In recent months, I was invited to speak at a law school on the subject of religious liberty. My host—a progressive, but an old-school free-speech progressive—warned me: “It’s up to you, but I would stay away from anything related to LGBT issues or Israel. I’ll be frank with you: If you bring those issues up, a group of ultra-woke students will go insane.”

I appreciated the warning, genuinely. I did not intend to bring those issues up, but knowing what could happen if I did was helpful. Nonetheless, it was mystifying to receive a warning of this type. I could never envision telling a guest speaker who did not share my students’ views to be prepared for an intellectual tantrum.

I raise this episode alongside the ongoing story playing out at our nation’s most elite institutions surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict. What is playing out across America’s most prestigious universities (and fanning out to many other universities in general) is morally deplorable and deserving of the highest condemnation. In what can be described as reminiscent of events from 1930s Germany, students at these universities are taunting, harassing, and invoking genocidal language against Jews. Faculty are, of course, aiding and abetting this foolishness. Defenses of Hamas are made. Behold the product of a generational effort to mainstream Critical Social Justice.

Given what is happening right now and since the fall when several university presidents were hauled before Congress to address campus anti-Semitism, we should finally declare that America’s most prestigious universities have fallen. They are the equivalent of a failed state whose regime is no longer worth defending. We should move on from any aspirations of sanity returning and instead hope that the outrageous display of hatred done under the name of inclusion and tolerance proves to everyday Americans that getting their children into these bastions of ideological lunacy is no longer worth the effort.

Given the massive wealth, prestige, and number of elite universities, we must consider these institutions captured and beyond the effort of trying to salvage them. Sure, they may lose a $50-million conservative donor here or there. But does that matter when some new titan of industry will open their pocketbook in hopes of gaining institutional respect? Universities like Columbia, Harvard, and Yale are ideological and financial fortresses immune from institutional change. Their endowments ensure their almost-eternal perpetuity. Apart from wholesale regime change at the level of their governance (which shows no signs of happening), these institutions are irreparable. Unless institutions deliberately steer themselves in the direction of orthodoxy or liberty, the decaying effects of sin ensure that heresy and progressive coercion will eventually dominate.

These institutions themselves are now ground zero for fundamentalism and obscurantism. They are enemies of decency and where cultural vices go to gain intellectual legitimacy.

This has practical implications. Instead of seeing elite universities as a path to social mobility and prestige, we should reject and righteously condemn them. I do not mean to do so with any type of fundamentalism or obscurantism. The opposite is, in fact, true: These institutions themselves are now ground zero for fundamentalism and obscurantism. They are enemies of decency and where cultural vices go to gain intellectual legitimacy. Saying so—and saying so righteously—is not harsh or judgmental. It is simply factual. It is not anti-missional or unloving to want to see academic institutions that are incompatible with the common good lose influence. And to be clear: I hope all these institutions do lose influence.

Parents should avoid trying to place their kids in these institutions. A friend of mine who is a Yale and Harvard graduate told me there is no chance he would try to rely on a legacy admission to get his children into these schools. He believes they are cauldrons of decadence, fragility, and ideological capture. To put it more bluntly, he believes he would be derelict in sending one of his children into these schools.

As one Ivy League professor friend told me, moms and dads send their kids to elite schools more out of class consciousness that comes from getting to place an elite school’s sticker on the back window of their Mercedes. That needs to change.

The goal of far too many parents is to get their offspring into a credentialing institution that grants one access to the upper echelons of cultural power—not education for education’s sake. I know of a brilliant intellectual with an unbelievable resume and pedigree passed over for a job at an elite law school—not because rivals had equally good resumes—but because the individual had been an outspoken social conservative. As this instance shows, there is no meritocracy at these institutions like we are told. There is only the furtherance of entrenched progressivism feted by sinecures.

Thankfully, what is true of places like Columbia is not true across the entire map of higher education. There are genuine revolutions afoot at places like the University of Florida. Former U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse is helping to keep free speech and academic freedom alive there. His efforts should be applauded and replicated.

America is waking up to the fact that most of American higher education is an enemy of American ideals. In a sane world, the government would establish a commission to study the ideological capture of institutions like a Columbia. But this is the constituency Democrats need to win elections, so that will never happen.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew is the managing editor of WORLD Opinions and serves as associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. He resides with his family in Louisville, Ky.

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