By Victor Davis Hanson// National Review
Universities and the media: arrogant, ignorant, and ripe for reform
In media land, Donald Trump is a reckless tweeter; Barack Obama’s outreach to GloZell and rapper Kendrick Lamar is just kicking back and having fun (Lamar’s latest album portrayed the corpse of a judge to the toasting merriment of rappers on the White House lawn).
In media land, Donald Trump risked world peace by accepting a phone call from the democratically elected president of Taiwan; Barack Obama’s talks with dictators and thugs such as Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Raul Castro were long overdue. In media land, jawboning Carrier not to relocate a plant to Mexico is an existential threat to the free market; not so when Barack Obama tried to coerce Boeing to move to Washington State to produce union-made planes, or bullied a small non-union guitar company, or reordered the bankruptcy payouts of Chrysler and essentially took over the company.
In campus land, the election of 2008 was cause for ebullition; in 2016, elections by nature were traumatic as students were reduced to whining toddlers who needed cookies and milk.
(Note that campus post-election micro-parenting is not extended to departing students when they are hit with huge student-loan totals. Then they suddenly morph from helpless teenagers to full-fledged adults who must pay up what they borrowed to the colleges that did not educate them. Offering cookies and “caring” are a lot cheaper than not collecting overdue loans.) In campus land, federal laws should be rendered null and void — as in 1861 (over slavery) or 1961 (over racial integration of schools) — as colleges see fit; Donald Trump is a near fascist for wanting carry out the oath of his office by enforcing all federal statutes against states’-rights subversion.
The university and the media share two traits: Both industries have become arrogant and ignorant. We have created a climate, ethically and professionally, in which extremism has bred extremism, and bias is seen not as proof of journalistic and academic corruption, but of political purity. The recent election, and especially its aftermath, embarrassed journalists and academics alike — and should not be forgotten.
In the aftermath, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, as they insist that the popular vote alone should have mattered, that the Russians stole the election, that there was voting fraud, but only in the swing states Trump won, or that Democrats did not emphasize identity politics enough — anything other than the truth that a now municipal Democratic party is run by apartheid coastal elites and fueled by identity politics, and that journalists and professors cannot keep society’s trust.
Instead of introspective self-critique, the media have now gone postmodern, doubling down on their biases, under a new project of attacking supposed “neutrality” and “objectivity” themselves. From the strange suggestion by the New York Times’ James Rutenberg that journalists should feel no need to treat the exceptional Trump candidacy by “normal standards” to Christiane Amanpour’s recent screed that there can be no so such thing as neutral reporting over man-caused global warming, given “settled science” (the linguistic gymnastics by which “global warming” became “climate change” escapes her). (In 1980, Amanpour no doubt would have damned the few outliers who questioned the settled-science consensus on the cause of stomach ulcers or who doubted that we were really nearing “peak petroleum” production.)
If both the media and the campus are unconcerned by their obvious bias, or, indeed, brandish it proudly (recall that there were no campus lamentation centers after the presidential election in 2008 or 2012), then the public and president-elect Trump should show no reluctance in addressing their incompetence and conceit.
Consumer Rights for College Students and Their Parents
Higher education has a $1 trillion sword of Damocles hanging over its head in the form of aggregate student debt. The staggering sum drags down the economy, delaying marriage and child-bearing, discouraging young buyers’ home and car purchases, prolonging adolescence, and subsidizing mostly vacuous (and costly) “-studies” courses that manage to impart little knowledge but lots of superciliousness.
Any government reform should require federally subsidized colleges to reform their budgeting and keep costs well below the rate of inflation. Given colleges’ culpability for the debt, they should use their endowments and budgetary dollars to pitch in to help pay down the liability. Their prior budgets were not transparent. Annual tuition costs customarily outstripped inflation. Student borrowers were not fully apprised of the conditions and various interest rates of their Byzantine debt packages, and schools gave little if any information to inexperienced borrowers about their own likely ability after graduation to pay back such huge sums. Taxpayers who have chosen to forgo college should not be asked to subsidize the debacle created by their supposedly educated betters.
Colleges should have to follow the same rules as local car dealerships or home-mortgage lenders. Surely Elizabeth Warren can be enlisted to draw up the necessary consumer-rights bill for vulnerable students.
In our regulated society, almost everyone, from hair stylists to florists to dog groomers, has to take some sort of test to prove competency. Government-subsidized colleges that grant B.A.s are the exception. Their effectiveness is less audited than is the performance of ceiling fans. Taxpayers who have chosen to forgo college should not be asked to subsidize the debacle created by their supposedly educated betters.
Again, how bizarre that colleges audit high-school diplomas by giving college-entrance tests (their theory being that straight A’s from Selma High school in California’s Central Valley are not comparable to straight A’s at the Menlo School in the Silicon Valley), but the schools themselves are not audited. Surely higher education would not object to a national college-exit exam as a requirement for receiving a bachelor’s degree. Call it a smaller version of the bar exam, or perhaps a reverse SAT or ACT test.
Passing an exit exam would help ensure education consumers that tens of thousands of dollars in borrowed money, per student, at least led to quantifiable or demonstrable knowledge on a nationally shared basis, necessary for an informed, participatory citizenry.
Comparative pass rates also might inform parents whether sending children to Stanford really does guarantee liberal education in a way that a B.A. from nearby less expensive San Jose State University might not. (If President-elect Trump wished to carry out his promise of ending more regulations before enacting new ones, he could, before mandating college-exit-exam rules, cancel the executive-order regulations from the Education Department that rob students of their due-process rights).
The education industry has done great damage to our schools by certifying teachers on the basis of credentialed methodologies that are inevitably therapeutic and driven by politically correct dogmas on race, class, and gender. So why not liberate and deregulate education be offering college graduates the option of substituting the M.A. degree in an academic discipline in lieu of the post-baccalaureate credential?
A fifth-year to get a master’s degree in history, for example, would ensure far better expertise among high-school history teachers than would a generic social-science B.A. and a credential. Universities would in response hire more and better professors — and shrink the ranks of education bureaucrats. Over time, the effect would be to substitute knowledge and inductive thinking for the current indoctrination that requires less expertise but more zeal.
Universities love regulations — for everyone but themselves. Just as professional sports franchises share revenues (the big-city-market winners divvying up their lucre with fly-over country’s smaller media audiences), so too the Ivy League and other universities with multi-billion-dollar endowments might be asked to share their financial spoils with more impoverished campuses. Why not put lids on tax-deductible gifts to mega-endowments?
Such a “fairness doctrine” or “equity act” would ensure tax-deductible gifts only up to an “acceptable” endowment limit. This would channel Obama’s lectures on “you didn’t build that,” and, “at a certain point, you’ve earned enough money” — responsible people and institutions would know that they did not build their own tax-free endowments, and at some point should likewise be responsible enough to know when they have raised enough money.
In other words, a Harvard or Princeton might be asked to spread around its fund-raising once it hit a reasonable endowment limit. Or alternatively, in free-market, hyper-capitalist fashion, a rich Ivy League campus could choose to keep piling up its additional billions, but it would not be allowed to extend further federal tax-exempt status to the gift-giving.
Force the Media to Win Back Our Respect
Reforming the media would require more imagination and mostly be a matter of style and protocol. For reasons of symbolism, Trump should skip the White House Correspondents’ dinner. It has descended into a strange Neroian feast, where left-wing Hollywood celebs and the denizens of WikiLeaks fame meet to treat, and in turn hear, the president as if he were a fellow Las Vegas carnival barker. It is a relic whose time came and went a long time ago
There is no reason in this rapidly changing digitalized world to follow antediluvian customs of rewarding the New York Times or the Washington Post, or NPR, or PBS with blue-chip perks at press conferences or first claims on interviews. They have not proved disinterested or competent in their reporting and should have to re-earn the esteem that they customarily take for granted. WikiLeaks reminds us that CNN, the Washington Post, and Politico offer no more disinterested opinion journalism than do Rush Limbaugh or the Drudge Report — though the legacy media do spend far more to reach far fewer.
Hillary Clinton taught the country that she would not meet the press regularly — and not welcome too many questions, if at all, on the rare occasions she did put up with journalists. Trump was far more accessible, almost promiscuously so, and yet was reviled for his accommodation while Clinton was canonized for her disdain. Trump should react accordingly as president.
Obama set a precedent of granting interviews to compliant but nontraditional “YouTube reporters” who could reach what the Obama White House called “a broader and more digitally native audience.” Trump need not be so crude, but he likewise should hold more interviews with nontraditional reporters not stamped by university journalism degrees or by yeoman work at the New York Times.
The New York or Washington, D.C., “senior correspondent” of the mainstream print media is analogous to the disappearing tenured, full professor: a grandee whose position rests on the exploitation of nameless part-timers, whose worldview is increasingly politicized, who is not necessarily competent in his field, and who, in terms of cost-benefit analyses that are now applied to everyone else, simply does not provide society a service commensurate with his cost.
In truth, we long ago entered a late-19th-century landscape of dueling ideological media and should cease perpetuating myths that the Sunday talk shows or the network evening-news broadcasts are disinterested. When Ms. Amanpour lectures the media that the new media credo will be “truthful but not neutral,” she is summarizing the prevailing postmodern creed that doubling down on bias is proof of journalistic authenticity. Certainly Glen Thrush, John Hardword, and Donna Brazille were all “not neutral.” Are we now to assume that they stealthily weighed in with the Clinton campaign as proof of their non-neutral truthfulness?
Almost every aspect of American life has undergone restructuring. The university and the media are long, long overdue.