Sara Robinson is very good at predicting trends among the theocrats and batshitloonitarians, and I think she’s absolutely dead on target regarding this summer’s coming GOP attraction–the War on Public Universities (boldface mine):
When conservatives seriously gather themselves to go after somebody, they always attack frontally, at their intended victim’s point of greatest strength. (See also: swiftboating.) The University of California system has long been regarded as the best public university system in America, and Berkeley as the best single public university in the country. Santorum’s story’s focus on this particular system — the biggest, baddest exemplar of its type — is no random accident. It draws a bead on the strongest target on the field. This is almost always a clear sign that conservatives are lining up their artillery — in this case, for an open assault on America’s public colleges and universities….
This narrative is making the rounds on the right because somebody is laying the groundwork for an imminent, planned political action. Santorum’s screed is the first stage of this campaign. It’s a story that justifies the coming action, and puts the issue on the public table for discussion. It explains to right-wing followers that public universities, already well-understood as havens for liberal (!) public employees (!!) who exist only to corrupt the youth (!!!), are now also so blatantly unpatriotic (!!!!) that they no longer deserve taxpayer support.
Conservative faith-tanks have been busy laying the groundwork:
It turns out that Santorum’s weird claims about UC’s history departments were a garbled rendering of an op-ed that appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal. (The article is behind a paywall; but the report it referenced, from the conservative Hoover Institution, is not.) The WSJ piece deplored UC’s history programs thusly:
This decline in the quality of education coincides with a profound transformation of the college curriculum. None of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States. None requires students to study Western civilization, and on seven of the nine UC campuses, including Berkeley, a survey course in Western civilization is not even offered. In several English departments one can graduate without taking a course in Shakespeare. In many political science departments majors need not take a course in American politics.
The report goes on to point out that university faculties skew decidedly liberal (perhaps because the facts have a well-known liberal bias), and that nothing but partisan education happens behind those ivy walls.
You can kind of squint sideways and see how Santorum got from here to there.
For the record: it is true that a single “survey course on Western Civilization” isn’t offered at most UC campuses. That’s because Western Civilization courses are more typically offered in a multi-part series, because the professors don’t think it’s possible to effectively teach 3,000 years of history in a mere 10 weeks.
And the usual transmission method–the Mighty Conservative Wurlitzer–will be going full-tilt:
But the content of this Hoover report isn’t as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be presenting them with ready-written legislation to propose to deal with this manufactured “problem.”
This is the path we’re on now. Santorum was setting the stage. He warned us, very clearly: Following the War on Public Employees and the War on Women, this will be the summer of the War on Public Universities.
First, ALEC has probably figured out how to profit from privatizing public universities. Second, Republicans don’t view universities as being part of ‘their’ people (even though college-educated whites are the most likely Republican voters)–put another way: they hate college professors.
And summer is a perfect time to do this: students aren’t around, universities typically slow down then, and faculty are desperately trying to get research done.
The only thing Robinson missed is that Democratic politicians, operatives, and house pundits will curl up into the fetal position and abandon public universities. It would be highly unusual if they didn’t.
It’s going to be a fun summer.