Universities Need Creative Destruction, Not Bailouts
Emily Cousens, a gender studies teacher at the University of Oxford and London School of Economics, is in despair that Oxford University will start a vaccine trial. In an article for Huffington Post titled “I Teach At Oxford, But I Don’t Want It To Win The Coronavirus Vaccine Race,” she writes that she is worried this scientific research would justify stereotypes, such as that “China, once again, has unleashed a threat to civilisation. But the best brains of the UK have saved the world.”
Cousens continues, “If my university is the first to develop the vaccine, I’m worried that it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.” Dr. Cousens, as one might have guessed, claims to research “vulnerability and gender” at Oxford Brookes university and teaches women’s studies masters courses at the University of Oxford. Brookes got embarrassed after the backlash and took down her page, which is still archived here.
The abovementioned article is important and exemplary, because it not only shows the deep hatred for nation-states among researchers of gender, race, women’s studies, and other such activist disciplines, but that this is what our tax dollars fund in scholarship and salaries at elite universities. Gender studies, to take one example, is a notorious discipline. Almost every single thing that comes out of it is ideological garbage.
None of these disciplines are scientifically rigorous, either, and gender research in particular is fundamentally opposed to natural science and the laws of nature. These are essentially elite egalitarian theories meant to reshape western societies. Yet they have independent departments, with millions in scholarships, grants, and research funding, not to mention thousands of academics earning millions of dollars in salaries. They are also behind the incessant push behind “diversity and inclusivity” bureaucracy, whose sole purpose is to discredit merit and hierarchy in academia, in favor of racial and sexual quotas.
British universities, naturally, are demanding a bailout from the government due to the coronavirus crisis, backed by a section of leftist politicians and hyper-liberal media. Russell Group Universities, the British version of American Ivies, are supposed to be the hardest hit, according to one such study.
I went to a Russell Group uni for my PhD, funded by a scholarship. While there are good scholars and professors doing great research on security studies, international relations, and hard sciences, there’s also a massive amount of corruption and wastage observable in the social sciences, including bad and self-referential research, shoddy scholarships and funding, a bloated administration, irrelevant teaching modules, unworthy students, activist disciplines, and unusable infrastructure. It would put some “Nigerian princes” to shame. Yet spineless “conservative” politicians are not finding the necessary courage to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to restructure an edifice that has done massive damage to conservatism and western society for so long.
Why are British conservative politicians unable to take this opportunity to twist the arms of the most bloated sector of the British economy, unlike their American counterparts? The question of university bailouts is relevant on both sides of the Atlantic. But while President Trump has been strict on conditioning such bailouts, British politicians have rolled over.
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley threatened legislation to make universities refund taxpayer bailouts. For those who argue that conservatives should never use the government for the public good, this was a classic example showing how government can twist arms to get things done. Faced with overwhelming pressure, Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton universities declared that they will not take bailout cash, a U-turn from their earlier position. Yale and other Ivies followed soon after.
Universities do not need tax-funded bailouts, but reforms and restructuring. It is not a matter of serious debate that universities do not need a bailout. It is common sense. Every British and American university can continue to function and do the things they need to do, while cutting much of what they actually do that is harmful to society.
There’s no need to fund any department that is fundamentally activist in nature, especially gender studies, race studies, fat studies, post-colonial studies, women’s studies, and such. There need not be separate African American or Black British history departments, for example, and any historical research that is meritorious enough can survive within a normal rigorous history department.
The bureaucracy that grew by more than 200 percent in the last decade or so can take a major hit. There is no need for diversity and inclusivity commissars, or mental health counsellors.
Academics can take pay cuts. Hiring can be frozen. As Dr. Jenna Robinson of the Martin Center wrote recently, “Cut staffing levels back to where they were in 2000 (on a per-student basis). Special attention should be paid to ‘student services’ professionals that have no real connection to academic success. Immediately freeze salaries for all staff members earning more than $100k per year. Consider further freezes if necessary. Low-productivity programs that don’t produce at least 10 graduates per year should be eliminated. Most university facilities are already woefully underused. No new building projects are necessary.”
Sports teams can take hits and survive; they are non-essential services. The government can make student loans stringent and conditional. The gravy train can be stopped, if only there is political will.
As Cory Clark wrote recently, liberals have “seized control of one of the most powerful institutions in modern society, and from a tactical perspective, all the better if conservatives feel unwelcome in academia.” But, as “academia drifts toward progressive activism at the expense of truth, it will become increasingly ineffective, it will lose its reputation as a disinterested arbiter of truth, and it will lose its position of power. Indeed, this has already begun to happen.”
Universities were not supposed to be big businesses, and they were definitely not supposed to be badly run businesses. The laws of demand and supply must apply to them, and this can bring libertarians and conservatives together.
After all, tax dollars should be geared towards the common social good. And if there’s one sector that deserves everything that comes for them after this crisis, it’s the higher-education sector. One can only hope British conservatives can demonstrate the same resolve as their cousins across the pond. If that leads to less “research” like Cousens’s, then even better. It’s a market correction our society urgently needs.
So, the next time anyone wants us to sympathize with university bailouts, we should dutifully remind them to burn the entire edifice down. If the money supporting this individual, her department, and activist discipline is channeled towards vaccine development, that is objectively a good thing.
If this crisis has made something clear, it is that some disciplines do not need funding, and should be refused any bailout. Our elite universities should either reform and restructure, or perish.
Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist. His research is in great power-politics and neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.