Memo 06.12.2023 3 minutes

Taking Back America’s Colleges and Universities

University of Texas (UT) Austin campus at sunset aerial view

The Fairness in Higher Education Accreditation Act attacks wokeness at its core.

I started the House Anti-Woke Caucus in January to build a coalition that identifies and roots out wokeness from the federal government and American public life. Our first task has been to identify areas where a small action could have an outsized effect. The university system is a target-rich environment for our caucus, and the higher education accreditation cartel has helped make colleges a source and stronghold of wokeness.

Federal law requires Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) to receive accreditation from an agency or association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Congress regulates federal regulators, federal regulators regulate accreditation agencies, accreditation agencies regulate colleges, and colleges teach your children.

Accreditation agencies act as pseudo-governmental entities, creating and enforcing the rules by which a college operates. By itself, regulating higher education isn’t a bad thing, as long as regulators incentivize patriotism and excellence. But under the current arrangement, accreditors are forcing schools into line with the woke revolutionary agenda. Congress must instead push accreditors and universities to inculcate American principles and practices.

In recent years, woke revolutionaries weaponized the accreditation cartel to impose Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and affirmative action mandates on schools. Schools that reject wokeness are rejected by accreditors. Universities that don’t implement DEI and affirmative action policies are being strong-armed by woke revolutionaries into doing so. And there’s no way out—federal regulations make it nearly impossible for schools to switch to a non-woke accreditor.

That’s why Senator Marco Rubio and I introduced the Fairness in Higher Education Accreditation Act. Our bill would reform the standards used to accredit universities. Instead of enforcing wokeism, accreditors would be prohibited from considering schools’ DEI and affirmative action policies and required to consider schools’ adherence to safeguarding First Amendment rights.

My bill would hold colleges accountable when they punish students or faculty for conservative beliefs. Last month, Northwestern University froze the funds of the College Republicans. The group’s alleged crime was publishing a flier for a speaking event that featured a rainbow flag with a skull-and-crossbones. Similar examples abound, but attacks on political speech should never be tolerated.

But it is not enough just to oppose DEI—we must be positively pro-American.

Institutions critical to forming our national character shouldn’t be allowed to suppress speech. Congress must hold Institutions of Higher Education to the same high speech standard we are all held to by guaranteeing First Amendment protections for students and faculty alike.

Speech suppression is anti-American and contributes to the overwhelmingly leftist tilt of our higher education system. Madera Community College recently suspended Professor David Richardson for passing out chocolate bars which satirize the Left’s pronoun obsession. It shouldn’t be surprising that among college professors, Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one. Professors like Mr. Richardson are silenced or forced out. To break the leftist monopoly on the university system, we need to reassert our founding principles on campuses. Before universities consider discriminating against right-of-center faculty, they will remember that their accreditation depends on tolerating all political speech.

The Fairness in Higher Education Accreditation Act is just the beginning of what I hope will be a concerted campaign to reform or replace the accreditation cartel. Fixing our broken system of higher education will take ingenuity and work, but it’s a hard job that’s worth doing.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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