Higher education “has a public relations problem on its hands.”
That’s the case J.T. Klimek makes in a piece published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Citing a recent poll that found a majority of Republicans believe universities and colleges are bad for the country, Klimek argues “unchecked campus radicalism has created a situation in which a large chunk of the population now feels alienated from, and resentful toward, colleges and universities.”
Yet Klimek, a Martin Center intern and rising junior at North Carolina State University, writes we shouldn’t totally give up on higher education.
From the article:
Higher education still has many bright spots, and at its best it adds significant value to students, the economy, and the intellectual life of the country. Higher education’s redemption will require bolder university leaders, many of whom have avoided confronting extremism, “safe space” culture, and students’ and professors’ growing obsession with identity politics, which is rapidly breeding anti-intellectualism and anti-social behavior.
Klimek specifically spotlights student governments as a gateway to bring more sanity to college campuses:
Student government, for example, needs significant reform. Beyond distributing funds to student organizations, reviewing cases of student academic misconduct, etc., student government can help to promote school traditions, enhance campus culture, and give voice to students’ concerns. At its worst, however, it can create a divisive campus culture and give power to those who think their ideology should be imposed on the entire student body and university administration.
In the piece, Klimek highlights specific cases in which student governments made decisions based on pure ideological thinking. He also reflects on his own tenure in student government as a senator at North Carolina State.
“Most of my fellow senators seemed to work genuinely toward promoting the welfare of the student body. But I still found that even the well-intentioned can be tempted to use student government as a bullhorn to promote their ideological beliefs,” he said.
Klimek writes campus leaders often don’t even realize the public opinion of their actions and the distaste they create toward higher education overall. Even so, he’s optimistic about the role student governments can play in turning around the gloomy image of higher education:
Still, in my view, student governments are capable of playing an important role in terms of helping to restore faith in higher education. I realize that this is easier said than done, given the hyper-partisan times in which we live. But I’ve seen firsthand that many who enter student government do so out of genuine love for their school and concern for the well-being of their fellow students. Now is the time for them to give real voice to those students, most of whom are much more moderate than those who participated in the recent Pew Research poll might think.