Colleges tell students 'what to think,' says DeVos

Faculty members push back

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had strong words for higher education at a speech last week.

While speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), she told her audience:

"The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you're a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree."

Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik compares DeVos' words with those of the past two education secretaries, recalling that Margaret Spellings and Arne Duncan also got tough on colleges from time to time. But Spellings and Duncan "raised questions about college costs, accountability, and measures of student learning," he writes, adding that "Secretaries... have not generally been culture warriors."

The crowd at the CPAC speech cheered for DeVos' comments. Some in higher education also sympathized with DeVos' message. Michael Poliakoff, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told Inside Higher Ed, "Our colleges must do a better job preparing graduates for citizenship in a free society, which relies on robust debate."

But others, particularly faculty and adjunct faculty advocates, expressed that their experiences on campus have been very different from the indoctrination DeVos described.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, argued that faculty teach students "how to think, not what to think."

Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University, argued that DeVos "speaks of college students as if they are children" and pointed out that "nearly half of college students are adults." McGuire added, "My students at Trinity are certainly not silent nor some kind of vacuous victims" (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2/24; Strauss, Washington Post, 2/23).

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