Republicans sour on academia, profs blame conservative media

Some professors are blaming conservative-leaning media outlets for the sharp uptick in Republican antipathy toward higher education since 2015.

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans (55 percent) believe that colleges have a positive impact on the country, though that figure disguises a growing partisan divide that has emerged over the past two years.

The survey, which collected responses from 2,504 Americans between June 8 and 18, found that a vast majority (72 percent) of Democrat-leaning voters think academia has an overall positive influence on the nation, compared to just 36 percent of Republican-leaning voters who held the same view.

Meanwhile, 58 percent of Republican-leaning respondents said universities have a negative impact, against just 19 percent of Democrats.

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Pew notes that Republican opinions about the value of college have changed significantly over a short time period, pointing out that its 2015 poll showed 54 percent of Republicans holding a favorable view of America’s higher education system, only slightly lower than the 58 percent support recorded among the same group in 2010.

In 2016, however, just 43 percent of Republican-leaning respondents held a favorable view of higher education while 45 percent registered a negative opinion, a trend that continued without abatement in this year’s survey.

According to the survey, the only other national institution about which Republicans and Democrats are more sharply divided is the news media, which 85 percent of Republicans say has a negative effect “on the way things are going in the country,” compared to just 46 percent of Democrats.

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Some academics have taken to Twitter to express their concern with Pew’s findings, including Professor Jessie Daniels, who tweeted the poll with the caption, “Campus Reform did this.”

Others, such as Princeton Professor Keith Whittington, said Pew’s findings should concern not just “pointy-headed profs,” but the “country.”

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“American universities are quite literally the envy of the world and global talent flocks to US to take advantage of them,” Whittington recently tweeted, acknowledging that although universities “have flaws,” including the potential for becoming “ideological echo chambers,” he believes that there “are now many actors on the political right who are dedicated to attacking universities for fun and profit.

“Every minor scandal becomes propaganda fodder and scandals are manufactured where they don’t exist,” he added, suggesting that the “bad events at Evergreen or Middlebury are held up as representative of American higher ed and that shapes public opinion.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski