An Open Letter on Higher Education
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Professor Deming’s criticism of “higher education” is based on his own institution, the University of Oklahoma. However, the evils that he describes are pervasive today almost everywhere, as can be attested by any recent veteran of the institutions.]
My name is David Deming. I have been an OU professor for 27 years. This letter expresses my personal viewpoint as a citizen of Oklahoma speaking on a matter of public concern. I am not a spokesperson or representative of the University of Oklahoma.
Higher education in Oklahoma has been taken over by a small group of radical left-wing political extremists whose views and goals are in no way representative of the vast majority of the people of Oklahoma. These people are not liberals. Hateful and irrational, they do not believe in democracy, free speech, or freedom of conscience. Their goal is to indoctrinate students in leftist totalitarian ideology and suppress all dissent by any means possible. They maintain control and power by bullying and intimidating anyone who disagrees with them. See for yourself: watch the video that shows the humiliation and profane cursing of OU President Gallogly at a Jan. 22 public meeting. In 2017, Kirk Humphreys was forced to resign from the Board of Regents at OU.
OU President Gallogly has made a commendable effort to get the budget under control. But he’s barely begun to nibble around the edges. One example: in 2015, OU created an “Office of University Community” whose mission is to enforce political correctness on campus and indoctrinate students in left-wing political doctrines such as white privilege, cultural appropriation, and social justice. In October of 2018, the Office of Community sent out a memorandum warning students to not engage in “cultural appropriation” when choosing Halloween costumes. Think about that in terms of budget discipline: OU maintains a staff of ten people to regulate Halloween costumes.
OU has a “Gender + Equality Center” staffed by five people that put on an annual “Crimson and Queens Drag Show.” Other wasteful boondoggles at OU include a Gay Lounge, Islamic Prayer Room, and a Center for Social Justice that publicly boasts of training students in political activism (of the type that was on display when President Gallogly was attacked).
Faculty and administrative salaries at OU are grotesquely inflated. The Governor of Oklahoma is paid $147,000. A US Congressman makes $174,000. The median family income in Oklahoma is about $50,000. Yet there are more than a hundred faculty and administrators at OU who make more than $200,000. A few years ago, I was astonished to see that the average salary for a Dean at OU had risen to $200,000. Now it’s closer to $300,000. No faculty member or administrator at OU needs or deserves to have an income higher than that of the Governor. Students and taxpayers are being gouged.
In 2015, OU summarily expelled two students from the SAE fraternity for chanting racial epithets. Although what the students did was despicable, OU’s response was illegal and resulted in FIRE listing OU as one of the “ten worst colleges for free speech” in 2016. Even murderers, rapists, and child abusers have a right to due process of law. But the SAE students were allowed no notice of the charges against them, no hearing, and no defense. FIRE characterized OU’s actions as ” one of the most brazen violations of free speech and due process rights to occur on campus in 2015…numerous colleges across the country seized on OU’s unconstitutional actions as a signal that they have an “all clear” to toss freedom of speech and basic fairness out of the window.”
The loss of academic freedom at OU is so bad that one State Regent has warned that “higher education is rushing headlong toward an anti-intellectual abyss.”
OU prides itself on professed values of “diversity” and “inclusion.” These supposed policies are a fraud. For anyone who is a conservative (or even a political moderate), the OU campus is the most intolerant and hateful place in the entire state. On Feb. 2, 2017, a student simply holding an American Flag had “racial slurs and threats” directed against him. Another student had “his Trump flag stolen and his white hat knocked off of his head.” Unlike the SAE incident, no action whatsoever was taken by the OU administration against the perpetrators.
The First Amendment guarantees a right to free speech, but in November of 2016, the OU Faculty Senate passed a resolution encouraging “everyone” to report cases of “hate speech” (anything that is politically incorrect) to the police, emulating totalitarian governments such as North Korea, Cuba, or Venezuela.
In Fall of 2018, law professor Brian McCall was forced to resign from his position as associate dean for academic affairs at OU because of his conservative and religious beliefs. The persecution of professor McCall was condemned by the Oklahoman, who concluded (Oct. “there’s zero evidence McCall imposed his views on others…[he] was targeted for being conservative and religiously devout.”
For some 25 years, I have witnessed the slow and insidious subversion of OU from an educational institution to one that is devoted increasingly to political indoctrination. More than anything else, the cancer seed that drives this process are the “grievance studies” programs: Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, and Native American Studies. Grievance studies are entirely devoted to promoting radical left-wing ideologies that subvert traditional American values of individualism, democracy, tolerance, and freedom. These programs have nothing to do with the people they take their names from. Native Americans, for example, are an important and valued constituency in Oklahoma. Great people! But most Native Americans want what other Oklahomans want: good jobs in areas such as nursing, engineering, geology, and computer science–not indoctrination in leftist political ideologies.
Grievance studies have never been fields of genuine scholarly study. What passes for scholarship is laughable. At OU we have a professor of women’s and gender studies whose research specialty is the feminist interpretation of “Hong Kong martial arts films.”
Legislative appropriations are invariably diverted to political indoctrination. Example: the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development has stated that Oklahoma has a critical shortage of nurses. How did OU respond? In 2017, OU hired three new faculty…not for the College of Nursing, but for “Native American Studies,” a field in which there are no jobs.
There can be no reform without a frank recognition and admission of problems. State leaders need to stop allowing themselves to be intimidated and bullied by left-wing radicals and extremists. Legislators need to stop writing blank checks and link funding with reform.
Oklahoma colleges need to follow other universities (e.g., Yale, Purdue) by adopting the Chicago Statement, a declaration that affirms an institution’s dedication to free speech, open discussion, and scholarly inquiry unimpeded by political correctness.
An Oklahoma constitutional amendment that limits salaries in higher education to be no higher than the Governor’s salary.
The Governor should convene a higher education summit of University and State Regents that decisively wipes out all the politicization, corruption, and waste in one fell swoop and returns our colleges and universities to their mission of education and research.
This piece was originally published on SoonerPolitics.org on Jan 23, 2019.
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David Deming is an American geologist and geophysicist, is an associate professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. He is an adjunct faculty member at two conservative think tanks, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and the National Center for Policy Analysis.