Opportunistic university administrators seize the opportunity presented by Covid to gut academic freedom and turn faculty into employees
Opportunistic university administrators seize the opportunity presented by Covid to gut academic freedom and turn faculty into employees
In his latest attack on democratic values and principles, US President Donald Trump issued executive orders purging critical race theory (CRT) from diversity training in US federal agencies. According to the first order issued on September 4, “The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.” The order refers to diversity training that involves discussions of white privilege and the systemic forms of racism that are embedded within US history and institutions. According to the president’s most recent Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping issued on September 22, the so-called “destructive ideology” of white privilege is “grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world.”
It is significant that these directives follow months of nationwide protests against racism in policing and the criminal justice system. The interdisciplinary field of critical race theory occupies an important position in the ideological basis of the Black Lives Matter movement. Activists protesting against systemic racism have made a point of acknowledging the many important critical race theorists and philosophers of the past and present who have advanced struggles for racial justice. The radical right has taken note of the relationship between CRT and Black Lives Matter. Breitbart News, for example, defines CRT as “the leftist, racist doctrine that forms the intellectual underpinnings of Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other radical organizations currently engaged in unrest on America’s streets.”
The Trump administration’s censorship of CRT is an effort to counter the scholarly and intellectual critique that has been integral within advocacy and policy change to advance racial, sex and gender justice. It is the ability of CRT to name and challenge systemic racism that makes it confrontational to the ability of white and male privilege and power to remain unmarked, unnamed and unchallenged. In their response to Trump’s directive, the deans of all five California’s law schools stated that “CRT invites us to confront with unflinching honesty how race has operated in our history and our present, and to recognize the deep and ongoing operation of ‘structural racism,’ through which racial inequality is reproduced within our economic, political, and educational systems even without individual racist intent.”
Critical race theory has been put into practice through diversity education and training, showing how racism and sexism are not merely beliefs held and perpetuated by individuals, but that these and other forms of discrimination and exclusion are institutional and systemic. To eliminate CRT is to censor words and concepts like intersectionality, implicit bias, stereotyping, stigma, whiteness, white privilege and systemic and institutional racism, which effectively closes down processes of naming and unlearning unearned privileges associated with one’s race and gender.
CRT and cognate forms of diversity training have become important means of advancing the equal recognition and rights of those who have been historically excluded and victimized on the basis of their race, gender, disability or sexual orientation not only in the United States but in many parts of the world. In South Africa (the main context in which this author conducts research and teaching), CRT has been integral within efforts to name and challenge the persistence of white supremacy and white privilege in public and private sectors. Critical diversity studies has also emerged as a recognized academic field and area of professional development and training in South Africa.
While diversity training within US federal agencies is the immediate target of President Trump’s executive orders, scholars have raised alarm about implications for CRT as an area of scholarship. The Association of American University Professors issued a statement highlighting this concern, arguing that the order “denies and dismisses the efforts of experts across a wide variety of disciplines — such as law, history, social sciences, and humanities — to help us better understand and reckon with our legacy of slavery and persistent institutional racism.”
Radical-right hostility toward the intellectual left is nothing new. In the United States, a right-wing intelligentsia has taken shape over the past 40 years, largely funded by conservative corporate philanthropic organizations. As Donna Nicol reports, conservative American critics have accused race and ethnic studies, as well as women’s studies, of being anti-Western and anti-American, arguing that these disciplines radicalize students toward “social anarchy” and undermined the American “free enterprise system.” The September 22 executive order, which accuses CRT of being a form of “propaganda” that amounts to “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating,” grants this hostility new levels of power, influence and acceptability.
The recent orders that ban CRT in diversity training for US federal agencies is a warning that US-based critical academics are joining the ranks of critical scholars internationally who are facing repression by radical-right populist leaders. Trump’s blitz on critical race theory comes amidst a trend of growing attacks on academic freedom in many other parts of the world. Censorship of CRT also comes amidst the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacist organizations. His comments during a recent debate for these groups to “stand back and stand by” was lauded by the self-described “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys as a call to arms.
On the one hand, then, the Trump administration and other populist regimes’ agendas against the naming and interrogation of white supremacy may be indicative of their awareness that they are losing ground against anti-racist and anti-colonial movements for social justice and are feeling a threat to their hegemony. On the other hand, the banning of critical race theory in US federal agencies is indicative that academic freedom is the next democratic principle at stake and that critical scholars, especially those in publicly-funded institutions of higher learning, have good cause to be alarmed.
Dr Haley McEwen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Researcher at the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg). See full profile here.
© Haley McEwen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
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Higher Education In America Being Built On Mountains Of Debt
Sun, 10/04/2020 – 18:04
The democratic principle of tuition-free education in our country pre-dates the founding of the United States. The first public primary education was offered in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, and its legislature created Harvard College the following year to make education available to all qualified students. Even before the Constitution was ratified, the Confederation Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785, which required newly established townships in territories ceded by the British to devote a section of land for a public school. It also passed the Northwest Ordinances, which set out the guidelines for how the territories could become states. Among those guidelines was a requirement to establish public universities and a stipulation that “the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” After the nation declared independence, Thomas Jefferson argued for a formal education system funded through government taxation.
Jefferson’s vision took form over the course of more than a century, as state and local governments began creating primary schools and then high schools. The federal government became involved in higher education in the 19th century with the creation of land grant colleges and other institutions, used primarily to teach agriculture and education after the Civil War. These institutions created opportunities for people who had long been locked out of the learning process, including formerly enslaved African Americans and impoverished people of all races.
It is long past time to recognize that the cruel experiment in financing higher education through student loans has failed.
State universities and colleges rapidly expanded as well. By the middle of the 20th century, low-cost or tuition-free education was available in many American states. After the Second World War, the federal government once again turned to education to promote opportunities for its citizens and economic growth for all. The G.I. Bill paid educational expenses for 8 million people, without regard to individual wealth, which helped create a robust middle class and contributed to the vibrant growth economy of the 1950s and 1960s. While those opportunities were still denied to many people as the result of racism, efforts were underway to improve educational access for people of color.
The Reagan era ushered in a belief that government programs, including education, stood in the way of people’s dreams and should be severely cut back. Public goods came to be seen as investments, ones that were purely economic in nature. For these reasons, among others, a nation that had expanded publicly funded education for centuries decided to reverse course. Instead of funding higher education on the principle that it benefits us all, the country began shifting the cost to individual students.
In the 1950s, as part of the National Defense Education Act, student loans were created as an experiment in social engineering. Concerned about competition with the Soviet Union, policymakers wanted to increase students’ capabilities in math and sciences. To do that, the country needed more teachers. So, lawmakers offered loans to college students, with the opportunity to have half the loan canceled after 10 years if they became teachers.
The experiment failed. Researchers have not been able to prove that the student loan program led more people to become teachers, despite multiple attempts to do so. The experiment was also cruel. Over the years, the student loan program was expanded, with the claim that a student’s personal investment in their education was an “investment” that would pay off in higher wages. Banks and other private lenders were brought into the process and given considerable incentives and subsidies to issue student loans, without considering the burden being imposed on the student. This financial opportunity was given to banking interests that were already wealthy, with little thought of the resulting damage to an economically sustainable future.
Proponents of financializing the cost of higher education argued that it was cheaper to lend money to students than it was for federal and state governments to provide grants for their education, even after paying subsidies to the private sector for their loans. An entire industry grew up around this process. State and nonprofit guaranty agencies were created to insure the loans. These agencies got paid, no matter what: when loans were issued, when loans became delinquent, when borrowers defaulted, and when they collected on defaulted loans.
In response, most states created guaranty agencies so they could make money from people who needed to borrow to pay for ever-increasing tuitions and fees. Now, states had an extra incentive to cut funding for public higher education. Not only would they save on expenditures, but they could increase the need for students to borrow, which increased their revenue. In many cases, these guaranty agencies don’t handle the loans themselves. They pass the work on to private debt collectors who take collection fees and are aggressive in their handling of cases.
The system took on a life of its own. By the mid-1990s, student loans had surpassed grants in funding students’ higher education. But a system built on debt financing only works if borrowers pay back their loans. That led Congress to make the system even crueler with the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984, which exempted student loans from bankruptcy proceedings and subjected borrowers to draconian collection tools. These tools included wage garnishment without a court order and the seizure of Social Security checks and tax refunds. The Clinton and Obama administrations attempted to lessen the burden slightly by allowing the federal government to lend directly to students while introducing income-based repayment options, but the system’s fundamental cruelty remains unchanged today.
It is time to recognize that the cruel experiment in financing higher education through student loans has failed. It has captured 46 million people and their families in a student loan trap, including people who received vocational training, and has weakened the financial strength of higher education. Inescapable debt is a major driver of social collapse. It has made the racial wealth gap worse and weakened the entire economy, as debt holders are prevented from buying homes or consumer goods, starting families, or opening new businesses. It’s time to restore funds for higher education and cancel student debt for the victims of this failed experiment.
Mary Green Swig, Steven L. Swig, David A. Bergeron, and Richard J. Eskow
Independent Media Institute
Mary Green Swig is a senior fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and co-founder of Freedom to Prosper.
Steven L. Swig is a senior fellow at the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and co-founder of Freedom to Prosper.
David A. Bergeron is a senior fellow for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. Bergeron previously served as the acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Last Friday, when New York City educators were supposed to be in their third day of “professional development” held inside school buildings, teachers and other staffers at a Queens middle school, IS 230, took their work outside.
Sitting in chairs and on the concrete with their laptops, they refused to enter the school building after they learned that one of their co-workers had tested positive for COVID-19. Union officials were notified Thursday and immediately informed members. The city didn’t notify them till Friday.
The calls started at 6 a.m., and Patrick McCauley was ready, having retreated to the privacy of his garage where he sat waiting for Angelenos to share how they’re coping with the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the last 14 years, McCauley has worked as a mental health counselor and consultant in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In April, he began staffing a new hotline the district created to reach students, parents and teachers in need of mental health supports and other services as the virus forced people into isolation and cost jobs and lives.
One day he heard from a fifth grader who was terrified that her parents would catch the illness. Another day, a mother wanted advice on her once mild-mannered daughter, who had started throwing tantrums and yelling profanities after the quarantine began. Teachers wanted to know how to respond to students who appeared distraught during Zoom lessons, or what to do about the kids who didn’t log on at all.
McCauley, who has a soothing voice and a surfer’s unruffled mien, listened carefully and reassured the callers that they were experiencing understandable reactions to highly abnormal circumstances. Their testimony amounted to a warning, though, of what schools may face when they restart this fall: kids with a history of mental health problems whose symptoms have worsened, students who maybe experiencing anxiety or anger for the first time, children in households that have become financially precarious and those who are experiencing loss. More and more, schools are recognizing that academic learning may at times have to take a back seat to alleviating those challenges.
“Before we push anything at students academically, let’s ask how they’re doing, with no unrealistic expectations that we can somehow solve all their problems or magically fix everything and make all this go away, but just a lot of acknowledgement, a lot of listening to kids and trying to get them the support they need,” McCauley said.
Around the country, school leaders are trying to anticipate how these mental health burdens will shape what unfolds in classrooms and via screens during a school year in which the trauma is likely to worsen. Some school districts, such as Los Angeles Unified and Baltimore City, are running hotlines to provide guidance and connect families to services. Other schools are offering grief training to teachers, counseling them on how to recognize signs of distress, and encouraging them to attend to their own emotional wellbeing. Still others are setting up virtual “wellness rooms,” inviting community mental health agencies into schools and unveiling new or expanded “social-emotional curricula” to help students process their feelings.
“What’s happening right now is that all children, regardless of their backgrounds, are experiencing a potential stressor,” said Marisha Humphries, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a licensed clinical psychologist. “Schools appear to be very focused on academics and how do we combat summer slide, but I think the first priority has to be how are we going to support children’s social and emotional development. You cannot do effective instruction if children’s social and emotional needs aren’t met. It’s very hard to focus on algebra if you’re anxious or depressed.”
Research on the emotional toll of the pandemic on kids is relatively scant, given how new the crisis is. But what does exist is worrisome: A study of more than 2,300 kids who endured home confinement during the pandemic in Hubei province, China, found that nearly 23 percent reported symptoms of depression, and nearly 19 percent reported experiencing anxiety. In a review of past studies on loneliness and disease, researchers noted that, even early in the shutdown, more than a third of adolescents reported increased loneliness during the pandemic. Given the “well-established links between loneliness and mental health,” the researchers wrote, children and teens were more likely to experience depression and anxiety, even after quarantine concludes.
Already, in the U.S., up to 1 in 5 children experience a mental health challenge such as anxiety, depression or a behavioral problem in a given year. And yet many children don’t get the help they need. Even before the pandemic, many schools were overwhelmed with helping to fill gaps in health services and helping kids develop emotional coping skills. Now their efforts may be further complicated by the education system’s looming financial crisis, which is expected to bring layoffs for teachers, counselors and other school staff who work closely with students and can provide emotional support. The virus’ resurgence has also made efforts to support students more difficult by prolonging their isolation and ending hopes for an immediate return to face-to-face instruction and counseling in much of the country.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District, where 42 percent of children live below the poverty line, has tried for more than a decade to prioritize its students’ social-emotional needs. Administrators hope that before the district reopens in early September for remote-only learning, teachers and principals will have an opportunity to participate in “restorative learning circles” where they can debrief on how the pandemic has affected them. Then, when virtual learning begins, teachers would model those circles for their students, encouraging them to share their experiences since schools closed in March.
At the top of each school day, teachers would also do a “temperature check” of students, asking them how they’re doing, while mindfulness exercises would be sprinkled throughout the day, said William Stencil, who leads the district’s social-emotional work.
In recent decades, lessons like these have become popular in schools nationwide, amid a growing body of evidence suggesting that children’s capacity to regulate their emotions affects their ability to learn. But the lessons can be a burden for teachers, who have to squeeze them in between the avalanche of academic content they must cover. The pandemic, though, has left adults with little choice about prioritizing these needs.
“We’re going to have to offer an astounding amount of support,” said James Wagner, a fifth-grade teacher at Cleveland’s Benjamin Franklin PK-8 school. “We’re going to have to embed social-emotional learning within every single subject we teach, every minute that we’re with the students.” Wagner, who has taught in the district for 33 years, said he worries about many of his students, few of whom showed up for Zoom lessons in the spring.
It’s not just the virus that is leaving students feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Next door, in the East Cleveland school district, Jerome West said he wants to make space this year for conversations around racial injustice, which some psychologists refer to as “the second pandemic.” This spring, when George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, “kids were upset, they were angry, they were enraged, they thought how is this still happening, this is 2020,” said West, executive director of the East Cleveland Neighborhood Center. The nonprofit center provides social-emotional support to the school district, where 99 percent of students are Black.
When schools shut, the group held “wellness calls” with parents, and ran virtual programs for small groups of students, including a You Matter Academy designed to help kids cope with stress. Kids reported feeling lonely, frustrated and concerned that teachers were piling on worksheets and other assignments to compensate for the lack of in-person classes. Parents reported feeling anxious about taking on the role of teacher, but they also appreciated having more time with their kids, West said.
The Philadelphia school district, which will open remotely on September 2, plans to train principals, teachers and other staff on trauma and coping with stress, with a particular focus on racial injustice and social isolation. While the district has done social-emotional work in a piecemeal way in the past, all schools will now ask students to spend 30 minutes greeting each other and talking through their feelings each day, said Abigail Gray, deputy chief of school climate and culture. The district also intends to contract with additional counselors and social workers from local mental health agencies to work directly with students who need additional support.
At some KIPP charter schools in New Jersey, teachers will receive training in suicide prevention, grief counseling and how to spot signs of distress in an online environment. This fall, teachers will also trade “calming corners” in classrooms for an online wellness space where kids can listen to music, fill online coloring books or practice yoga on the school’s virtual learning platform. If students seem upset, a teacher might ping them through the virtual learning platform and encourage them to visit the web tool, said Sheyla Riaz, director of social work for KIPP New Jersey.
As crises go, the pandemic is unusual in that it combines a public health emergency and an economic downturn while isolating kids from school, friends, activities and other support. Each of these emergencies has the potential to create adverse child experiences, known as ACES, that can have long-term consequences on children’s health and wellbeing. Archana Basu, a clinical psychologist and instructor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that studies after the 2008 recession showed increases in partner violence and child maltreatment, which are among the experiences that can make a child more vulnerable to later health problems.
Basu also expects to see an increase in social anxiety and in students refusing to attend school. And Michael Lindsey, who directs New York University’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, noted that following the death of Floyd, anxiety and depression among Black Americans shot up. Violence, overpolicing and hate “all play a role in the psyche and mental health of Black youth that may make them reflect on whether their lives really matter, it might make them feel hopeless about their futures and if things might change,” he said. “Teachers are going to have to be very understanding and considerate of the frustrations that kids have experienced.”
“It is important to emphasize that this is not just remote or homeschooling,” Basu wrote in an email. “This is really very different. It is crisis schooling.”
This doesn’t mean that every kid will experience trauma from the events of this year; most won’t. Sadness and anxiety are perfectly natural responses to the pandemic and typically don’t become clinical concerns, said Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard school of public health. On the whole, kids tend to be more resilient than adults, she said.
“What’s hard in a lot of these situations, after any disaster, is that a lot of people have symptoms of anxiety, depression, even PTSD,” said Koenen. “Some of that is going to be normal reactions to difficult circumstances, and in many people and kids they will resolve over time … But in some people they won’t, and we can’t always predict well where the problem is.” That reinforces the need for universal interventions such as the social-emotional work that some school districts are trying, experts say.
But efforts to intervene and help kids can be expensive. Social-emotional lessons sometimes require curricula schools must purchase and professional development for teachers. Counseling and other one-on-one supports for kids who need greater attention is costly and counselors are already stretched thin: Nationally, counselors serve an average of more than 430 students. Many schools lack social workers, psychologists and other mental-health staff. It’s unclear whether schools will have the money to help kids who need it at a time when falling tax revenues will soon force deep cuts in U.S. public education.
Historically, districts have been relatively quick to shed school counseling jobs. The Philadelphia school system, for example, eliminated hundreds of school counselors and nurses during a 2013 budget crisis. But Jayme Banks, director of trauma-informed school practices, said the district recognized the toll that spreading counseling staff thin had on students, and would prioritize mental health through this crisis. “Lessons were learned,” she said.
In Tennessee, the governor had pledged in February to put $250 million in a trust fund for mental health in schools. But in June, amid predictions of a $1 billion shortfall, that money was cut from a revised budget. Teachers, counselors and parents say they worry how schools will grapple with the increased needs this fall, in a state where youth suicide rates have been steadily climbing.
“It’s the opposite of robust,” said Rachel Bauer, a parent in Memphis, of the support available at the PK-8 school her daughter, Noel, attends. “It’s minimal, basic.”
Four years ago, after her son died of misdiagnosed strep throat, Bauer sought school counseling for Noel, who is now 11. For a while Noel benefited from seeing the counselor once a month, but “there are just too many students who need her as well,” said Bauer. When the year ended, they turned to private counseling, an option unavailable to many families.
Bauer worries that the pandemic will exacerbate feelings of grief and anxiety in kids like Noel who’ve experienced past trauma. This spring, said Bauer, “I saw her spirits dim.”
Still, there are a few places that have made investments in counseling and support. In June, the Dallas Independent School District announced that it would hire 53 new clinicians and reorganize its work helping children with emotional and behavioral needs under a new Mental Health Services Department.
That expansion was prompted by the fact that students were waiting an average of three months to see a clinician, said Leslie Stephens, assistant superintendent of school leadership. “Three months is a long time to say, ‘Deal with it the best you can,’ ” she said.
For now, Dallas schools are planning to open in early September under a hybrid model, with a mix of virtual and in-person classes. Paula Agulefo, a clinician who has worked in the district for 10 years, said she was able to stay in touch with students this spring via video calls.
She spoke with kids who couldn’t sleep, kids who’d started wetting the bed again, and children who’d been chatterboxes but had gone quiet. It was harder to connect with kids virtually but not impossible, she said.
“If they’re watching a Disney movie, I’m watching the Disney movie too. If they’re playing a hand game, they’re telling me about it. I know more about Fortnite than I have ever known,” she said. “Children are very good at allowing you into their world when they trust you.”
Agulefo said she’s optimistic teachers and administrators will find a way to meet kids’ emotional and academic needs when schools reopen. “There’s no blueprint or examples of how this can be done, but we know it has to be done,” she said. “We have to get it done because kids, they have to learn.”
This story on mental health in schools was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
Teachers Unions Test Goodwill with Strike Threats, Hardball Negotiations
Tue, 08/18/2020 – 20:22
Calls For Nationwide Sickout As Arizona School District Cancels Reopening
Sun, 08/16/2020 – 16:23
Late last week, as part of his ongoing effort to pressure schools into reopening this fall during the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump threatened the tax-exempt status afforded to schools throughout the country, adding that “too many Schools and Universities are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education.” As a legal matter, law professors and a former US Education Department attorney tell Mother Jones, Trump’s threat is a nonstarter on First Amendment grounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
“At a practical level, higher education and K-12 education operate on a nonprofit basis. That’s the way it’s been for time immemorial,” says John DiPaolo, who worked at the Education Department for five years during the Obama administration. “To threaten to try to remove that is to threaten to economic harm or even to destroy higher education or K-12 institutions.”
… and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2020
DiPaolo, who served as deputy general counsel for postsecondary education from 2014 to 2017 and now works as general counsel to University of California, Hastings College of the Law, sees Trump’s tweets less as an immediate material threat to schools than as a revival of an old right-wing trope. It’s the claim that higher education is “a political player on the left and a threat to the political position of those on the right,” a rhetorical attack used to “debilitate educational institutions.”
“Whatever the political viewpoints that could be espoused or discussed in a classroom or at an institution, the government can’t decide to remove a benefit because the president or any part of the government doesn’t like those political views,” says DiPaolo, who emphasized that he wasn’t speaking as a representative of UC Hastings. “That’s a cardinal view of the First Amendment, that the government doesn’t get to pick and choose among the viewpoints that it likes and doesn’t like, and give benefits on that basis.”
The president’s latest Twitter eruption comes as he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pressure administrators by tying additional funding relief to their willingness to reopen their schools’ doors—another bluff lacking any legal basis. On Fox News on Sunday, DeVos told Chris Wallace that schools that fail to reopen during the fall shouldn’t receive federal funds.
Wallace follows up on multiple Trump threats to cut off school aid; asks how she would do that. Shouldn’t you want to spend *more* money, he asks?
DeVos: If schools aren’t going to reopen, they shouldn’t get federal funds.
Wallace: You can’t do that unilaterally.
— Andrew Ujifusa (@AndrewUjifusa) July 12, 2020
The closest precedent for revoking an institution’s tax exemption is the case of Bob Jones University, says Clinton Wallace, who teaches tax law and tax policy at the University of South Carolina. The Christian fundamentalist college in Greenville, S.C., was stripped of its exemption in 1970 because of its ban on interracial dating and marriage. Bob Jones argued that the Internal Revenue Service was infringing on its religious freedom. In 1983, the Supreme Court sided with the IRS, concluding that the government’s interest in eliminating racial discrimination in education outstripped whatever burden the denial of tax benefits would place on Bob Jones’ religious freedom. In 2017, the university regained its tax-exempt status.
Wallace says that the Bob Jones case was an outlier—one of the rare moments when the IRS revoked an exemption because an institution’s actions were “so obviously contrary to general public policy.”
“And that was easy enough with blatant racism at Bob Jones, and they were defending their right to discriminate,” he says. “But it has been harder in other cases. It’s not something that they [the IRS] have pressed.”
“Fighting racial discrimination, particularly in education is a value that has been embraced and enshrined in the constitution,” DiPaolo says. The Bob Jones case is an “exception that proves the rule,” he adds. “It was a very special case in terms of what the school was doing and how that related to the overall conception of the public good and the whole nation that led to this happening. It’s really, really different from what Trump’s is talking about.”
Derek W. Black, Wallace’s colleague at South Carolina at the University of South Carolina and author of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, tells Mother Jones that threats from the president don’t need much legal backing to cause real harm.
“When you are willing to be that lawless, you scare people,” he says, referring to the Trump administration’s threat to withhold money from schools that refuse to open. “You end up scaring them into giving up their legal rights because you are talking about millions of dollars at stake. Maybe you’re not sure or maybe you’ve never fought with the federal government before. Or maybe it’s better just to go along to get along and hope that someone else will step up and write things. But you have this vacuum in time in which, once they issued that [threat], they get what they want. If it forces additional 30, 40, 50, or 100 universities to do something they weren’t going to before, this administration could care less that they lose in court after he’s not even in an office anymore.
“When we used to talk about the bully pulpit of the presidency, what we meant was the president’s ability to convince people that he or she was right, and for them to agree with the president. But [for] this president and the secretary of education, the bully pulpit is actually different. It is a physical bully pulpit, in which we will try to compel you and force you through money to do things that we think are in our political best interest but there’s no legal basis for. So they’re taking the bully pulpit to a whole new level, and then it’s on institutions to defend themselves in court against a bully.”