In a recent article at the New Yorker, Jedediah Purdy examined the role of politics in the recent elimination of three centers and institutes at the University of North Carolina, most notably the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, by the board of governors. This article exposes the real reasons for the attacks on higher education, not just at UNC, but nationally. As Purdy explains, “Republican politics in North Carolina are characterized by a tight interweaving of elected officials with think tanks and advocacy groups.” One of those groups is the Pope Center, which “defines its mission as to ‘increase the diversity of ideas’ on campus and ‘encourage respect for the institutions that underlie economic prosperity,’ including ‘private property,’ ‘competition,’ and ‘limits on government.’”
In one of its reports the Pope Center “devote[ed] a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to ‘the morality of capitalism,’ which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs…were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to ‘retake the universities’ from ‘statist/collectivist ideas.’ He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is ‘clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.’”
This is only one of many think tanks and special interest groups that has spent a lot of time and money to undermine public education (K-12 and higher education) as we know it. One of the most successful has been the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which, according to their website, “works to advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” (to see some of its model legislation on education see ALEC Exposed) These political groups have allies in the religious community who would also like to see the destruction of public education as well. Recent legislation pushed by Republican-controlled state legislatures has already greatly benefited these religious groups as money designated for public education is funneled into private religious schools through voucher programs (see The New York Times).
Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, declared that his goal was to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and therefore called for “skills and subjects employers need.” And that “[o]ur universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.” But this rhetoric is only meant to mask their real goal to perpetuate a status quo that preserves and increases the power and wealth of the 1%.