Florida Has a Right to Destroy its Universities
If Ron DeSantis wants to gut Florida’s public colleges, that’s up to Floridians.
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Elections have consequences. Florida’s governor has decided to root out wrong-think at one of Florida’s public colleges, and his harebrained meddling will likely harm the school, but he has every right to do it.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Florida’s Soviet Commissars
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has set out to ruin one of Florida’s public colleges. He’s appointed several board members to the ideologically progressive New College of Florida with, apparently, a mandate to somehow rebuild it and thus save it from its dreaded wokeification. Helpfully for the cause of screwing up a college, most of the new overseers aren’t from Florida and don’t live there; one of them, in fact, is Christopher Rufo, a young man from the Manhattan Institute who has no actual experience in higher education but does have a genuine talent for rhetoric that he seems to have gained at the Soviet Higher Institute of Pedagogy somewhere in Moscow or Leningrad circa 1970.
Bristling at criticism from the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, Rufo fired back on social media. “We’re in charge now,” he tweeted, adding that his goal was “constitutionally-mandated democratic governance, to correct the ideological corruption of *public universities.*”
As they would have said during those old Party meetings: The comrade’s remarks about implementing the just and constitutional demands of the People to improve ideological work in our educational collectives and remove corruption from the ranks of our teaching cadres were met with prolonged, stormy applause.
Rufo is part of a new generation of young right-wing activists who have managed to turn trolling into a career. Good for him, I guess, but these self-imagined champions of a new freedom are every bit as dogmatic as the supposed leftist authoritarians they think they’re opposing. Their demands for ideological purity are part of an ongoing hustle meant to convince ordinary Americans that the many institutions of the United States, from the FBI in Washington down to a college in Sarasota, are somehow all scheming against them.
But Rufo is absolutely right about one thing: If Ron DeSantis wants to put him in charge of a “top-down restructuring” of a Florida college, the governor has every right to do it.
Elections have consequences. If the people of Florida, through their electoral choices, want to wreck one of their own colleges, it is within the state’s legitimate power to do so. In fact, Florida could decide tomorrow to amend its own constitution and abolish state universities entirely. There’s no national right to a college education, and if Florida wants to unleash a battalion of Guy Montags on its own state colleges and their libraries—well, that’s up to the voters.
But something more important is going on here. At this point in any discussion of college education, we are all supposed to acknowledge that colleges have, in fact, become ridiculously liberal. There’s some truth to that charge; I included some stories of campus boobery when I wrote about the role of colleges in America some years back. And only a few weeks ago, I joined the many people blasting Hamline University for going off the rails and violating basic principles of academic freedom while infantilizing and overprotecting students.
Fine, so stipulated: Many colleges do silly things and have silly professors saying silly things.
But the Sovietization of the New College isn’t about any of that. Something has changed on the American right, which is now seized with a hostility toward higher education that is driven by cultural resentment, and not by “critical race theory” or any of the other terms that most Americans don’t even understand. College among conservatives has become a kind of shorthand for identifying with all kinds of populist grievances, a ploy used even by Republicans with Ivy League educations as a means of cozying up to its non-college-educated and resentful base.
GOP attitudes about education have changed fast. As recently as 2015, most Republicans, by a wide margin, thought of universities as a positive influence on the United States. Four years later, those numbers flipped, and nearly 60 percent of Republicans saw universities as having a negative impact on the country.
It doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to realize that those four years tracked with the rise of Donald Trump and a movement whose populist catechism includes seething anger at “the elites,” a class that no longer means “people with money and power”—after all, Republicans have gobs of both—but rather “those bookish snobs who look down on our True Real-American Values.” The Republican message, aided by the usual hypocrites in the right-wing entertainment ecosystem (such as Tucker Carlson, a prep-school product who told kids to drop out of college but asked Hunter Biden for help getting his own son into Georgetown), is that colleges are grabbing red-blooded American kids and replacing them with Woke Communist Pod People.
This is a completely bizarre line of attack: It posits that a graduate student making a pittance grading exams is more “elite” than a rich restaurant owner. But it works like a charm, in part because how Americans measure their success (and their relative status) has shifted from the simple metric of wealth to less tangible characteristics about education and lifestyle. Our national culture, for both better and worse, has arguably become more of a monoculture, even in rural areas. And many Americans, now living in a hyperconnected world, are more aware of cultural differences and the criticism of others. Those self-defined “real Americans” partake in that same overall national culture, of course, but they nonetheless engage in harsh judgment of their fellow citizens that is at least as venomous as what they imagine is being directed by “the elites” back at them.
Which brings us back to DeSantis—a graduate, he would apparently like you to forget, of Harvard and Yale. DeSantis is now a “populist,” much like Trump (Penn), Ted Cruz (Princeton and Harvard), Josh Hawley (Stanford and Yale), and Elise Stefanik (Harvard and the Ferengi Diplomatic Academy). He has tasked Rufo (Georgetown and Harvard) to “remake” a school meant for the sons and daughters of Florida’s taxpayers not so that he can offer more opportunity to the people of his state, but so that he can run for president as just one of the regular folks whom reporters flock to interview in diners across the mountains and plains of a great nation.
Look, I live in New England surrounded by excellent public and private institutions, and I candidly admit that I couldn’t care less what kind of damage Florida does to its own schools. If Florida parents really don’t want Ron DeSantis appointing ideological commissars to annoy deans and department chairs, then they should head to the ballot box and fix it. But in the meantime, faux populists, the opportunists and hucksters who infest the modern GOP, are going to undermine education for the people who need it the most: the youngsters who rely on public education. And that’s a tragedy that will extend far beyond whatever becomes of the careers of Ron DeSantis or Christopher Rufo.
- A sixth Memphis police officer has been suspended from the force during the investigation of Tyre Nichols’s death.
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is starting to present evidence to a grand jury in its criminal investigation into Donald Trump. The evidence focuses on Trump’s role in paying hush money to an adult-film star during his 2016 campaign.
- The Ukrainian air force warned that it would not be able to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles, should Russia obtain them.
- Up for Debate: Conor Friedersdorf collects reader perspectives on how to improve policing.
- Famous People: Lizzie and Kaitlyn attend a party with a very specific heart- and belly-warming theme.
- The Wonder Reader: Isabel Fattal explores how coffee became capitalism’s favorite drug.
Explore all of our newsletters here.
The Luxury Dilemma
By Xochitl Gonzalez
Behind vine-covered walls on a modest hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard sits the decidedly immodest Chateau Marmont. The hotel was inspired by a French Gothic castle and, at 93, it is easily the oldest thing in Los Angeles that’s still considered sexy.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker without a driver’s license, I found the hotel the perfect place to park myself for a day of meetings in the era before Ubers and WeWorks and Soho Houses. I used to go there in the 2000s, back when I was a wedding planner. It was like a celebrity safari; stars would walk by, within arm’s reach. You could “do Los Angeles” without ever needing to move. I never could have afforded a room there, but I knew by reputation that at night it offered entertainment of a different sort: luxury and licentiousness and debauchery, unbounded by any rules.
In more recent years, I’ve returned to Los Angeles in a different career—as a screenwriter traveling on someone else’s dime. Naturally, I didn’t want to just take meetings at the Chateau; I wanted to stay there, to be a fly on the wall where the wild things were. Only I couldn’t.
I was told, in early 2021, that the hotel was not taking any new bookings.
More From The Atlantic
Read. “Poem Beginning With a Sentence From My Last Will & Testament,” by Donald Platt.
“Lucy, when I die, / I want you to scatter one-third of my ashes among the sand dunes / of Virginia Beach.”
Watch. Infinity Pool, in theaters, is a gory, existential horror film with a premise deliciously nasty enough to keep you invested—even if it can’t quite keep up with its initial hook.
I usually take this final word in the Daily to direct you toward something fun or interesting, often derived from my admittedly oddball taste in pop culture. Today, I’m going to ask for your indulgence as I offer you something that I wrote yesterday in our Ideas section.
Some years ago, I wrote about the young losers and misfits among us who suddenly explode and commit mass murder. Even before the recent shootings in California (which actually are outliers in the general pattern of attacks by younger men), I’d decided to revisit this question. I wanted to think more about why America—and, yes, other nations as well—has produced so many lost young men who turn to performative and spectacular acts of murder or terrorism. I think the growth of narcissism is one of the answers, but I discuss it all at more length in this article, which I cannot say is pleasant reading but, I hope, offers a path toward more productive discussions about how to prevent such tragedies.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.