February 10, 2023 - 6:00pm

The return of the American university to its roots in puritan theology has met with much hand-wringing in recent years. And yet, while many have sounded the alarm, no coherent counter-strategy has formed. Meanwhile, it is easy to find stories of those who have found themselves jobless after questioning the latest orthodoxies, usually after a period of public shaming followed by a show trial. 

Particularly egregious has been the spread of loyalty oaths to a narrowly defined vision of “social justice” under the guise of “diversity statements”. These are clearly designed to ensure ideological conformity among future faculty or, if not that, to at least humiliate fellow travellers into submission by forcing them to lie for the chance of a job. The increasing ubiquity of these and other policies of dubious legality has been well documented by John Sailer at the National Association of Scholars and, more recently, by the conservative activist Chris Rufo — albeit to little effect. 

Until now, that is. This week, after Sailer published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal exposing how the biology department at Texas Tech University marked down job applicants who were barbaric enough to admit that they intended to treat all races equally, the university immediately issued a statement claiming to have been unaware of the practice, which it had now abolished anyway. The next day, Rufo published a letter reportedly sent by Governor Greg Abbott’s chief of staff to all the state universities in Texas, informing them that using DEI statements as a screening tool is illegal. 

This follows hot on the heels of Ron DeSantis’s recent announcement that he intends to end all funding for DEI initiatives, suggesting that the apparent race between Texas and Florida to be the leading conservative state is very real. That said, Abbott took a less scorched-earth approach than DeSantis. His letter says that DEI is not inherently a bad thing, but that it has been “manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others” and can be fixed by the enforcement of existing laws.  

The speed at which Texas Tech caved, and Florida State University’s sudden removal of language in violation of the Civil Rights Act from one of its scholarship programmes, suggests that the ideologues may be less powerful than they appear. Indeed, if there is one thing that American universities love more than social justice, it is money, with even the wealthiest colleges showing no shame when it comes to begging for donations. DeSantis appears to be rousing other Republican governors to the idea that, as they control the flow of taxpayer dollars to these institutions, they therefore have a say over what happens inside.

If other Red State governors follow suit, then it is not hard to imagine — American politics being as berserk as it is — that Blue State universities might triple down on their commitment to becoming hyper-progressive madrasahs. Certainly, the least likely outcome is that institutions of higher education across the land will calmly self-correct and agree to respect the pursuit of truth and viewpoint diversity.  Of course, many liberal academics and free speech organisations such as FAIR are dismayed. Then again, their total failure to right the house from within has made the pursuit of political solutions inevitable. Interesting frictions lie ahead.

Daniel Kalder is an author based in Texas. Previously, he spent ten years living in the former Soviet bloc. His latest book, Dictator Literature, is published by Oneworld. He also writes on Substack: Thus Spake Daniel Kalder.