Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson, unlike many of his conservative colleagues, has a use for the Department of Education. Instead of eliminating it altogether, he would have the department monitor colleges for “extreme political bias” to judge whether or not they are fit for federal funding.
Talking Points Memo reported October 22 that retired famed neurosurgeon and 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson, in an interview with “The Blaze,” told Glenn Beck — when asked if he would “shut down” the Department of Education — that he would repurpose the Department of Education. “I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,” he said. “It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.”
Although Carson did not elaborate, his views on higher learning and public education are well known. An advocate of home schooling and antagonistic toward America’s universities (he once stated that high school Advanced Placement courses, classes designed specifically to ready high school students for college, were a gateway to provide ISIS — the terrorist organization — with volunteers), he publicly lambastes universities. So when he speaks of “extreme political bias,” there is little doubt he speaks of the liberalism that colleges are famous (notorious?) for…
However, shutting down the Department of Education is more of a constitutional maneuver than Dr. Carson’s plans for the federal department. Monitoring or policing the nation’s colleges is tantamount to censorship and suppression. The threat of federal defunding simply due to the perceived existence of political bias is coercion at its most odious — the denial of funding for institutions that provide higher learning for the masses.
In fact, as The Atlantic points out, it is much akin to the fairness doctrine, the FCC bylaw that required radio stations to present civic topics in such a way that were deemed honest, equitable, and balanced by FCC regulators. This requirement was eliminated in 1987 as unconstitutional and subsequently led to the rise of conservative talk radio.
And just like the fairness doctrine, Ben Carson’s proposal is as unconstitutional as it sounds. Worse, as Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic, “Revoking university funding for political bias sounds like it would involve federal officials punishing speech based on its viewpoint, a clear violation of the First Amendment.
“And even if it weren’t unconstitutional and hypocritical — a right-wing version of the very abrogations of intellectual freedom on campus that the right-wing correctly inveighs against — it is a remarkably dumb proposal, even for an unprincipled, big-government conservative who wants nothing more than to stick it to the left-wing.”
On this both liberals and conservatives can agree. In fact, they do. Taylor Millard, posting on the conservative website Hot Air, noted that the idea of policing universities was both “awful” and “repugnant.”
Ultimately, institutions of higher learning — whether they lean politically liberal or conservative — are bastions of free speech, where the students are given the freedom to develop philosophical and political stances as they choose. Or, at the very least, they should be. And Ben Carson’s idea of having a political bias police agency (the Department of Education) may just be as abhorrent to free thought as political correctness, something Carson has stated on numerous occasions he detests. Yet, in making this proposal, he becomes the very advocate of the kind of censoring he says he disavows, because what can be considered more politically correct than the ability to award and punish on the basis of political bias, extreme or otherwise?