(CCU Faculty) In a political race that’s been too much under the radar, CU Board of Regents member Steve Bosley is running for statewide re-election, challenged by CU law school prof, Melissa Hart. This race will shape the board that governs the University of Colorado, and the main subject of political dispute is, well, politics, and whether it has any place in higher education.
[Editor: This article first appeared in the Denver Post, Oct. 20 online edition.]
Hart seems to want it both ways: She insists that politics be kept out of education, yet she brings to the CU regents a kind of self-serving politics—she’s employed by the public institution she wants to govern—that betrays the public trust.
In a recent radio interview, Hart suggested that Bosley and other regents should focus “not on politics,” while congratulating herself for being “less tied to politics.” But to suggest that politics should or even can be removed from education is silly. The choice “we the people” make to offer public university education for our children is a profoundly political choice. It’s a choice regarding the character of our future citizens, that we want them educated, not ignorant.
Trying to take politics out of education—maybe limiting courses to science and math?—is itself a political decision to leave future citizens ignorant of their country and the principles of political self-government. Politics always informs education. The question is what kind of politics: the politics of freedom required by citizens of a limited, constitutional government? Or some other politics?
The story of two men familiar with politics and higher education might be of benefit to candidate Hart. Thomas Jefferson and his longtime friend James Madison believed that founding the University of Virginia was among the most important things either had done (it’s one of only three accomplishments Jefferson wanted inscribed on the obelisk above his grave). They both agreed that within the University, the most important part offered instruction in law and politics, subjects befitting the best citizens.
While debating which texts would constitute the norma docendi for the UV law faculty, Jefferson wanted to include the Declaration of Independence, which he identified as “the fundamental act of Union,” and The Federalist Papers as the authoritative explanation of the U.S. Constitution and “its genuine meaning.”
Madison agreed, but, he advised his old friend, “the most effectual safeguard against heretical intrusions into the school of politics will be an able and orthodox professor.” The meaning of any text can be perverted. More important are professors who are “able” and “orthodox,” who understand and are excellent teachers of the self-evident truths of the Declaration and the “genuine meaning” of the Constitution.
Fast forward to today. Recently the CU regents adopted new “guiding principles” that call for “political diversity” to be included among the typical college campus diversities of skin colors, sexual orientations, etc. But Hart dissents from the idea of political diversity at CU. Diversity is fine, apparently, so long as it’s monolithically leftist politically. But if political diversity troubles Hart’s liberal heart, what might she think of Madison’s criteria for university faculty appointments? What was orthodoxy for Madison must be heresy for Hart.
While Hart rejects the sound political education advanced by Jefferson and Madison and gently welcomed by Bosley and other CU regents, she’s not apolitical. Rather, hers is a brand of self-serving politics that no politician openly supports, at least not since the days of divine-right kings. She wants to sit in judgment of her own case: Hart wants to serve as a CU regent while employed as a CU law prof!
How might she rule on possible salary reductions or class size increases? How will she handle a conflict with the CU President, who works at the pleasure of the Board of Regents, but who is a boss in part for the faculty? How could she claim even a hint of objectivity regarding such issues?
Clearly Hart is reluctant to disturb the dominant left-wing politics at CU, yet perhaps some credit is due her. Her self-serving politics of Hartism certainly differs from the Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, deconstructionism, and relativism that typically dominate the politics of higher education. Diversity, indeed.