Herein lies a cautionary tale. If publicly funded higher education can be hijacked in America’s most conservative state, under the noses of a legislature with lopsided Republican majorities in both houses, and with a Republican governor and Republican lieutenant governor, it can (and likely will) happen in your state—if you let it.
Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin since 2015, is apparently intent on remaking the place in the image of his alma mater (B.S., 1980; Ph.D., 1984), the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught for 20 years before moving in 2008 to UT as dean of the engineering school. Fenves was promoted to executive vice president and provost under the disgraced regime of William C. “Bill” Powers. When Powers was forced to resign from the university due to a preferential admissions scandal he attempted to cover up (outside investigators concluded Powers and his staff had “misled the inquiry” and “failed to speak with the candor and forthrightness expected of people in their respective positions of trust and leadership”), Fenves succeeded Powers as president. While Fenves has steered clear of the flagrant cronyism and corruption that plagued the university under Powers, he has promoted a left-wing political agenda that is even more troubling.
What is Fenves’s record as the university’s 29th president? At great expense, he has successfully defended UT’s controversial use of racial preferences in admissions before the U.S. Supreme Court, a practice he inherited from Powers. Fenves supports the consideration of race in admissions decisions at UT, even though the university’s rival, Texas A&M, eschews the use of race-conscious affirmative action (which, ironically, is banned altogether in California). Moreover, not satisfied with discriminating against just some of UT’s applicants, most of whom are admitted automatically under the so-called Top Ten Percent Law, Fenves seeks to eliminate any automatic admission based on applicants’ class ranking, making all high school students subject to the quota-driven whims of UT’s “holistic” admissions process.
Succumbing to the demands of a vocal cadre of student radicals, Fenves in 2015 oversaw the removal of historical statuary that had adorned the Austin campus since 1933 because the image of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was deemed to be offensive to some students. Although Texas was part of the Confederacy, and the Davis statue therefore commemorated a key element of the state’s complex history, Fenves concluded that “we must press ahead to create substantive change at the university,” citing the goals of promoting diversity and “fostering an inclusive environment.” Fenves has made “diversity” and “inclusion”—code words for political correctness—a top priority.
UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has grown into a sprawling bureaucracy with a staff exceeding 100, led by a vice president earning more than $330,000 a year. Nine other employees in the division earn six-figure salaries. Unfortunately, the university’s “diversity department” mimics the worst excesses of political correctness at UC Berkeley and other elite universities, promulgating oppressive (and possibly unconstitutional) campus speech codes, reprimanding conservative student groups for peacefully protesting discriminatory admissions policies (while condoning the distribution and display of more than 4,500 dildos on campus as part of an anti-gun demonstration), and warning UT students about wearing “insensitive” Halloween costumes.
If publicly funded higher education can be hijacked in America’s most conservative state, under the noses of a legislature with lopsided Republican majorities in both houses, and with a Republican governor and Republican lieutenant governor, it can (and likely will) happen in your state—if you let it.
In 2016, Fenves welcomed participants to UT’s first international black studies conference, entitled Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism, featuring as a keynote speaker the notorious radical Angela Davis. Davis, who twice ran for vice president on the Communist Party USA ticket, was prosecuted for conspiracy involving the 1970 shoot-out in a Marin County, California courtroom by defendants charged with murdering a prison guard; Davis had purchased the guns smuggled into the courtroom two days prior to the shootout, in which the trial judge and three others were killed. (Despite becoming a fugitive before her arrest, and being placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, Davis was inexplicably acquitted by a California jury.)
“I am proud of the great strides UT Austin has made to support black studies,” Fenves declared. “These include the recent founding of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies.” UT’s AADS Department has a Ph.D. program and confers undergraduate degrees, focusing on “race, gender, sexuality, class, and the concept of global Blackness.” The AADS Department boasts, “faculty in our department study Queer Theory, Diaspora Theory (particularly in Central and South America), Performance Theory, Engaged Scholarship, Social Justice, Policy, Black Feminism, and Black Women’s Studies.”
Fenves’s latest initiative, based on a $1.7 million online student survey with a paltry 17.1 percent participation rate, is to declare an epidemic of “sexual assault and misconduct” at the university. The highly dubious survey found that 15 percent of female undergraduates (and five percent of male undergraduates!) were “raped” since their enrollment, based on an expansive, non-legal definition of “rape” that included—in addition to non-consensual sex perpetrated by force, threats of harm, or incapacitation—a variety of encounters that unfortunately describe common “dating” behavior.
In the fine print buried at the end of the report, UT’s heralded “rape survey” lumps together with forcible rape many different ambiguous scenarios in order to generate the headline-grabbing results: Sex induced by “telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about you, making promises you knew were untrue, or … verbally pressuring you …, showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness, [and] getting angry but not using physical force.”
Whatever one thinks of sexual encounters under these circumstances, they do not fit the legal definition of rape, and it is highly misleading to present them as such. Moreover, the survey found (but Fenves failed to note in his email to the “UT Community” circulating the survey results) that 84 percent of the reported “assaults” were committed by non-strangers to the self-reported “victims,” and that 69 percent of the “victims” were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the encounter. The sad reality of campus life in 2017 is that many students engage in drunken hookups, which they often regret after the fact. Tellingly, only two percent of the “rapes” were reported to the police at the time.
Instead of responding to the costly survey by recommending that UT students drink less, study more, and avoid problematic situations, UT bureaucrats will likely use the “campus rape crisis” to develop additional programs, policies, and regulatory infrastructure. As we are witnessing across the nation, the investigation and adjudication of sexual encounters among students are fraught with the potential for hysteria and injustice.
At UT, and across the country, administrative bureaucracies grow ever more bloated, the curriculum becomes crowded with useless (and politically correct) courses, and the university’s focus shifts from education to indoctrination. Simultaneously, the university seeks to boost tuition and obtain greater taxpayer funding.
UT Chancellor William McRaven and the UT Board of Regents appear unwilling to rein in Fenves’s campaign to transform the university into a bastion of political correctness, in the model of UC Berkeley. Will the Texas Legislature allow UT’s Forty Acres to be converted into a risible imitation of the Left Coast’s flagship university? The transformation is already well under way.