Making Campus Conservative

Wowzers! Having apparently given up on appealing to anyone else, the House GOP has taken to playing Santa Claus to campus conservatives. Their new proposal for the Higher Education Act threatens to make conservative dreams come true.

According to Politico, the big story from the new bill is the sweeping change it will enact in federal student-loan policy. Here at ILYBYGTH, though, we’re more interested in the way it will redraw battle lines in higher-ed culture wars.

As we’ve discussed frequently, conservatives interested in higher education have fulminated ferociously about the recent spate of anti-conservative student protests. As I argued at HNN a while back, conservative legislative moves like the recent one in Wisconsin don’t actually plan to improve things, but rather hope to make political hay. The only effect, as someone once put it so wisely, will be to “write a vague sense of conservative outrage into the law books.”

Speech codes aren’t the only target of the new bill. It also throws a brontosaurus-sized bone to religious conservatives. As we’ve seen, evangelical groups such as Intervarsity have been de-recognized on many campuses. That means they can no longer use campus facilities. Unless they allow a more diverse group of people to be group leaders, they are no longer allowed to be official student groups.

The House bill promises to fix both problems. As Politico explains, the new bill would ban public colleges, at least, from enacting any sort of speech-restricting codes. Plus, no schools could de-recognize religious groups. As the bill’s language puts it, colleges could not deny

a religious student organization any right, benefit, or privilege that is generally afforded to other student organizations at the institution (including full access to the facilities of the institution and official recognition of the organization by the institution) because of the religious beliefs, practices, speech, membership standards, or standards of conduct of the religious student organization.

Will it work? Hard to say. As we all know from Schoolhouse Rock, there’s a long journey from bill to law. House GOP leaders might be willing to give up the evangelical-friendly parts of their bill to get the student-loan parts to succeed. Or they might scrap the provision about free speech to win on their sexual-assault rules.

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  1. Another Republican target – endowments. They want to punish the liberal schools with huge endowments, but the small schools, even those with religious affiliations, will also feel the pain. Goshen, my undergraduate school, makes the list.

  2. As some Evangelical moderates have timidly started to warn, it is a bad idea to continue this strategy of pushing a conflict between “religious freedom” and civil rights, typically of LGBT students. That wedge is only being pushed harder though, and it is shaping up to be the focus of Canadian conservatives to take back the majority, if it does not fragment them as many fear it will do. The strategy in both countries derives from extreme right wing evangelical political and legal advocacy networks rooted in what you might call the form convictions of a “biblical anthropology” and deep forms of “science denial.” As with Creation/Evolution, they think are really playing for the definition of human nature as fundamental to personal and societal order.

    • *firm convictions.

      Similar thinking and political strategy is evident in other countries as well. There is a kind of international anti-modernist reaction afoot as primarily white Christian “traditionalists” believe they have reached a tipping point where they numerically lack the power to resist a secular liberal hegemony where gay rights are a kind of high water mark for its advance. So they are resorting to law and packed courts, among other things, to hold the line for another generation or two.

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