It's hard not to feel sorry for administrators at the University of Missouri — but we'll try.
Two years ago, a massive campus protest erupted out of a several supposed hate incidents, some of which turned out to be real and some of which were hoaxes.
The catalyst for the entire incident was a swastika drawn in excrement on a bathroom wall. Students responded by starting hunger strikes, mobbing the quads and eventually forcing the university president to resign over what, to all appearances, began as some idiot's stupid and unpleasant prank.
It should surprise no one, two years later, that high school seniors turn their noses up old Mizzou. It once drew an abundance of qualified applicants, but has seen freshman enrollment fall by 35 percent. The school has been forced to close seven dormitories and axe 400 jobs, including academic positions.
It is in this context that a new Pew study released Monday finds that there has been a sudden and very pronounced shift of opinion among Republican-leaning voters about how colleges and universities affect American culture. As recently as Pew's 2015 survey, self-identified Republicans still viewed these institutions as having a positive influence. Today, their view has completely reversed.
Fifty-eight percent now believe colleges and universities "have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country." Only 36 percent now see them as positive. It's an especially dramatic swing from 2010, when 58 percent of Republicans saw academia as having a positive influence and only 32 percent a negative one.
Academia hasn't actually changed much in seven years, which has prompted many instead to marvel at how quickly Republicans changed. But what if they didn't really change either? What if the intellectual rot in academia has just become more apparent and more relevant, and the reality of its baneful effect on our culture and politics is starting to make an impression with a wider audience?
In the last five years, there has been a pronounced and aggressive effort to mainstream the kookiest and most politically correct ideas that have long been festering in academia. There is an unchecked epidemic of extreme campus activism that routinely makes headlines with its violence and with its insistence that up is down, good is bad and other inversions that sensible people know to be rubbish. People who live in the real world used to be able to ignore most of the batty ideas with which their children are being indoctrinated, but now those are difficult to ignore. And they shouldn't be ignored. They are often pernicious. And like the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand, the public is finding that it does not deflect threats by pretending not to see them.
Not long ago, "microaggression" wasn't even a word, let alone one most people had heard and could define. "Safe spaces" were once places children could go to escape abuse, not a euphemism for formal resegregation under the guise of combating a supposedly pervasive college atmosphere of hate. Just five years ago, it would have made most people's heads explode if you'd told them that in 2017, we'd have an actual public argument about whether it's hateful for men to insist on dating actual women and not also men who identify as women.
We know where these ideas come from. When the protective dam is removed, and the toxic sludge of today's academia is allowed to spill into the cultural mainstream, people notice and react, just as they noticed and reacted to the EPA despoiling the Animas River in Colorado in 2015.
In recent decades, America's universities have declined in quality nearly as much as they have increased in price. Graduates emerge without the skills and abilities needed to navigate life, as employers constantly complain.
At least in some fields, it isn't just the undergraduate education that is worse. "Real Peer Review," a Twitter account that publicizes what today passes muster at academic journals, provides almost daily reminders of how much money is being wasted to keep people in jobs where they produce and disseminate drivel, attempting to empty all the thoughts and ideas from their students' young heads as they do so.
The decadent Scholastic philosophers who, legend has it, argued bitterly over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin, could rightly rise up and condemn many of our generation's academic pursuits. What the new Pew study demonstrates is that more people are catching on.