This week, prominent conservatives feuded over whether Christopher Rufo and Governor Ron DeSantis’ attempts to reshape higher education in Florida are worthwhile. In particular, political commentator and founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk, argued this was likely to fail.
“Where has that ever worked?” Kirk asked during a recent episode of his podcast. He went on to say that while he supported Rufo’s vision for New College of Florida, conservatives should not bother “recapturing” existing colleges and universities.
But Kirk and his allies, who have pushed for conservatives leaving colleges and universities in favor of pursuing alternative forms of education, are misguided in their extreme pessimism. While liberal professors and administrators have controlled universities across the nation for decades, resisting these forces is not an exercise in futility.
And considering groups like Turning Point USA were born with the mission of counteracting the ubiquitous influence of Democrats and their ideological allies on campuses, it is especially intriguing that Kirk would be so skeptical of Rufo’s efforts.
However, this is not a disagreement on principle — it is a question of tactics. The debate between Kirk and Rufo is the product of a broader discussion conservatives are having regarding the role of colleges and universities in America today.
One thing is clear. Advocates of institutional change should not throw in the towel before this important fight even begins. If conservatives give up on the university now, how can a seismic political shift among young people be expected to occur?
Countless Americans are either currently pursuing a degree at a university, or will soon enter this system. But while groups like Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and Turning Point USA provide a voice for conservative students, election results show college-aged voters remain overwhelmingly liberal.
In recent years, conservatives have grown more comfortable with the idea of wielding political power in a way that was previously dismissed by large factions of the Republican Party. For example, conservatives broadly applauded Governor DeSantis when Disney was stripped of its jurisdiction over the Reedy Creek Improvement District in response to the company’s “woke” political advocacy.
Republicans routinely decry the liberal indoctrination rampant in university classrooms and are convinced this must be fought. When over 60 percent of recent high school graduates are entering college, should this territory simply be ceded to Democratic activists who are eager to shape young minds?
The answer to this question is clearly “no.” And while college is certainly not for everyone, convincing millions of young people who wish to attend a university to avoid higher education altogether — or choose a classical liberal arts college —may prove to be even more difficult than changing existing institutions.
Americans across the political spectrum have grown accustomed to progressives controlling higher education. Though campus conservatives shouldn’t expect a miracle, we should welcome attempts to disrupt the status quo — not dismiss them.