America's universities no longer impart to students the skills of critical thinking, open discourse, and reasoned judgment. They consistently narrow their educational scope to comport with what is popular. No more Shakespeare , Ayn Rand, or Adam Smith.
They have failed our country and society, and their financial supporters should take note and take action.
This failure should come as no surprise when students are sheltered from ideas they dislike and feelings that make them uncomfortable. What is a "safe space" other than a protective shell against challenges to one's worldview? What are "trigger warnings" other than permission not to experience anything that is disturbing? What are "speech codes" other than rules forcing dissenters to suppress their "unapproved" ideas and words — as in Stanford University's "forbidden words" ?
Survival on campus for many students has become like negotiating a minefield. And yet universities are supporting, rather than discouraging, the suppression of individuality and nonconforming thought and behavior.
The implications of this excessive intellectual coddling are evident throughout academia. Broad-based core academic requirements such as the study of great literature and an apolitical view of history are gone, and classes that force students to reason and think for themselves have become electives. What is wrong with students experiencing discomfort or having their preconceptions challenged?
Professors respond to incentives, and they see this sanctioned sheltering as a license to depart from provoking constructive disagreement and instead engage in indoctrination that comports with their personal views. Their classes become echo chambers rather than opportunities for intellectual expansion.
And then there are the corrosive effects of diversity, equity, and inclusion , whose bloated bureaucracies drive sheltering and groupthink. There could hardly be a polarizing concept more powerful and destructive than the false dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed now embraced by DEI theology.
A grotesque example occurred in October at Stanford University, where, in a required freshman course, a lecturer asked all the Jewish and Israeli students in the class to raise their hands and then separated them from their belongings and put them in a corner. The instructor then declared the corner occupants "colonizers" and the others "colonized."
One need only look at the more recent turmoil over Israel, the Palestinians, Hamas, and Jews to see how the flames of ideology are stoked by the intellectual silos in academia today. At our alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the DEI staff was quick to take sides with the "oppressed" Hamas supporters against the tiny minority of Jewish "oppressors."
Any doubters should listen to a doctoral student there describing how DEI abandoned Jews after Oct. 7 and to the contentious testimony by the presidents of three prominent universities — Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania — to the House Education Committee on Tuesday. Instead of saying that endorsements of genocide against Jews and Israel violated campus codes of conduct, the three parried and deflected pointed questions. Such equivocation and lack of moral clarity have become widespread in academia. Following the testimony of Penn's president, one donor withdrew a gift of $100 million.
University administrations have been sucked into the DEI vortex and now feel obligated to take political stances and speak on behalf of their student bodies. But by doing so, they magnify polarization on campus, create competing "sides," and open the door to inappropriate behavior that denigrates those disfavored by spokespeople.
It will require a major sea change for universities to recapture what they once stood for. They need to create real protections for opposing viewpoints without rancor, intimidation, or closed-mindedness. They need to allow students to resolve their own problems within relatively broad boundaries and without intimidation or fear of physical harm. And they need to slash administrative costs, most importantly DEI, and recruit professors who value open discourse and learning through constructive debate.
Will they do it? There is no more effective motivation than donors ceasing philanthropy to the universities until the needed changes are implemented. We hope they will.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger distinguished fellow at the American Council on Science and Health. They were undergraduates together at MIT.