In looking at state political controversies across the country, including those involving two probable presidential candidates (Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal), it keeps striking me as odd that Republicans have placed themselves in the position of attacking higher education funding. This is always perilous, for reasons that range from the wealth and power of alumni networks to cultural totems like college football and fraternity/sorority ties. But it’s especially questionable at a time when recession-induced cuts in state support for higher education have led to scary tuition increases and massive increases in student indebtedness all over the country.
So I kinda walked back the situation in states like Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Wisconsin and realized that what we are seeing is simply the other shoe dropping from earlier GOP decisions to promote tax cuts that have made a full fiscal recovery from the Great Recession impossible. And most interestingly, at least in North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have tried to de-toxify their assaults on higher education by culture-war polarization tactics, identifying the traditional conservative hostility to “liberal academic elites” to public universities in their very own states.
That’s the topic of my latest TPMCafe column, if you’re interested. I’d add that I’m not sure we’ve seen this level of “Screw State U” politics since the 1960s, when, for example, Ronald Reagan made his bones attacking Berkeley.