“The Harvard of the Unwoke”
Ben Sasse, the president of the University of Florida, has some unorthodox views on college policy.
In an interview, James Taranto, the WSJ’s editorial features editor, asks President Sasse if calls for the genocide of Jews is a violation of the University of Florida’s bullying and harassment policy?
“Yes,” says the former eight-year Senator Ben Sasse.
Given that three college presidents equivocated when lawmakers asked that question in a congressional hearing last month, it’s refreshing to know Ben Sasse understands entrapment when faced with it.
Mr. Sasse—who came to Florida a year ago after eight years as a U.S. senator from his native Nebraska—is a deft enough politician to parry a gotcha question.
Mr. Taranto leans in, raising the issue of free speech. “Not so simple,” declares Mr. Sasse, a self-proclaimed “libertarian zealot.”
(Sasse) emphasizes that the Constitution “draws a deep, deep line at speech and action,” that “threats are the front edge of action,” and that “orchestrated plans, or getting to a definable way of targeting specific people, is when speech ceases to be deliberation.”
… Mr. Sasse wants to re-establish a strong core curriculum, which he sees as not only a benefit to students but a necessary public good. “If we’re going to pass on the meaning of America to the next generation, it doesn’t happen in the bloodstream,” he says. “You actually have to teach what America is to the next generation.”
One of These Things Doesn’t Belong
While similar, what’s so different from the answer President Sasses gave and those of Harvard’s Geraldine Gay or MIT’s or Penn State’s woke presidents?
Liberal arts are his educational vision, Sasse tells Mr. Taranto.
“I think the best people to navigate a complex world are people who have a broad worldview and are well and widely read.” He wants to institute a “dual core” so that humanities majors would be required to take courses in science, technology, engineering and math and STEM majors in the humanities.
(Sasse) sees the crisis in higher ed as having arisen in part from an overemphasis on training for employment. In the mid-20th century, he explains, “We were going through the late stages of the Industrial Revolution and the very, very early stages of the rise of knowledge-economy jobs.” With the need for farm labor rapidly dwindling and factories becoming more efficient, “you have a whole bunch of people who are just not going to be able to have brawn jobs for their whole life.”
Anticipating that World War II veterans would need training, Congress enacted the GI Bill in 1944. “So you grow higher ed as a sector with an assumption that this is going to be practical first.”
Trump Supported Sasse’s Policies
A reporter observed that the departing Senator Sasse “had expressed concerns about Trump’s authoritarian streak,” but “did vote with Trump 85% of the time.”
The Senator responed: “I’m gonna flip it on you and say he supported my policies.”
And unlike many other Trump detractors, Mr. Sasse also expressed concerns about the left’s authoritarian streak.
Take Care Not to Burn Every Institution
James Taranto’s didn’t make the trip to Gainesville to talk politics. Supporting Taranto’s line of thinking, Sasse admits that he “signed a 36-month pledge of partisan neutrality,” following the example of Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and Purdue University president.
But (Sasse) touches on the subject … he worries that “the collapse of a belief in classical liberalism is what’s eating up all of these institutions,” including but not limited to universities. He blames this on both the “wokes” who have managed to “hijack” those institutions and the “super MAGA” types who would rather destroy than save them.
Anxiety with the Digital Revolution
Lots of institutions are going to be bankrupted by the digital revolution,” and that disruption is made more dangerous by the “ideological warfare about every institution.” (Sasse) would like “to conserve and preserve and reform and change and reorganize lots of institutions, and that requires you to have more of a public definition of what you’re there for.”
What’s Wrong with DEI
Ben Sasse explains to Toronto what’s wrong with DEI. It is “the E.” He blames the embrace of “equity” at the expense of equality. “
The fundamental problem is saying that Martin Luther King can’t fit in the new communities of know-it-all ideological-indoctrination bureaucrats that run most universities in the country. . . . .
MLK doesn’t fit because of his aspirations for a colorblind society.
Taranto asks if people can have a different view than MLK?
“Of course.” But “the ideological conformity of mandating that equality of opportunity is wrong and bigoted, it has to be excluded from our discourse—those people are crazy.”