One problem for conservatives is that while they may recoil at politically correct power plays, there is no unanimously agreed‐upon line demarcating “extreme bias.” And if conservatives ask themselves who should get to set that line for everyone, their answer should be “no one. That would be tyranny.”
And are conservatives prepared to say that student actions are absolutely baseless? Is it not possible that there is racial inequity at the University of Missouri? Or that it is dispiriting to see buildings named after slaveholders, as students on several campuses have complained? And isn’t it conceivably valuable to prohibit inflammatory speech lest exchanging ideas devolve into The Jerry Springer Show?
A good example of how valid values may clash is the drive to remove memorials to Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University, where Wilson was president from 1902 to 1910. Some conservatives may cheer the effort because Wilson was a political progressive and equal condemnation seems fair, but others may have qualms condemning someone for views considered far more odious today than in his time.
Given the inherent injustice of dictatorial punishment for “extreme” views, and the possibility of all sides having legitimate positions, the only remedy fair to both conservatives and those with whom they disagree is to phase out higher education subsidies: You may say what you please, but not on my dime. Indeed, no matter who is subsidized, it is simply unjust to force one person to fund the speech of another.
Of course, we cannot end subsidies—from all levels of government, currently around $250 billion annually—overnight. It would have to be done over a long enough period for both schools and students to adjust.
The best starting point would be to turn state higher education funding into grants, connecting it explicitly to student choices rather than allocating it to institutions. At least then what policies and people are punished or rewarded would be based on individual, not government, decisions. Colorado started such funding for undergraduates in 2004, creating what it calls College Opportunity Fund stipends.
That said, there is ultimately little justification for forcing taxpayers to hand out money to students. Not only does the average college graduate see a huge profit, earning roughly $1 million more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma, but grants force taxpayers to subsidize the student’s collegiate political activities.
Loans are preferable because borrowers are expected eventually to make taxpayers whole. Still, taxpayers have no say in funding them, and the federal government runs several forgiveness programs. Even tax credits and deductions involve coercion, putting the government thumb on the scale to send money to colleges. They are the less odious end of the compelled‐support spectrum, but are de facto subsidies nonetheless.
Eventually, conservatives should want fully private funding of higher education, often deemed unrealistic but hardly so. The $1 million payoff would be a huge inducement for private lenders or investors to work with even very low‐income students who are ready to study in‐demand fields, and ending subsidies would deflate rampant tuition inflation, alone a huge benefit.
Conservatives are rightly aggravated by college craziness and brazen political bullying. But they have no right not to be aggravated—only not to pay for it.