July 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – For decades, conservatives have lamented the left-wing bias of America’s educational institutions, and President Donald Trump says he wants to do something about it by ordering a review of how the federal government subsidizes such schools.
“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” the president tweeted Friday. “Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”
… and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2020
The federal government classifies colleges as 501(c)(3) organizations, exempt from federal taxes regardless of whether they are privately or publicly funded.
It is unclear whether such a review will actually happen, or how much could be done about educational bias purely at an administrative level. Bloomberg noted the administration could “could make changes through regulations, such as the Unrelated Business Income Tax, which pertains to profits earned through a part of the school that is not substantially related to the non-profit or educational part of the university,” but going much further would require legislation.
Assuming such a review does happen, it also remains to be seen how “propaganda” and “indoctrination” would translate to specific reviewable criteria. Politico noted that Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules state that the “advocacy of a particular position or viewpoint” does not disqualify an educational institution from tax-exempt status, provided “there is a sufficiently full and fair exposition of pertinent facts to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.”
Whether modern public education offers a “full and fair exposition of pertinent facts” is precisely at issue, however. Last fall, Education & Research Institute board chairman Daniel Oliver detailed how the 17th edition of the popular history textbook The American Pageant was teeming with “divisiveness” and “devotes almost twice as much space to liberal politicians as their conservative counterparts.”
Hillsdale College history professor Burton Folsom agreed that the book is is full of “distortions,” “contradictions,” and “defective historical methods” feeding a false conclusion that “the United States is fundamentally corrupt, and that the world is often worse off because America exists and has so much global influence.”
“In the last 20 years, a generation of academics and administrators has transformed higher education into an engine of progressive political advocacy,” a March 2020 report from the National Association of Scholars concluded. “Social justice education rejects the idea that classes should aim at teaching a subject matter for its own sake, or seek to foster students' ability to think, judge, and write as independent goods.”
Scores of examples of teachers and academics mistreating students or otherwise acting hateful and malicious over the years also cast doubt on the accuracy of their lessons, such as a Georgetown professor who wished “miserable deaths” on supporters of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; University of Chicago faculty who tried to suppress a grad student’s survey on the medical consensus that life begins at conception; and Shawnee State University officials punishing a professor who refused to use transgender pronouns.
While many conservatives cheered Trump’s announcement, it also received pushback from the president’s opponents. Calling the announcement “vile,” “monumentally stupid,” and a “grotesque constitutional violation,” prominent NeverTrump pundit David French suggested the move would also threaten the tax-exempt status of churches and religious schools, as they are “often DESIGNED to “indoctrinate” people into particular ideologies and faiths.”
Tax-exempt organizations are often DESIGNED to “indoctrinate” people into particular ideologies and faiths. That's what churches and many religious schools do as a matter of strategy and practice. So no tax exemptions for them, Mr. President?
— David French (@DavidAFrench) July 10, 2020
French’s reaction appears to conflate two wildly-different understandings of the word “indoctrination,” despite the issue having been extensively discussed among conservatives since long before Trump’s political career. French has become infamous in conservative circles for advocating an interpretation of the Constitution that requires public libraries to rent out space for drag queens to preach gender-fluidity for children, and shields professors at public universities from being fired for unprofessional conduct.