By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

A new Pew poll finds that 58% of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative impact on the United States.

But this finding is a very recent development. In 2015, 54% of Republicans held that colleges and universities have a positive influence on the US.

What changed?

Trump became the GOP standard bearer and began attacking the news media and the findings of university scientists concerning climate change.

Trump’s new budget, by the way, dramatically cuts cost sharing for university research, i.e. it offloads office and other costs off onto the universities, which will have a negative impact on the US in the area of scientific discovery. Personally, I can’t imagine that people don’t know that American universities are incubators of important findings that improve people’s health, cure their diseases, and improve their lives.

Aside from the marked dumbing-down of the Republican Party since he began running for president, the other way you can tell that this is a Trump effect is that 72% of Democrats say colleges are a positive, and this statistic is unchanged in recent years.

The good news is that this new bout of anti-intellectualism is almost certainly a flash in the pan.

Thinking poorly of universities and colleges is the sign of someone who wants to pull the wool over people’s eyes. A college education teaches people to think analytically and to question the stories we are fed.

You can tell a reality-based political leader such as Thomas Jefferson, since he founded the University of Virginia and thought that schooling for critical thinking was essential to producing democratic citizens.

As I wrote in Truthdig a few years ago, in an essay that looks more and more prescient,

“In 1786, Jefferson wrote from Europe to a friend:

“Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [of tyranny], and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

That is, Jefferson believed that the alternative to publicly funded education was the rise of an oppressive oligarchy that would manipulate the ignorant majority…

Not only is a more rigid class structure implied by the decline of public support for state universities, but more fixed race boundaries are, as well. State universities are the most important vehicle for minority students in attaining a degree. While 800,000 minority students attend public universities, fewer than 200,000 can be found on private campuses. If the state universities become as expensive as the privates, the impact on minorities could be severe.

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