Higher Education

Ray Carter | July 12, 2023

Public confidence in universities plunges amid controversies

Ray Carter

New polling from Gallup shows that public confidence in universities and colleges has plunged since 2015.

The Gallup national poll, conducted June 1-22, found that only 36% of Americans now express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, compared to 57% who expressed those views in 2015.

Only Democrats continue to express confidence in universities, while Republicans and independents are far more skeptical.

In 2015, Gallup found that 56% of Republicans expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education. But in 2023, just 19% of Republicans held those views. Similarly, just 32% of independents express confidence in universities today, compared to 48% in 2015.

A majority of Democrats still express confidence in higher education with 59% holding that view, but that figure is also down nine percentage points from 2015.

While the poll did not provide state-specific data, it comes at a time when Oklahoma’s major universities have become a recurring source of controversy, drawing negative reactions from both state lawmakers and members of the public.

Oklahoma’s public colleges spent at least $83.4 million on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) programs and personnel over the last decade, according to estimates released by state higher-education entities earlier this year.

The universities’ DEI spending included funding for drag-queen performances, a program on fostering “Trans and Non‐Binary Resilience,” so-called “antiracist” training, and a presentation on “Black Jesus.”

In 2022, the Oklahoma State University Office of Multicultural Affairs announced it was hosting a “Drag Queen Story Hour” that was “geared towards ages 2-8.”

In April, OU paid a drag queen $18,000 for a performance, a per-day rate that exceeded what even the president of OU receives.

Lawmakers criticized the university for that spending with one legislator calling for funding cuts.

In 2021, the president of OU declared his opposition to a bill that prohibited colleges from requiring students to take any orientation “that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex,” declaring the legislation to be “contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan.”

Also in 2021, a mandatory diversity training program informed OU students that yelling “Boomer Sooner” at games meant they were using a phrase whose origins are “based on the disenfranchisement of Native Americans.”

The state’s other major university, Oklahoma State University, is mired in similar controversies.

OSU is currently being sued over allegations that the university’s harassment, computer, and bias-incidents policies violate students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A range of Oklahoma State University documents, obtained and publicized in 2022 through an open-records request filed by the organization Do No Harm, described the idea that heterosexuality is the prevalent norm in society as a Western “system of power,” dismissed biological sex as an “ambiguous” term and indicated that OSU officials would help train high-school students in transgender advocacy.

Also in 2022, the Oklahoma State University Office of Multicultural Affairs announced it was hosting a “Drag Queen Story Hour” that was “geared towards ages 2-8.”

Against that backdrop, the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents recently approved a 3% tuition increase for OU students that compounded the effect of a prior 2.75% hike in 2021 and another 3% increase in tuition for out-of-state students in 2022.

OU officials hiked tuition rates despite the state college system receiving more than $1 billion in state appropriations this year, a 14.9% increase that represents the largest increase in recent history.

Senate Education leaders quickly condemned OU’s actions and called for reforms, such as imposing a freeze on tuition through legislation.

“The higher education system just received the largest increase in appropriations in recent history,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh, R-Edmond. “For any university to turn around and immediately raise tuition on students is absurd. At a time when young adults are considering the value proposition of a degreed program, saddling students and families with more debt increases the likelihood of students seeking alternative pathways for their career.”

Former major donors to Oklahoma universities have ceased their giving with some discussing their concerns publicly in interviews earlier this year with Fox News.

Former OU donor Mo Anderson delivered a letter to OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. in 2021 that stated, “OU has embedded a Marxist-derived worldview in its colleges via so-called ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) programs that foster racial and social division. OU’s DEI efforts produce the opposite of diversity and inclusion. Mainstream Oklahomans know they will now be labeled ‘privileged’ individuals regardless of life circumstances, meaning OU is not a welcoming place for all students.

“As a proud Oklahoman, I cannot support the deliberate destruction of our state’s future,” Anderson’s letter continued. “I will not donate to OU’s academic efforts any longer.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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