As you probably know, public education is largely left to state and local control, and the Federal government contributes less than 10% of public education funding in our nation. Nevertheless, that small percentage enables Congress and the Department of Education to exert a powerful influence on American public education. Private education is also affected through Federally financed student assistance programs and by other means. Federal influence may be helpful or hurtful, depending on the circumstances and one’s viewpoint.
As one example of how bureaucrats have used Federal funding to intrude into academia, I cite an instance in which they attempted to dictate the academic curriculum at the University of North Carolina. The purpose of this Federal intrusion was to promote racial integration of colleges within the University of North Carolina system. North Carolina Central University in Durham is a predominately black institution, with Black students approximating 80% of undergraduates. UNC Chapel Hill has about 10% Black undergraduates. The respective universities are less than 10 miles apart.
Someone in the Federal Department of Education decided that an excellent way to promote a better racial distribution between the two schools would be to have UNC Chapel Hill eliminate certain popular degree programs and have them offered at NC Central. UNC Chapel Hill fought the Education Department’s directive. The university maintained that it was a matter of academic liberty, and a college should be free to determine its own curriculum. The matter was taken to court, and the litigation continued for several years (and at considerable expense) until the department’s lawyers finally gave up. Perhaps the ends were just, but the means were questionable, and the seventeen universities and colleges of the UNC system continue their steady progress toward meeting the higher educational needs of all North Carolinians without regard to race and without manipulating curricula.
A few private schools have adopted drastic measures to prevent Federal intrusion into their affairs. Hillsdale College and Grove City College are examples of educational institutions refusing to accept any government funding. This refusal even extends to denying admission to students receiving federally backed grants or loans. These colleges have learned from bitter experience that Federal bureaucrats will use any available tool to exert control over academia.
The exercise of power follows the money. Beware Greeks bearing gifts.