House Republicans Launch Probe Into Education Department's Funding of Woke Universities

Black Lives Matter protesters at Case Western Reserve University / AFP via Getty Images
September 28, 2022

House Republicans are investigating the Department of Education's dispersal of federal funds to academic institutions that "suppress free speech," according to a letter from Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.

The oversight committee is requesting a briefing on what steps—"if any"—the department has taken to safeguard academic freedom on campus, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Delivered to Biden education secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday, the letter rattles off a string of cases in which taxpayers have indirectly footed the bill for censorship, including the $620 million the Education Department sent to Yale University, where administrators investigated a law student for using the term "trap house" in an email.

"Institutions of higher learning are places where faculty and students should test, develop, and fine-tune theories, thoughts, and ideas," Comer and Foxx write. "Unfortunately, colleges and universities are stifling free thought and expression."

The letter states that the "proliferation of cancel culture" extends to public institutions, which are funded entirely by the taxpayer and bound by the First Amendment. At the University of Washington, for example, administrators disciplined a computer science professor who refused to include a "land acknowledgment" in his syllabi.

The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.

Delivered just six weeks ahead of the midterm elections, the letter reflects the growing partisan divide over higher education. Only 31 percent of Republicans say that liberal and conservative views are respected equally on campus, according to a March poll from the American Council on Education; among Democrats, the number is 57 percent.

The gap has grown as universities themselves have become more liberal. Between 1990 and 2014, the share of "conservative" and "moderate" professors dropped 6 and 13 points, respectively, a survey from the Higher Education Research Institute found, while the share of self-identified "liberal" professors rose by 18 points. The trend is even starker among college administrators, whose ranks have exploded over the past two decades and among whom liberals now outnumber conservatives 12 to 1.

That partisan tilt may explain why university censorship disproportionately targets right-leaning faculty. In just the past year, the letter notes, Princeton UniversityGeorgetown Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania have either punished or investigated professors whose views do not "align with ever-changing norms of political correctness." These cases reflect an empirically verifiable trend: Data from Acadia University's Jeffrey Sachs suggest that conservative professors are at least twice as likely as liberal professors to be fired for political speech.

The universities engaging in such censorship are flush with federal cash. In 2019, government data show, the Department of Education doled out $830 million to the University of Pennsylvania, $370 million to Georgetown, and $1.2 billion to the University of Washington. Total federal funding for higher education hovers at around $190 billion annually.

As long as "American taxpayers make a significant investment in colleges and universities," the letter argues, those schools "should be havens of free speech."