In the days of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, “Checkpoint Charlie” was a border crossing point between East and West Berlin. Its obvious purpose was to prevent those who wished to escape the Communist tyranny of East Germany from doing so. In about two and a half years before the Wall’s construction choked off the flow, roughly 550,000 East Germans fled to the West.
The communists had their checkpoints. Leftists have their chokepoints. Those who occupy positions in university systems, government bureaucracies, as well as certain union and professional organizations, often with the active assistance of the courts, serve as the system’s “Chokepoint Charlies.” You can’t get through or move on unless you jump through their hoops, comply with their demands, or behave according to their established norms. This column will focus on the first two sets of Chokepoint Charlies.
In university systems, the most obvious chokepoint is tenure. If you achieve it, you have a position for life; if you don’t, your career is essentially over. Not surprisingly, leftist-dominated universities have used denial of tenure as a principal means of culling promising conservative professors, or even usually reliable liberals who utter occasional center-right thoughts, from their faculties’ ranks.
Other university chokepoints are in the classroom. For the most part, it’s still true that if you’re bright enough, apply yourself, keep your head down, and avoid making too many waves, you’ll get through. But if you happen to incur the wrath of an intolerant radical prof by expressing a dissenting view, no matter how well-supported, you may find yourself with a failing grade, a lengthy redress or appeals process with less than assured results, and perhaps the inability, at least at that university, to go on to the next step in your desired major.
Perhaps the most dangerous chokepoint at universities is in research. If your line of inquiry leads to conclusions that are contrary to established beliefs — say, just for the heck of it, if you find evidence that the earth really hasn’t been warming, or even if it is warming that it’s not significantly influenced by human activity — there’s more than a slight chance that your “peer reviewers” won’t be impressed and that your next funding request may not be granted. Just like that, you’re on the outside looking in. As seen in the ClimateGate emails, you’ll also be the recipient of major grief, up to and including active attempts to prevent your work’s publication, from agenda-driven ideologues who are secondarily and not primarily scientists.
If there’s a solution that will lead to the elimination of higher education’s chokepoints, the relentless college cost bubble, where tuition and fees are entering at least their fifth decade of rising faster than general inflation by a substantial margin, may present the opportunity. The past year’s increases, in the presence of nearly zero inflation, have been particularly offensive. I believe the entire mechanism of higher education needs a comprehensive rethink. If you don’t, ask yourself this question: Given today’s technology, if the buildings, dorms, and stadiums weren’t already there, would you organize a university system as it is organized today? I didn’t think so.