You may have heard it before: the screams of a Republican, raving about how American universities have become the center of a sinister conspiracy by radical professors who seek to indoctrinate a generation of impressionable students into their Marxist worldview, and instill in them a burning lust for class warfare that transforms them into the vanguards of a leftist revolution.
This persecutory delusion, that many Republicans hold, is so enchanting to the far right that Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have even drafted a bill that would essentially require the regent universities to hire an even amount of Republicans and Democrats as professors, because apparently affirmative action for minorities is “reverse racism,” while affirmative action for conservatives is crucial to saving us from the specter of communism.
All this talk of radical professors had me really excited to start my career as a student here at Iowa State, but, upon arrival, I realized that most professors were no more radical and often less radical than the students. In fact, rather than universities being run by radical Marxists, our universities are largely operated by unethical businessmen and far right Republicans who rise to prominence through cronyism, which I believe is a problem that should be met with action and resistance by professors, faculty members and students.
The cronyism in our higher education system is perhaps most obvious in the Iowa Board of Regents, and can be seen when looking at the members of the board who have questionable credentials and financial ties to Republican Party elites. For instance, Michael Richards is a wealthy businessman who was appointed to the Board of Regents by Gov. Terry Branstad after making donations to Republican politicians — like the $40,000 he gave to Branstad's campaign — and he formerly served as the president of a gaming company that owns several casinos in Iowa.
Milt Dakovich is another ethically questionable member of the Board of Regents. Dakovich is president of an asphalt paving company and a registered Republican with close ties to big business. Some may see no problem with these two wealthy Republican businessmen serving on the Board of Regents, or reject the notion that this is cronyism.
But Richards and Dakovich are small fish compared to the president of the board, Bruce Rastetter. Rastetter is a ruthless businessman so addicted to the drug of profit that he is willing to ruin and endanger innocent lives in its pursuit. One example of Rastetter's callous lack of empathy and disregard for human rights is the fact that Rastetter and his company AgriSol Energy pursued an unethical and secretive land grab deal that would have displaced tens of thousands of struggling refugees in Tanzania.
Why is such a morally reprehensible individual the president of the Board of Regents? Simple: he donated $239,188.91 to The Branstad Committee. He also donated money to Donald Trump's campaign and is an outspoken Trump supporter, which makes me wonder what he discussed with Trump's transition team when they met in Trump Tower after the election. Why is an institution as powerful as the Board of Regents, which chooses the presidents for every public college in Iowa, being led by a man like Rastetter?
Speaking of university presidents, Bruce Harreld is the president of the University of Iowa and a great example of oligarchy at work. Before being appointed the president by the Board of Regents, Harreld was the wealthy senior vice president of the multinational mega-corporation IBM with a lack of experience working in higher education.
Even here at Iowa State, our soon-to-be former President Steven Leath is a wealthy Republican who hangs out with NRA officials and went dove hunting with Mike Pence. If our universities were being run by radical Marxists, who want to see the destruction of capitalism, then why is our president a Republican who received a $125,000 bonus payment from his friends on the Board of Regents just a year before the Legislature cut our funding and the cost of tuition “had” to be raised?
I wish it were radical leftist professors calling the shots here at Iowa State. If that were the case, then maybe we would have leaders in charge who wouldn’t harm low-income students by raising the price of tuition, or who wouldn’t publicly laugh and chum around with ethically ambiguous figureheads like then-presidential candidate Trump at our sporting events.
I would also love to see leftist leaders at our university denounce our financial and organizational connections to unethical corporations like Koch Industries and Dakota Access. I would love to see universities become democratically run, class-conscious communities rather than plutocratic debt machines. But — unfortunately — universities are not the radical leftist training camps that conservatives claim they are.