Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Don’t Make Taxpayers Fund On-Campus Mobs

In remarks regarding the growing unrest on college campuses nationwide last Thursday, President Biden denounced the violent acts associated with many of the demonstrations and the growing wave of antisemitism on college campuses.

But, as the saying goes, talk is cheap. There’s one simple way to give his position teeth: Congress should enact legislation prohibiting the Department of Education from making taxpayers assume or otherwise modifying student loans for any student found responsible by his university or a court of law for acts of antisemitism, trespassing, property damage, intimidation, or violence.

Loan Giveaways Encourage Campus Chaos

Biden might be loathe to admit it, but in many ways the campaign for mass student loan forgiveness has helped cause the current campus debacle. This year’s seniors entered college during the 2020 election campaign, meaning that most students currently on campus spent their college career hearing promises that much if not all of their debt would be forgiven.

This leftist movement to make American taxpayers pay off other people’s college debt has further weakened the already-tenuous link between a degree and its earning potential. If they believe the government will ultimately forgive the cost of their education, students have no reason not to major in Grievance Studies, or some similar Marxist-adjacent course of study. Assuming their loan debts will get nationalized also makes students less concerned about potential employers refusing to hire them due to their participation in on-campus riots.

With less incentive for students to choose practical degrees, and officials prioritizing woke nostrums over intellectual rigor, colleges have given up all pretense of ideological balance. As a result, some institutions have become less like universities and more like madrassas, places that inculcate and radicalize youths rather than educate them.

The way Biden has continued to pursue loan forgiveness, despite a rebuke of his unconstitutional plan by the Supreme Court, set an example that demonstrators have replicated. The president may now deprecate the mob’s actions, and call for respect for the rule of law, but when he publicly brags that the nation’s highest court “didn’t stop me” from pursuing his objectives, can anyone blame the would-be jihadis on campus for thinking themselves entitled to take the law into their own hands?

Restore Sanity to Campuses

Congress can and should take a stand, by cutting off the financial spigot for participants in the bedlam. If Biden opposes the chaos on campus so strongly, he should be willing to take a break from buying votes via taxpayer loan payoffs to cut off access for those creating mayhem. And if Democrats on the left like Rep. Ilhan Omar wish to exclude from loan payoffs any participants in Islamophobic or other offensive acts, few Republicans — who oppose Biden’s forgiveness proposals outright — will object.

Some might fear this proposal would encourage already-timid university administrators to take a weaker line against the demonstrators because individuals held responsible could face significant financial repercussions. But in some cases, civil authorities may be able to act irrespective of whether the higher education institutions in question do. More importantly, this measure should deter students as much as university officials, if not more so.

Another potential concern, that Congress prohibiting loan bailouts for a narrow sliver of the population might be viewed as lawmakers permitting Biden’s power grab for other students, doesn’t appear to pass muster, either. The House passed a bill last spring disapproving Biden’s original student loan payoff plan, but the fact that the measure didn’t get enacted into law didn’t stop the Supreme Court from striking the plan down as an unconstitutional power grab.

Finally, this proposal focuses solely on actions, not speech. Like all other Americans, students can and should have the right to protest, and to express their views, however offensive others may find them. But when speech crosses into intimidation, or encampments that create safety and health concerns, let alone breaking into buildings, those actions should bring consequences — in this case, financial ones.

A Practical Solution

Prohibiting student loan payoffs is less expensive and more practical than the other alternative: giving demonstrators a one-way ticket to the Gaza Strip. It would also send a message in clear and uncertain terms about what the American people, through their elected representatives, think of the mayhem that has unfolded in recent weeks.

In the longer term, the recent campus chaos should prompt Congress to consider repealing the student loan program entirely, a reform that would incentivize students and universities to prioritize college affordability, while saving taxpayers at least $300 billion over the coming decade. But at minimum, lawmakers should act now to ensure that hard-working taxpayers are not subsidizing participants in violent demonstrations on campuses nationwide.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.