Bachelors of Advocacy: The Rise of Activism over Academics in US Higher Education

Below is my column in The Hill on the rise of advocacy courses and degrees in higher education. Activism has always been a valued part of our colleges and universities. Indeed, many departments have long incorporated advocacy subjects in their course of study, including in law schools. My concern is the degree to which advocacy is now overwhelming academics in some of these programs. It is often hard to tell the difference between advocacy groups and advocacy programs in these universities. For some schools, a new B.A. model — a Bachelors of Advocacy — is emerging in higher education.

Here is the column:

Field trip for an extra 5 points.” The offer to students at the University of California-Berkeley sounded like a typical offer for students to go to a special exhibit at a museum or lecture at an institute. The “field trip” referenced by graduate assistant Victoria Huynh was joining a protest “against settler-colonial occupation of Gaza.”

This extra credit offer is all too typical of higher education today, where advocacy is now being taught as if it were a course of study. After an outcry, the school solved the problem by ordering “a number of options for extra credit, not just one.”

Many advocacy-based classes have course descriptions that sound analytical and clinical. The UC Davis course “Asian American Communities and Race Relations,” for instance, states that it covers “race relations and the commonalities and differences between Asian Americans and other race and ethnic groups.” However, the assignments and lectures often reflect a political viewpoint that students are expected to mimic if they want to excel in the class.

In this course, a screen shot showed that the class would discuss “Palestinian history in relation to class concepts like colonialism, imperialism, and Third World solidarity.” It is clear enough that “the solidarity” cannot extend to Israel.

Advocacy has increasingly displaced academics in higher education. Activism now permeates higher education as social justice becomes the touchstone for many departments. Today protests rather than Plato are more likely to be the concentration of many students.

Even journalism students are now sometimes told to drop “objectivity” and “leave neutrality behind.” Former executive editor for The Washington Post Leonard Downie Jr. explained that “pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading ‘bothsidesism’ in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects.”

Advocacy has long been part of graduate programs like law and social work, where students are trained to represent the interests of clients or other individuals. But now, advocacy and activism itself is being offered as a general course for students in place of education. Where protests were once defiant demonstrations held in the university yard, they are now a course of study in classrooms led by academic activists.

For example, Arizona State University offers a BA program entirely on “community advocacy and social policy” that focuses on “historically under-served individuals, families and communities.” Students “complete courses in two core areas: diversity and oppressed populations and social issues and interventions.”

Many schools offer “advocacy and social justice studies.” At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, students are offered the opportunity to “study social justice with distinguished instructors from a wide range of academic departments, from Afro-American Studies to Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies.”

Camden County College offers a diversity and social justice degree based on the advocacy work of the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic, which “revealed the depth of social inequality and its life-or-death consequences.” Others offer “a certificate of proficiency in social justice and an A.S. degree in Human Services, Social Justice Advocacy.”

These courses offer far left-faculty platforms to proselytize and politicize. It is often confined to one side of the political spectrum and occurs now on every level of our educational system. In academic departments, future primary and secondary teachers are taught that “teaching is a political act” that allows them to instill political and social values in their young pupils. Those students can then attend college and get degrees in activism and advocacy.

In New York,  1.1 million students were excused by the Department of Education to leave their classes to march against climate change. It seems doubtful that the same accommodation would be allowed for countervailing conservative causes like pro-life marches or demonstrations in favor of gun rights.

These courses dovetail with faculties that have moved radically to the left, with many faculty using their courses to espouse political viewpoints more than educate. The clear message to students is that they are expected to express the same views in their own analysis.

One professor erased any pretense and directly required students to contribute to her advocacy group as part of their training. In the meantime, conservative faculty find themselves censored or suspended for engaging in unpopular speech or attending controversial rallies.

Universities as a whole have largely purged their ranks of Republicans and conservatives over the last few decades. A new survey conducted by the Harvard Crimson shows that more than three-quarters of Harvard Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences faculty respondents identify as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 2.5 percent identified as “conservative,” and only 0.4 percent as “very conservative.”

Another study by Georgetown University’s Kevin Tobia and MIT’s Eric Martinez found that only 9 percent of law school professors identify as conservative at the top 50 law schools.

In these departments with advocacy and social justice components, diversity of thought runs from the left to the far left.

Some of these faculty advocates can teach by example. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, feminist studies associate professor Mireille Miller-Young physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. She later pleaded guilty to criminal assault, but the university refused to fire or discipline her.

Other professors continue to engage in violence or destruction in front of students in order to block pro-life or other views from being expressed on campuses.

The same blind rage was shown after the massacre of Israelis by Hamas this month as faculty rallied students to denounce Israel. UC Davis Professor (and undergraduate adviser) Jemma Decristo posted social media threats against the faculty and the families of those supporting Israel as possible targets. Decristo wrote: “one group of ppl we have easy access to in the U.S. is all these zionist journalists who spread propaganda and misinformation…they have houses w addresses, kids in school, they can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.” This threatening language was accompanied by pictures of a knife and an axe, followed by three drops of blood.

The university eventually denounced Decristo’s violent, threatening comments, but it had no prior qualms about the professor teaching American studies to UC Davis students. She is part of the radical chic — the far left professors who have populated departments for years.

The emphasis on advocacy at the expense of education has also contributed to the increasing hostility toward opposing views on campus. These professors and students often show little tolerance for others’ views and “advocate” by canceling or silencing other views as “harmful.”

Many of us encourage political activism and engagement of our students. They need to bring their passion and voices to the debates today over issues ranging from abortion to the environment to wars.

We have long benefited from intellectual activists in our country, but they were intellectuals first and activists second. They were thought-leaders who used classic education to advance societal change. As jobs and markets become more competitive, we are not doing these students any favors as we crank out thousands with few skills beyond staging demonstrations.

Jonathan Turley is J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at the George Washington University Law School.

203 thoughts on “Bachelors of Advocacy: The Rise of Activism over Academics in US Higher Education”

  1. It’s not just the Universities – when my son attended West Lafayette High School here in Indiana, the school provided de facto and de jure endorsement of an anti-Second Amendment protest by publicizing it and allowing students to be excused from class to attend.

  2. Jewish Members of Congress, Democrats, receiving death threats from other Democrats who support Palestine and killing of Israelis

    Progressive Dems = Anti-Semites

    Democrats Risk Long-Lasting Rift Over Israel-Hamas War:
    Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian liberal factions now divided as ugly accusations fly in both directions

    On Thursday, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey centrist, said on X, formerly Twitter, that the 15 Democrats who didn’t vote for the resolution were “despicable and do not speak for our party.” In response, one of the 15, Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana, called Gottheimer a “coward” and a “punk,” and invited him to settle their differences physically…..Gottheimer has faced protests and death threats over the comments.

    1. They’re anti Israel colonialism, just like anti USA colonialism. They are not anti-semite, but they are anti-white.

      1. Send Better Trolls, Shakidi and Sam are all the same creepy nerd who’s had a chokehold on this blog for 3 1/2 years.

        He is also Thinkthrough, James, Upstate Farmer, Estovir, Iowa 2, Ralph Chappele, Ralph Demimus, Old Man From Kansas, Guy Ventner, J. Feldman, Margot Ballhere, Mistress Addams, N.N., dogsnowden and many, many more.

        And notice how puppet Shakidi informs us that “Ukraine was lost on Day 1” What’s that assessment based on? Most of us remember Ukraine blowing apart all those Russian tanks that were supposed to seize Kyiv. But apparently that story never played in the rightwing bubble. It would’ve been too offensive to MAGA types.

        1. “Shakidi and Sam are all the same [. . .] He is also . . .”

          There are treatments for those who hear voices.

      2. There is no Israeli Colonialism, though those not up-to-date state all sorts of dumb things. Even Gaza was not under Israeli control but under the control of Hamas leaders. They are the slave owners of the Gazans, forcing them to build tunnels with money meant to help the people. Hamas is also a slave owner to Hamas’s children, turning them into suicide bombers while the leaders live a life of luxury in Qatar.

        Have sympathy for the Gazans and tell Hamas to let the people go (evacuate). If that happened, the war would end in a flash, and the people could return to rebuild with the money Hamas used to build tunnels and armaments while using the people as slave labor.

        1. Alan, this year Netanyahu was prepared to shift $1 billion to Hamas for administrating Gaza. Netanyahu thought that such a move would cause the Palestinian Authority to split (which is what he really intended).

          The truth is that Netanyahu is a total failure. And most Israelis now think that.

          1. Garbage dump. That is what you are, a place where people drop their news garbage that never happened. Garbage should stay in the dump. Stop polluting.

  3. Since the latest flare-up began between Israel and Hamas, MAGA types have been busy in their efforts to label as ‘anti-semitic’ anyone expressing concern for Palestinian civilians.

    The idea seems to be that before expressing concern for Palestinian civilians, one must take at least 5 minutes to condemn Hamas. Only then can they proceed with whatever they wanted to say about the safety of Gaza’s 2 million residents.

    Interestingly, the same MAGA types behind this labeling campaign want to hand Vladimir Putin a default victory over Ukraine. Because that’s what Donald Trump wants! And all that crap about the so-called ‘Russia hoax’ was no hoax at all. Trump wants a Russian victory beyond any doubt.

    So we’re supposed to forget about Ukraine, and let NATO collapse, while allowing Israel to level all of Gaza.

    Oh, and we should make make ourselves useful by building enough refugee camps to shelter 2 million Palestinians! Egypt won’t mind if those camps are right on their border. They should ‘want’ to help.

    Personally I wouldn’t mind if Israel could surgically kill every member of Hamas. But that’s never going to happen!

    Instead we’ll see weeks of fighting, in the ruins of Gaza, until Israel claims they’ve ‘destroyed most of Hamas’. In the meantime 2 million Palestinians will find themselves refugees from a refugee enclave. The only real question is: ‘Where will those 2 million Palestinians camp until Gaza is safe to rebuild?’

    1. Personally I wouldn’t mind if Israel could surgically kill every member of Hamas. But that’s never going to happen!

      You could paraglide into Gaza wearing lopsided falsies, a bright red dress and matching stiletto heels, gaudy cherry red lipstick and an awful wig. Palestinians and Jews would most assuredly flee upon seeing Svelaz in drag. On the other hand, your Palestinians friends might retrieve you, take you to the top of a building and show you the lovely scenery. Its not like they would throw you from the building.

    2. Yes, instead of anti-israel policies, or anti zionist policies, the usual cry of racism, anti semite is lofted every frikkin time…. because LYING is the new rage, you *BIGOT*. *sarc*

      It’s supposed to shut everyone up, but what the realists are saying is the entire arab region is being enraged by the slaughtering of gazans and israel better back off or it might lose a bit regional war.
      Of course, due to it being Halloween, Hitler’s ghost told me to say that. Wait, it was uhh… Yassar arafats… wait it was the grand mufti…

      Ukraine lost the war from day one. There is no extracting a victory there bub, and only those not blinded by their estrogen levels have known it for a very long time. So Donny boy isn’t an idiot like you, that’s all that applies there.
      In fact if you just used the last 22 years of examples you’d have known that on day one, too. You could even go back to the viet nam war and figure it out.

      Another set of groups of blood and death cults are on the loose, how does it feel to have so much company, abortionist ?

      happy Halloween everybody

    3. Hamas teaches the Gazan young to hate and kill Jews, while too many Gazans support Hamas. However, any Gazan who wants peace and is willing to permit Jews to survive in their homeland deserves a second chance, absent of Hamas and any form of violent hatred. Supporting those people is not anti-Semitic, and people can call for Hamas to let those people go instead of using them as human shields.

      In Ukraine, there need not be continued war. This war should never have broken out. It is one of the things caused by the Biden administration and their handling of foreign policy. Pushing Russia closer to China resulted from his policies and was a stupid thing to do.

      There may be a bright spot in Ukraine. Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, who is firmly under the thumb of Putin, is said to have made a statement that the war is unwinnable by Russia or Ukraine. Could that be Putin talking through Lukashenko? If so, it is a step in the right direction. The American step in a similar direction would be to indicate no desire to place NATO troops on the border of Ukraine.

  4. “The majority of students don’t find conservative or libertarian views appealing.”

    In order to rationalize academia’s descent into indoctrination, Leftists keep repeating that mantra. It is a mantra born of ignorance. And it is laughably false.

    For 25 years, I taught those ideas (alongside opposing ones) to undergraduates. From students of all ideological stripes, the overwhelming response was: Thank you for introducing us to those ideas and arguments — the ones that rarely, if ever, are taught elsewhere. This is the college experience I was hoping for.

    Like-minded *educators* around the country reported identical student responses.

  5. The United States is no longer a force for good in the world. We are in no way a Christian nation, no longer a constitutional rule of law nation. As the late great John McCain warned us about.

    Guantanamo Bay is still open in 2023, over 20 years led by both parties – neither party with the integrity to close it.

    The United States has operated a blacklisting program, destroying innocent native born U.S. citizens – the most evil program of any government on Earth. The world’s most despotic blacklisting program is profit driven. There simply isn’t sufficient integrity in Congress or the Supreme Court to say “No” to crimes against humanity.

    Let’s not forget the fraud and incompetency – over 90% of the people we destroyed were completely innocent. No evidence of any terrorism or even any crimes.

    Maybe Congress has bigger priorities to focus on?

    1. You leave it to me to fill in all your accusations with facts.
      No thanks, get specific or I just assume it is yet another baseless rant.

  6. On other related news, Israel is enraging the muslim world. Oh boy, an out of control ally. Better reign it in.

  7. Laugh for the day. Biden has issued an executive order making AI safe and friendly.

    AI probably wrote it and put it on his teleprompter.

    Now we feel much safer.

    In fact I’ve wondered if Biden himself is a CGI character can’t be; they can usually complete sentences.

  8. This explains a lot. $8.5 billion from Arabs to American schools with Cornell being a top recipient.

    It’s almost like having the SS fund Furher Principal seminars in our universities and being surprised when the students goose step between classes.

    Of course the universities are drenched in antisemitism while presidents and faculty can’t rise above it. A few billion dollars has a lot of gravity.

  9. I hope that for those “classes” teaching the evils of colonialism, that the students and teachers are required to shed themselves of the artifacts of colonialism: shoes, clothing with artificial fibers, under garments, electronics, meeting in modern designed buildings with lighting, heating, and air conditioning, eating packaged snacks and other foods such as pizza, pasta, eggs, and most foods from the Colombian exchange, etc.

    Furthermore, with pre-colonial times, there was a distinct lack of demographic diversity. So the mindless mantra of “diversity is our strength” needs to be reexamined and re-framed as colonialist propaganda.

    Just saying…

    1. Almost immediately upon contact with European civilization Indians began to adopt European things and sometimes had white captives/slaves making white goods. By the time of King Philip’s War many of the Indians had flintlock weapons which were superior to the matchlock guns many whites used. That technology transfer continued for ages so that when Custer had his last battle many of the Indians had superior weapons, repeating, rapid fire carbines while troopers had single shot rifles that required extraction of a spent cartridge and inserting a single bullet into the chamber by hand. A single Indian could lay down a heavier volume of fire than several troopers. Then look at the famous picture of Geronimo kneeling, holding a rifle and glaring at the camera. See if you can see much of anything he is holding or wearing that is not of white manufacture. The merging of the two races was not as simple as many assume.

      We, on the other hand, also received much from Indians. I’ve read that close to 85% of our current food has American Indian origin. You only have to think of corn and potatoes to know that is likely true. We inadvertently introduced smallpox to Indian life and they seem to have given us syphilis and tobacco.

      1. Almost immediately upon contact with European civilization Indians began to adopt European things

        Yet, they never could figure out the wheel. Geniuses that they are.

      2. “I’ve read that close to 85% of our current food has American Indian origin.”

        Along with 85% of our high-tech communication system. After all, the Indians did have smoke signals.

Leave a Reply