Righting America

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The One Time an F is (Better than) Acceptable: Turning Point USA’s Dean’s List | Righting America

by Tucker James Hoffmann

Tucker James Hoffmann is an undergraduate student at the University of Dayton. Under the mentorship of Drs. Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger Jr., Tucker has written – among other works – “Gen Z Gen Free: The Rise of Christian Right Politics on College Campuses,” a piece written with the support of the University of Dayton School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Summer Fellowship Program. Tucker has his eyes set on the future going into his senior year at UD, as he is starting the process of graduate application, with the goal of securing a PhD in Rhetorical Studies.

Two smiling, young, white males stand side by side holding a "Trump Pence Make America Great Again" political sign.
Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk flashes a “White Power” Symbol. Image via MelanoidNation.

Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is a right-wing student organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. Founded by Charlie Kirk and William Montgomery, the organization’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” It has representation at 2,900 high schools and college campuses. This growth has resulted in a veritable explosion of Turning Point content. Radio shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, speaking tours and annual national conferences combine to create an ecosystem of right-wing propaganda that the unsuspecting college or high school student can easily find themselves within.

Turning Point USA is no stranger to monitoring, watching, and writing down things that threaten their (perceived) ideological superiority. Much like their Professor Watchlist and lesser-known School Board Watchlist, the organization has unveiled the Turning Point Dean’s List, which they describe as “a comprehensive search engine to help young patriots make aneducated choice on where to attend college.” As one with even the slightest knowledge of TPUSA could imagine, this “search engine” is highly biased. Each university they analyze is ranked on (initially) 15 variables that correlate with the seemingly standard A through F grade scale. The original 15 variables include:

  • What Will They Learn? Academic Score
  • Average Salary of Recent Graduates
  • Average Salary of Graduates Mid-Career
  • Percent of Graduates with Debt (Federal and Private)
  • Average Debt of Graduates (Federal and Private)
  • Mandated Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Training for Staff
  • Bias Reporting System or Bias Response Team
  • Ratio of Right-Leaning Clubs to Left-Leaning Clubs
  • Denied Turning Point USA Chapter
  • In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants
  • Amount of Foreign Funding
  • Required Equity, Diversity, or Inclusion Courses for Students
  • Segregated Dormitories, Graduations, and Classes
  • Harassment Policies
  • Protests and Canceling Speakers

Since its inception, these 15 variables have changed. TPUSA has removed “Harassment Policies” as one of their grading variables, but it also added the following points:

  • Boycotting, Divesting and Sanctioning Israel
  • Mask and Vaccine Mandates
  • Percent of Students Graduating with STEM Degrees
  • Crime Rates in University City or Town
  • Required Western Civilization Courses

Turning Point was strategic in their creation of these variables; some seem reasonable and even valuable for a person thinking about going to college. For example, when I was looking at what university I wanted to attend, I found – not from Turning Point – the percentage of graduates who were in debt. This might be valuable information for someone trying to calculate the cost of their education, and if they want to apply for more scholarships than they originally intended. Of course, when you display this factual and possibly valuable information next to dangerous and biased measures of a school’s identity, such as Denied a Turning Point Chapter, it legitimizes the unfounded TPUSA ideological agenda.

To understand Turning Point’s guiding ideology, one only has to look at the banner on their website: “The Dean’s List utilizes a fine-tuned algorithm designed to analyze each university based on its woke activist culture, racial discrimination, and hostility towards conservative students on campus.” The point of this “fine-tuned algorithm” becomes particularly clear when one sees how TPUSA rates universities’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices. 

For the purposes of this article, I am going to use my own school to explain the Dean’s List grading system. The University of Dayton (UD) is a Catholic and Marianist university with a long history of social advocacy for minoritized individuals inside and outside the Catholic Church. Turning Point gave the university an overall score of F for a multitude of reasons, but I would like to highlight what they have to say about UD’s DEI practices and UD’s curriculum.

Mandated DEI Training for Staff/ Required DEI Courses for Students

To Turning Point, anything that might make higher education more equitable and accessible to historically marginalized populations is a red flag. The official grading curriculum stated by TPUSA is as follows:

This score is calculated based on the intensity or requirement of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity training for university staff. If a university has either mandated training or the training is severely radical, the university receives an “F” grade. An “A” grade is assigned if the university does not offer any Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity training for its staff.

The University of Dayton received an F in this category, as the New Employee Orientation includes “an opportunity to meet the University President, a discussion of Marianist history and charism, and a discussion of diversity and inclusion at UD.”

Turning Point also critiques universities that require DEI training for students. As they lay out in their official description of the grading scale for Required DEI Courses for Students:

This score is calculated based on the intensity or requirement of Equity, Diversity, or Inclusion (EDI) courses for students. The university receives an “F” grade if at least one EDI course or EDI category of courses is mandated. The university receives an “A” grade if no mandatory EDI courses exist, or if it is overwhelmingly easy to bypass any such courses. The university is assigned a “B,” “C,” or “D” grade based on the feasibility to bypass any such courses. 

The University of Dayton received another F in this category, as UD requires “Diversity and Social Justice” as part of the Common Academic Program (CAP). According to the Institutional Learning Goals of UD, the “4 Dimensions” of Diversity training are Intersectionality, Social Justice, Bias, and Intercultural Competence. Turning Point quotes UD’s website by saying “The university describes ‘Intersectionality/Power’ as a ‘framework for conceptualizing interlocking oppressions based on the interconnected nature of historically and systemically oppressed, underrepresented and underserved groups.’” In the eyes of TPUSA, this is very, very bad.

In my extensive research on this organization, I have found that the best way to explain their understanding of “rights” is using an analogy about pie, similar to the one used in economics courses. Turning Point and its ideologically adjacent followers see “rights” as a finite resource; everyone gets a piece of the pie, but the pie is limited. Turning Point believes that some groups in our pluralistic society deserve more pie than others. The slices are based on a preconceived social hierarchy. Some groups have more rights than others because they are at the top of the social hierarchy. When a socially disenfranchised group advocates toreceive more of the pie, it is perceived as a loss for Turning Point followers, as said pie is limited. When civil and equal rights movements mobilize, those in Turning Point and on the far-right in general see it as a threat to their way of life and a stripping of their own personal rights. They will do anything they can to retain their own piece of the pie.

In the context of education and the Dean’s List, universities that want to equalize the accessibility of college to prospective students from different socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds are forcibly taking away opportunities from those individuals who have traditionally had such opportunities handed to them. Of course, those who have had access to higher education are upper- and middle-class, straight white men. Those who historically have been denied equal access to higher education are predominantly poor, women, immigrants, and racial, gender, and sexual minorities.

And thus, to Turning Point, DEI initiatives are a form of anti-white racism. Of course, the idea of anti-white racism as a tangible issue in the United States has grown dramatically. Its adoption in common discourse has its roots in white supremacy, and it has legislative consequences. The best and most recent example occurred on June 29th of this year, when the right-wing supreme court struck down affirmative action as a common practice in higher education.

Required Western Civilization Courses

Turning Point explains its criteria for the Required Western Civilization Courses as follows:

This score is calculated based on the university’s General Education program. The university receives an “F” grade if its General Education program does not require any Western Civilization course or categories of courses. The university receives a “C” grade if its General Education program lists a required category that includes some Western Civilization courses. The University receives an “A” grade if its General Education program requires a Western Civilization course or category of courses.

Every student must take a Western Civilization course, but it can’t just be any Western Civilization course. Instead, it must be a course that emphasizes that the United States is, as Charlie Kirk described it, “the greatest nation ever to exist in thehistory of the world.” Because Turning Point’s ideology borders on fascism, one of their main characteristics is hyper-nationalism. Every piece of content they produce is covered top to bottom with the American flag.

The University of Dayton received an F in the “Required Western Civilization Courses” category because it “does not require any courses or category of courses designed to teach students about the history of the United States and Western Civilization as a whole.” UD does require HST 103, “Introduction to Global Historical Studies,” but the title alone makes clear that this will not satisfy TPUSA’s hyper-nationalist agenda. But Turning Point fails to consider relevant that many history, economics, social science, and philosophy courses focus on America and the West. As a UD political science student, I can safely say that many of our political science courses are taught and studied solely from the American perspective, including: POL 201, American Political Systems; POL 316, American Political Thought; POL 350, Legislative Politics; and, POL 301, American Judicial Process.

All of this is irrelevant, as TPUSA doesn’t just want courses that deal with America and the West. Instead, TPUSA wants courses that approvingly present American exceptionalist propaganda. Turning Point has been upfront in this regard. Look no further than the Turning Point Academy roll out in 2022, when Charlie Kirk, founder and CEO of TPUSA, asserted that the “proper” form of education is to “restore the memory of the greatest nation ever to exist in the history of the world” by teaching “the magic of 1776, beauty of America’s founding, and the truth of slavery.” When they say these phrases, they don’t mean to teach reality about 1776, nor America’s founding, nor the actual brutal history of chattel slavery. They mean to tell a faulty history where the founding fathers were chosen by God, that they were all completely moral figures, and that American slavery was not that bad and did not indicate that the United States was a racist nation.

To the chagrin of TPUSA, history and political philosophy courses at UD and elsewhere are not simply an exercise in post-9/11 flag waving patriotism designed to create students who unquestioningly love the United States and everything it has ever done. Instead, these are college courses that foster exploration into the past and encourage questions about how that past, good or bad, led us to the situation we are in today.

And that is precisely what TPUSA opposes. The goal of Turning Point USAs Dean’s List and its other anti-academic and anti-intellectual initiatives is to change American education from institutions that seek to teach, enlighten, and question the common practices of society to a place where far-right fear and ideology is reinforced. 

In this particular moment, Turning Point’s Dean’s List and the University of Dayton’s “F” grade has never made me more proud to be a Flyer. There is more work to be done, but if TPUSA thinks we deserve an F, we are doing something right.