May 27 2015
Quote of the Day:
Yet student access to a broad range of ideas is under assault. Across the country, political groups from outside the academy are organizing campus crusades to silence those with whom they disagree.
--John Hardin in today’s Wall Street Journal
John Hardin is the director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation, and he describes disgraceful campaigns across the country to prevent the Koch Foundation (and other organizations) from funding programs that might lead to diversity of thought on college campuses. Just to be clear, conservative groups are sometimes guilty of this, too. But the Koch Foundation is a popular target of organizations on the left.
For example, the Koch Foundation gave a $365,000 grant to Mississippi State University to start a new Institute for Market Studies. Market studies, reeks of capitalism, no? Can't have that! A political action committee named American Bridge sprang into action, filing requests for emails and other between faculty and the Koch Foundation and other information. The idea: intimidate faculty and administrators and kill the grant.
The incident at Mississippi State is by no means an anomaly:
Strong-arm tactics such as these have no place on a college campus, but the MSU incident is not unique.
Similar campaigns, disguised as student initiatives under the “UnKoch My Campus” label, have targeted colleges in Michigan, Kansas, Florida, Virginia and elsewhere in the past year. They want schools to stop accepting our gifts and push the programs these support off campus.
Left-leaning groups are not the only users of pressure tactics. Organizations on the right, such as state Republican groups, have targeted professors with whom they disagree as well. Recently, a University of Wisconsin professor was singled out for espousing ideas with which they disagreed.
Regardless of who initiates them, these attacks are typically organized by political special-interest groups, which mask their true motives by claiming to seek “transparency” in the funding relationships between universities and philanthropists. Yet they only target those with whom they disagree, and the information they claim to seek—the amount of money provided and its purpose—is almost always already publicly available. The grants they target also follow the standards laid out by each university and were thoroughly reviewed by faculty and administrators.
These groups’ real motivation is easy to discern. They don’t want students and scholars to expand their educational horizons. Rather than engage in a vigorous and civil debate about the merits of different ideas, they seek to prevent those with which they disagree from ever being heard.
The Koch Foundation is one of many that fund grants to colleges and universities. Around $37 billion in grants from private organizations went to institutions of higher learning last year. This money makes available programs that would otherwise not be established. But some groups don’t want to see programs that might lead students to think too deeply about the prevailing orthodoxies on campus.
Here is the kind of program that people who don’t like the free flow of ideas don’t want on campus:
Our grant agreement at Michigan State University, another recent target, is typical of the programs we support. It also illustrates the absurdity of the political attacks.
The grant, about $20,000 a year, enabled political-theory professor Ross Emmett to design and launch an extracurricular reading group for interested students. The group included a two-week discussion of Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto.” After that, the group discussed two books— G.A. Cohen’s “Why Not Socialism?” and “Why Not Capitalism?” by Jason Brennan. As Prof. Emmett has written, he hopes the reading group will give students a chance “to discern and make judgments about truth, to engage ideas and decide for ourselves.”
Since Professor Emmet didn’t think to put his emails on a private server and then delete them, he spent two weeks in “legal limbo” worrying that activist groups in Washington,DC would take his emails out of context.
The modern day book burners, left or right, aapparently don’t want students to be exposed to different ideas. Their goal is driving any remnants of intellectual diversity from the American campus. College, in their view, is not a place to exchange ideas but rather one to absorb what they regard as the ideas and be protected from what they regard as the wrong ideas.