Koch Kollege?

John Romano, writing in the Tampa Bay Times over the weekend, reviews the connection between Charles Koch and Florida State University, a problematic connection (and not the only one of its type) that has been under scrutiny for at least three years now:

The relationship at FSU drew howls of protest in 2011 when a couple of professors uncovered a memorandum that indicated Koch could wield considerable influence over the hiring of professors and some of the curriculum in economics classes.

FSU officials initially denied he had that type of power on campus, but a Faculty Senate review determined the agreement with Koch had several troublesome features. The school vowed to fix the agreement and the story soon disappeared from the headlines.

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How to Deny Scholars Access to Historical Archives in the Digital Age

Over the last six months, the Chinese government has been systematically reducing access to historical archives by scholars.

There has been much speculation about the purpose of this effort. Some have speculated that it has to do with China’s strained relations with several of its neighbors, but most notably Japan, over possession of several groups of small islands in the South China Sea. Others have suggested that it is in response to the heightened tensions in regions of China itself where ethnic minorities, most notably the Islamic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, have begun engaging in low-level insurgencies or intermittent terror campaigns. Still others have concluded that the effort is not directly linked to any single current circumstance but, instead, that it reflects the Chinese government’s determination to maintain some control over how its own history is told, at least to its own people.

For scholars outside of China or in disciplines that don’t require such access to such archives, the reasons why access to the historical archives is being reduced are, however, of less interest than how the Chinese government is effecting this policy. Continue reading

Koch-Funded Political Research: It Doesn’t Even Rise to the Level of Having Very Dubious Credibility

A number of Far-Right media outlets have been reporting the results of a recent academic study that has found that, to quote the Newsmax headline, “Republican ‘Red States’ Are the Most Free.”

This study has been produced by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Mercatus Center was originally housed at Rutgers University under a different—and duller–name, the Center for the Study of Market Processes.

In the mid-1980s, the Koch Brothers donated $30 million to support the work of the center and to relocate it to the outskirts of the nation’s capital, at George Mason University. It receives no funding from the university; instead, it receives 98% of its support from Conservative foundations and individual donors.

Most broadly stated, the Mercatus Center’s mission is to “connect academic learning and real-world practice,” which, for most people would not much more enlightening than its Latinate name. More specifically, its purpose is to provide and promote free-market strategies for addressing public-policy issues.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that the research produced by this think-tank is basically Far-Right propaganda because it clearly sets out single-mindedly to find ways to confirm the core principles of that ideology. It does not seek to investigate the pressing questions of the day with anything approaching intellectual honesty and academic rigor, but it, instead, begs the questions by working from the ideological assertions that it purports then to support. Continue reading

Different Understandings of Academic Freedom

I’m going to disagree with the arguments in Aaron Barlow’s post earlier today about the meaning of academic freedom. When Patrick Deneen described academic freedom as permitting “the airing and defense of any and all views,” I think he was absolutely right (although Deneen did it in order to criticize academic freedom, arguing that “academic freedom is not a particularly conservative principle”).

Barlow tells us that academic freedom “was intended as a particular right of the faculty granted for quite specific purposes–and with clear limitations.”Indeed, that’s quite true, but only if you keep the past tense intact.

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Misunderstanding Academic Freedom… Again and Again

Last month, Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen, who should know better, described academic freedom as permitting “the airing and defense of any and all views.” It is not so simple as that, of course. As the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure puts it, there are (as most of us know) three parts to academic freedom. They should be repeated, and often, so that we can concentrate on what academic freedom really is, and not on what so many (and not just Deneen) imagine it to be:

  1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

  2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

  3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

Though academic freedom has been conflated with freedom of speech over past decades (and, in many minds, has been extended to students), it was intended as a particular right of the faculty granted for quite specific purposes–and with clear limitations. Continue reading

Irresponsible Expressions of Dissent?

Readers of this blog know that I have been reporting occasionally on the continuing conflict between faculty, staff, and students at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which has threatened to revoke CCSF’s accreditation on what many — including San Francisco’s City Attorney and other prominent political leaders — consider dubious grounds.  (For the most recent post go here; see also my original post of July 8 and subsequent posts on July 13, August 13, and November 8.)

One reason I believe this conflict is so important is its potential implications for accreditation everywhere.  An ominous sign  — and a new wrinkle in the CCSF struggle — is a recent proposal by ACCJC to add a new accreditation standard that would require that an institution’s “board, administration, faculty, staff and students, act responsibly and with integrity.” Such a requirement, of course, could well threaten the freedom of speech of all members of an institutional community, especially since it is totally unclear what “responsible” behavior would have to entail.

This is the important point made by the following discussion of the proposal written by Karen Saginor, first vice president and former president of the academic senate and a librarian at CCSF. Hers is a cautionary tale well worth reading; one only can hope that the ACCJC will step back from this very dangerous proposal.

Irresponsible Expressions of Dissent? A warning about new ACCJC Standard I.C.9.

By Karen Saginor, City College of San Francisco

A new standard section has been added to the revised ACCJC standards for approval in June. The new section says:

I.C.9. Through its policies, procedures and actions, the institution demonstrates that it promotes integrity and that the board, administration, faculty, staff and students, act responsibly and with integrity.

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The Top Issues Facing Higher Education in 2014 and Beyond

Writing for Forbes, John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior College, has identifeid the following ten issues as the most significant issues facing higher education this year:

1. Cost.

2. Renewal of the Higher Education Act.

3. Workforce development.

4. Competency-based education.

5. Accreditation.

6. Assessment.

7. Quality assurance in non-institutional learning.

8. Recognition of the new majority in student bodies.

9. Crisis in leadership.

10. The economy.

Ebersole notes that many readers may wonder about his exclusion of MOOCs as an issue, but he feels that the questions about their efficacy for most students and their over-exposure in the media have greatly decreased the consideration of MOOCs as an major innovation in higher education.

I agree largely with that assessment, but I would take issue with a fairly large number of his choices for the list. Continue reading

Fearing Libel, Cambridge University Press Rejects a Book

Cambridge University Press has decided not to publish a book about corruption in Russia by Karen Dawisha out of fears that British libel law would leave it vulnerable to litigation. In response to the letter from Cambridge University Press, Dawisha wrote the following open letter.

By Karen Dawisha, Miami University

Thank you for the recent letter setting out CUP’s ultimate decision not to proceed with my book on the origins of Putin’s corrupt system.

I appreciated your statement that “the decision has nothing to do with the quality of your research or your scholarly credibility. It is simply a question of risk tolerance in light of our limited resources.” I also accept your advice that the manuscript would likely not face the same kind of challenge in the U.S. where, as your letter puts it, “the book would benefit dramatically from the ‘public figure’ defence.”

Of course, as we have talked about previously, I will pursue American publishing options. But I hope you will at the same time entertain some of my own further thoughts on the matter.

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Higher Education “Reform”: The Price Paid by the Next Generation of Students and Professors

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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The increasing awareness of—and outrage about–the size of the debt crushing college graduates is, we must hope, a sign that meaningful action to address it may be possible.

The numbers alone are staggering.  According to recent reports, the average student debt for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is now $29,400—roughly 80% of a young person’s average income in this country. (See more at http://www.edcentral.org/student-debt-review/.)

The implications of these numbers are also frightening.  As we are increasingly aware, student debt is fueling the widening wealth gap in the United States (http://save2limitdebt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Student-Loans-Widening-Wealth-Gap_Fullreport.pdf) and even threatening the health of our overall economy (http://www.kansas.com/2013/08/10/2935730/crippling-student-debt-affects.html).

Less understood is the parallel economic precariousness of this generation of college professors. Continue reading

Bobby Jindal Sues MoveOn.org over Billboard Critical of His Administration

This week the Roberts Court doubled down on its arguments that political contributions are simply a form of free expression and they neither distort the electoral process nor exert a corrupting influence on our elected officials.

This week Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal filed a lawsuit against the progressive group MoveOn.org because it has paid for billboards around Louisiana that criticize his ideologically driven decision to deny expanded Medicaid coverage to a quarter million of the working poor of the state. Indeed, the billboards have been very effective because they have used his administration’s new tourism slogan to drive home the point that his concern for the welfare of the people of his state is as facilely and transparently self-serving as a pitch to tourists.

Here is the MoveOn.org billboard:

MoveOn Billboard

Jindal’s administration is arguing that the slogan “Pick your passion!” has been trademarked by the state and that MoveOn.org is, in effect, undermining the state’s tourism campaign by misappropriating the slogan for partisan political purposes. Continue reading