The Danger of Thought Policing by Donors

George Leef of the Pope Center responds today to my critique here last week of his argument by claiming I’m creating a “straw man” and offering the hypothetical where a rich leftist “will give the school a huge amount of money (say, $100 million) if it creates a new chair in the department for a scholar who will teach the ideas he favors.” Leef wonders, “has academic freedom been diminished?…I say no. All of the existing professors…are still just as free as they’ve ever been to write or say what they want to.”

I say yes. The academic freedom of people to apply for this job has been restricted by an ideological demand for agreement with a particular viewpoint as a condition for employment. Academic integrity is also violated because ideological agreement will trump academic qualifications for this position. And the academic freedom of everyone is endangered when a college is willing to sell out anyone’s liberty for a big pile of money. That’s true whether it’s a left-wing or a right-wing donor. Leef may genuinely believe that it’s good for rich people to purchase faculty positions as playthings for their ideological desires, but it’s not a “straw man” to worry that this stand endangers academic freedom.

Leef goes on to accuse the AAUP of inconsistency: “if I’m right that the AAUP turns a blind eye to efforts by leftist groups to influence campus programs and personnel, it undermines any claim to principled consistency.” Leef is not right, a fact revealed by his admission, “I don’t have any data at hand.” If Leef has even a single example, then he should offer it (as I also asked, without answer, of Leef about his original piece smearing people quoted in Mayer article as “thought police types”).

Instead, Leef provides some random false attacks on the AAUP: “Regarding the AAUP’s consistency, the history of the battle over campus ‘Residence Life’ programs is illuminating.” The AAUP as an organization has never defended nor attacked residential life programs. In general, the AAUP lacks the resources to investigate every case where a student’s rights may have been infringed. But if there is a Residence Life program today with ideological “mandatory sessions,” I’d like to hear where it’s happening so that I can oppose it.

Leef also claims, “It appears to be the case that the AAUP opposes only the growth of conservative, libertarian, or traditionalist ideas on campus. That idea is strongly supported by incidents such as the opposition to even ‘inside’ projects such as the proposed Alexander Hamilton Center, originally proposed for Hamilton College.” Once again, I’m not aware that the AAUP ever took any stand on the Alexander Hamilton Center, so why is Leef denouncing the AAUP?

However, let me state what actually happened at Hamilton College: Professor Robert Paquette wanted to create a conservative-leaning program on campus, but he didn’t trust his colleagues, so he wanted to have a program controlled by outsiders who would agree with his conservative ideology. The Hamilton College faculty objected to this, saying that academic programs at a college should be run by the faculty, not controlled by outsiders. Paquette decided to create the program as an independent entity. The Hamilton College faculty who criticized Paquette’s proposal were quite correct to say that faculty should run academic programs, not big money donors, for the very same reasons that concerns are raised about Art Pope’s influence.

Leef has tried to attack the AAUP on grounds of inconsistency, but he has no evidence for his positions. It’s quite possible that Leef is not guilty of inconsistency himself, and would welcome any donor attempting to impose left-wing ideas on colleges. But he’s wrong about the danger this poses to academic freedom. A free university cannot sell its faculty posts to the highest bidder who wishes to impose a particular ideology.

One thought on “The Danger of Thought Policing by Donors

  1. Pingback: Re: Threat to Academic Freedom? « NAS Blog

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