The Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s law school has been eliminated by the Board of Governors. As the AAUP noted in a statement opposing this move, “centers must be free to sponsor curricular and extracurricular programs and provide services to the public across the broadest range of perspectives and approaches.”
Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis for the right-wing Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, praised the decision, claiming that “The poverty center’s automatic rejection of potentially viable solutions is hardly in the spirit of objectivity demanded by the AAUP back in 1915. It therefore deserves its fate.” This is a highly disturbing idea, and certainly contrary to AAUP standards. First of all, the notion that the center made an “automatic” rejection of free-market ideas is unproven and seems unlikely. The truth is that the Center simply didn’t emphasize free market approaches as much as Schalin desired.
In a free society, no program is obligated to advocate every single position to every possible problem. Suppose a pro-business program ignores union-based solutions to poverty? Should they be shut down? Of course not. In his report on conservative centers, Schalin noted how donors gave money “to support free market thought.” Surely that is just as biased as his allegations against the Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity. To eliminate a center because it is accused of having a point of view on controversial issues is absolutely antithetical to academic freedom.
Schalin is also wrong to claim that the Center violated “the spirit of objectivity demanded by the AAUP back in 1915.” Even if Schalin possessed the magic power to understand spirits, he would be wrong.
The AAUP’s 1915 declaration never “demanded” objectivity, but urged it for professors as an ideal. However, there is a good reason why this outdated statement has not been guiding AAUP policy for the past 75 years. Would Schalin go back to 1915 to find the guiding doctrines of freedom of speech for the Supreme Court? To do so would overturn virtually every free speech doctrine in First Amendment law. So why does Schalin want to turn back the clock on academic freedom to distort how it was defined in its infancy?
Today (and even in 1915), the AAUP would never assert that an alleged lack of a “spirit of objectivity” can be used to dismiss faculty or destroy academic centers.
It is nothing but pure hypocrisy for Schalin to declare in Orwellian terms that “the spirit of free and open inquiry” demands the suppression of an academic center for its expression of political views. Schalin praises the ban on the center for “not letting the university system become a playground for partisans.” Yet Schalin has argued that universities should become a playground for partisans, if the partisans are conservative. Schalin wrote a lengthy report praising the rise of conservative centers. Schalin argued, “such centers eschew politics for objective scholarship.” But there is little evidence to support this claim. The fact that Schalin himself calls them “conservative-oriented centers” indicates that politics is a core aspect of their work, and they work in a partisan manner. By Schalin’s own standard requiring a “spirit of objectivity,” all of these conservative centers would be banished for their biased political views.
I strongly support the freedom of conservative academic programs to exist, even when they promote ideas I disagree with, and even when they are biased. And I suspect that Schalin would join me in condemning attempts to ban these programs because of their politics, and would agree that politically-motivated bans on outspoken campus programs are a violation of academic freedom. Universities should be playgrounds where all ideas are allowed in the game, including partisans. Unfortunately, Schalin has a double standard where he demands freedom for conservatives, and repression for liberals.