Ben Carson, Academic Freedom, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Marty Kich has already blogged about GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson’s advocacy of campus censorship of free expression despite his shallow and hypocritical railing against the perils of “political correctness.” But I can’t resist piling on. Let’s recall that the retired right-wing neurosurgeon’s claim last week was that unlike other right-wing fanatics he doesn’t want to shut down the federal Department of Education. Instead, he wants to turn it into an investigatory body that would “monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias.” If a Carson administration decided it disapproved of  “extreme” political speech on a university campus, the school would lose its federal funding.

Asked about this proposal on Meet the Press, Carson explained that under his proposal the federal government would “invite students at the universities to send in their complaints” about political bias among their professors. His government would then further “investigate” those professors for improper political bias, and institutions found to be harboring such “propaganda,” to use Carson’s word for it, would lose their federal funding.

Now, I’m sure I’m not the first to notice the eerie resemblance between Carson’s plan to unleash amateur student informants on their teachers and the activities of Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, who were encouraged to inform on and harass their professors during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. Except back then “Red” stood for communist revolution, while Carson’s Red Guards would only enforce right-wing “red state” orthodoxy.

And what might such orthodoxy entail?  Well, Ben Carson believes that the theory of evolution is the work of the devil. This is certain to pose challenges to more than a few science professors, as is Carson’s opposition to the “fairy tale” of the big bang theory. Carson also accepts the ideas of loopy right-wing conspiracy theorist Cleon Skousen, who believed that Marxist forces had infiltrated Hollywood and the rest of the arts and that homosexuality was a plot by communists to weaken American men in preparation for a Soviet takeover. As a blogger for Daily Kos put it, “Presumably colleges will scramble to include classes with titles like Joe McCarthy Was Right and The Gay Soviet Menace for students who might prefer to believe those versions.”

Who ever thought that Carson would turn out to be a closet Maoist!  Actually, come to think of it, Chairman Mao must be spinning in his mausoleum over this.

One thought on “Ben Carson, Academic Freedom, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

  1. It’s also notable to look at the one example of “political bias” that Carson cited: “For instance, there was a university – I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation – where, you know, the professor told everybody, “Take out a piece of paper and write the name ‘Jesus’ on it. Put in on the floor and stomp on it.” And one student refused to do that and was disciplined severely.”

    The student at Florida Atlantic University was not disciplined to refusing to step on the paper (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/01/interview-professor-center-jesus-debate-florida-atlantic). Most students refused, which was the point of the exercise. The student was disciplined for making violent threats against the professor because the student felt the assignment was offensive to his religion. The professor, a Christian, was denounced by politicians and pundits seeking his dismissal, and received so many death threats that the university put him on leave and banned him from teaching for the rest of the semester.

    This would be one of the most dramatic and dangerous expansions of federal power in the history of education, to have the government “monitor” political bias at all private and public colleges and then threaten federal funding.

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