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An interesting and disturbing article came out today from Nancy Folbre on Economix. It describes how grants are given to universities–with strings attached–to hire economics professors with views that are consistent with conservative foundations.

No problem with grants to help fund the services of good professors, but when the political views of professors become the condition of hire, academic integrity is lost.

Concerns about this trend are often framed in terms of academic freedom, putting the onus primarily on universities. After all, if they don’t like the strings attached to donations, they can turn them down.

An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times, which recently broke the story about the Koch Foundation’s support for two professorships at Florida State for which it has the power to screen appointments, musters some admirably old-fashioned outrage.

But, as that editorial points out, the issue reaches well beyond principles of academic freedom.

In the marketplace of ideas, people with a lot of money can buy whatever they want, and that’s fine. Unfortunately, they also have the power to influence other people’s ideas in ways that violate principles of justice, undermine democracy and distort the truth.

I am optimistic that the best US universities recognize the poor influence on their curriculums and refuse such grants. Still, there are plenty of colleges and universities hungry for money that I can see them accepting, and apparently that is happening.

What a shame.

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One Comment

  1. I appreciate the premise of your concern. The problem of course is that decisions to hire professors in the social sciences based on their political views happen all the time within the regular hiring practices of departments. Indeed within the social sciences there are entire “disciplines” that have emerged in the last decade or two that promote a discursive environment that presupposes a particular world/political view. (See under “cultural studies” and its various incarnations that are often preceded by the ideologically loaded term “critical”)

    I think that there certainly needs to be more discussion about how to promote and sustain a plurality of views within the university system. The article you mention does not strike me as a particularly creative way of accomplishing this. Over times I think it could undermine the “public good” nature of the university system generally.


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