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.