Sunday, June 22, 2003

On Thursday, Congress held hearings attacking Middle East programs as un-American and threatening to cut off funding. Sadly, right-wingers praised this neo-McCarthyism. praised National Review's Kurtz, quoting at length h's "killer point": ”academic freedom and free speech must be protected. Free speech, however, is not an entitlement to a government subsidy. And unless steps are taken to balance university faculties with members who both support and oppose American foreign policy, the very purpose of free speech and academic freedom will have been defeated. The vigorous and open debate that's supposed to flourish at our colleges and universities cannot exist without faculty members who can speak for divergent points of view. Yet, by rewarding politically one-sided programs with gigantic funding increases, Congress is actually removing any incentive for deans and provosts to bring in faculty members with diverse perspectives. At this point, Title VI funding increases are only stifling free debate.”

Actually, Kurtz is completely wrong: academic freedom IS an entitlement to a government subsidy. After all, no one really disputes that professors have a right to say what they think. The question of academic freedom is whether professors have a right to say what they think AND remain employed. This includes faculty at public colleges and government-funded programs at private institutions. Kurtz speaks of the “incentive for deans and provosts to bring in faculty members with diverse perspectives.” A fundamental tenet of academic freedom is that government must not tip the scales ideologically
Of course, Kurtz does all of this with the noble goal of “balance” and “diversity” in opinions. But what he’s really saying is, the government should force Middle East programs to hire lots of right-wingers, or cut off funding.

What Kurtz, O’Connor, and Pipes propose is not only anathema to academic freedom, it’s unconstitutional: the government cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination by ordering departments to hire faculty favorable to the current administration’s point of view.

It would be equally bad if liberals tried to do the same: imagine if a Democratic administration decides to ban funding for economics departments whose members criticize government policy until they give “equal voice” to the other side of the debate. As much as I object to the one-sided free-market ideology of most American economics departments, I don’t want to see the federal government imposing change.

It’s hard not to see McCarthyism in these hearings. This is, in essence, a committee on un-American activities. It is using a Congressional committee to seek a national blacklist on dissenters. The only difference is that McCarthy at least called individuals who could defend themselves against the smears. This hearing is just one-sided denunciations of Middle East programs with the aim of intimidating them into silence.

John K. Wilson

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