Free speech and big money at colleges

On  the Wellesley College campus.

On  the Wellesley College campus.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Colleges should afford a very wide range of speakers the opportunity to express their views, be they left, right or other. So on the face of it, a program at elite Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, called the Freedom Project sounds fine. The programs bring “libertarian’’ and conservative speakers to the beautiful campus, with the idea of offsetting the generally liberal views of students and teachers there.

But the program is funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, a right-wing group aimed at promoting the views of the current version of the Republican Party. Charles Koch, of course, is a member of the billionaire Koch Brothers, who inherited their sprawling business from their father and are leading members of the plutocracy now running the country. They are, not surprisingly, obsessed with tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation.

Conflicts of interest abound. For example, reports The Boston Globe, Wellesley sociology Prof. Thomas Cushman, who has been running the Freedom Project there but is stepping down, said he wouldn’t invite The New Yorker’s famous investigative writer Jane Mayer  to speak because he didn’t like her book  about the Kochs, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

To read The Globe’s story, please hit this link.

But the Wellesley Freedom Project has invited Alex Epstein, author The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which the Kochs, who have huge stakes in the fossil-fuel industry, not surprisingly have recommended to their donors.

Better if colleges assiduously avoid relationships with big foundations and businesses that want to pick speakers for propaganda reasons. But that also means that college administrations and faculties have a duty to ensure that students can hear a very wide range of views on their campuses and that they punish students and faculty who try to prevent speakers from making their arguments. Too many colleges have been weak on free speech, which should be enshrined in academia.

And to have foreign propaganda  and surveillance outlets on campus, such as the Chinese government-run Confucius Institutes at, among other places, Bryant University and the University of Rhode Island, is utterly inappropriate.