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Educational micromanagement

March 31, 2009

The Oklahoma state legislature is getting ready to exact a cost on Oklahoma University for inviting Richard Dawkins to speak there.  Lawmakers have been trying to find out every penny spent bringing him to the university, and even which professors spent time on the visit.

…State Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, filed a resolution this session opposing Dawkins’ invitation to speak at OU and the university’s actions “to indoctrinate students in the theory of evolution.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Thomsen said the university has a right to bring any speaker it chooses, but is accountable to taxpayers. On behalf of his constituents, Thomsen wanted to present the opinion that Dawkins doesn’t represent Oklahoma’s ideals.

“They’re not in a plastic bubble that can’t be touched,” he said.

Too true, that.  The Supreme Court has, back in the days before all the Reagan and Bush appointees, called it a “chilling effect on free speech”. 

Mind you, it was perfectly all right for OU to invite Ben Stein and pay him $60K.  But not Dawkins, who even waived his speakers’ fee for the event. So I want to know something:

What do we even need university presidents for?  Why supercharge the marketplace of ideas?  Why have scholars who try to challenge students with ideas they may not like?  Why invite controversial, award-winning authors to campus to speak?  Why not just let pignorant legislators run everything?

As Garrison Keillor says; “There’s a reason the iPod wasn’t invented in Kansas.”  Maybe we should change that to “KansOklahomas”.


  • Cary Nelson at Inside Higher Ed has an outstanding historical perspective: Monsters With Constituencies. (h/t Chad Orzel)

  • A little tidbit on Ben Stein: he doesn’t waive his speaker’s fee for educational institutions, and if they run out of money and can’t cough up his sixty G’s, he charges them a cancellation fee.  Nice.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. gruntled atheist
    April 1, 2009 at 07:22 | #1

    I purchased Origin of Species on CD read by Richard Dawkins.  It is such a pleasure to hear the thought process of Darwin in a pleasant English voice.  It is a wonderful opportunity for these students to hear Richard Dawkins.  It is simply the height of ignorance to object to evolution or Dawkins.  Willful ignorance is the same as stupid.  So sad.

  2. Terry
    April 1, 2009 at 11:23 | #2

    Agreed – the University should be able to have Stein or Dawkins. I don’t think either man is afraid for the other’s ideas to be heard. Students are up to the challenge. Government is the problem. Government and freedom always enjoy an inverse ratio.


  3. April 1, 2009 at 13:38 | #3

    Yes, I suppose the scientist has little to fear from the “ideas” of the washed-up speechwriter.  Not so much the other way round though.

    This is a case of one part of government (state legislature) stupidly interfering with another (the state university system).  Thomson is ironically correct that the legislature is a pretty good reflection of the majority values of the people of Oklahoma.  A good reason not to live there.

    It is true that state legislators are in a ticklish spot with universities.  Not every taxpayer understands or approves what universities do, but the economy ultimately depends on it anyway.

    As for government times freedom equaling a constant, you could move to Somalia.  That’s a libertarian paradise, I hear.

  4. Terry
    April 1, 2009 at 20:18 | #4

    Without bothering to defend Stein or the state of Oklahoma- they don’t need me to do that for them – the relationship of legislature to university does not change the point. Nor, do I believe that absolute freedom – at least in the context of the fallen world – is desireable. I think the book of Judges described it as ‘everyone doing what was right in his own eyes’ and regarded it as a less than ideal state. As stressed by the Paine quote I shared with you in a different context – government is a necessary evil. Nevertheless, the bigger and stronger the government, the less the level of freedom – even of thought. The less the education system directly depends on government – the more freedom. That is, until the government becomes big and strong enough to restrict freedom everywhere. For instance, you could move to Cuba or North Korea. I hear it’s great there too.


  5. April 1, 2009 at 22:16 | #5

    It’s a vast oversimplification to think it’s a sliding, linear scale with communism on one end and anarchy on the other. 

    I’m also impressed by the delusional Libertarian fantasy that freedom automatically results from less government.  All that happens is that multinational corporations fill in the power vacuum, replacing citizenship with consumerism.

    The relationship between legislature and university is exactly the point, and is the topic of this post.  You are welcome to put up a generalized anti-government rant on your own blog and post a link to it here.  Also I have a post about Libertarianism in the works, and that would be an excellent place to continue it.

  6. April 2, 2009 at 16:18 | #6

    Now I know why “the wind comes whipping down the plain” or whatever the heck the line says.

    Nothing between the ears of the locals to block that ol’ wind.

  7. April 3, 2009 at 21:31 | #7

    Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, has an outstanding historical perspective at Inside Higher Ed: Monsters With Constituencies.

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