Tag Archives: Koch

Indoctrinating Students Isn’t Easy

UCLA has found a novel way to improve the politicization of its curriculum. UCLA Today, the faculty and staff newspaper, reports that the university’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Sustainability Committee have teamed up to help faculty members across the university figure out ways to slip sustainability messages into their classes, regardless of the actual subjects they are teaching.  Participating faculty members get a two-hour workshop and a $1,200 grant to turn their courses into vehicles of sustaina-ganda. 

The newspaper account highlights political science professor Miriam Golden who is using the extra money to change reading lists, data sets, homework assignments.  Professor Golden is ardently behind the cause.  “I think climate change is the largest global challenge to ever face the human race, and we need to help students understand the social and political implications,” she says.  But the money clearly helps.  She wouldn’t be altering the content of her courses without it.

Is it a good thing when a third party puts money on the table to ensure that a particular point of view gets extra attention and favorable treatment in a public university?  Not when Charles G. Koch pledged $1.5 million to support faculty appointments in Florida State University’s economics department for the purpose of promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”  When that story broke in Spring 2011, the higher education establishment expressed dismay at the supposed affront to academic freedom.  Two FSU professors, Kent Miller and Ray Bellamy, led the charge against the “intrusive actions” of the funders, but a faculty panel grudgingly found the grant acceptable.  The progressive commentariate could hardly find enough exclamation points to express its outrage at this commercial sullying of the pure soul of academic inquiry.

I don’t expect that UCLA’s little experiment in cash incentives to faculty members who adjust their teaching in the direction of global warming hysteria and the virtues of sustainability will elicit any similar disdain.  But the Koch “intrusion” at Florida State and the sustainability grants at UCLA are really two sides of the same coin.  Charles Koch would like universities to teach more about the virtues of free markets.  The sustainability crowd generally views free markets as a deep source of environmental ruination.  Both sides are ready to put some money into the game. The Koch grant supports the appointment of faculty members in one department who would be explicitly identified as advocates for a point of view.  The UCLA program is meant to insinuate a point of view across the whole curriculum.  Which sounds more likely to infringe on the integrity of academic programs or the intellectual freedom of students?

UCLA innovation is the cash incentive, not the attempt at broader product placement.  The effort to get sustainability incorporated in every class has been a goal of the sustainability movement for some time. The question for the sustainatopians has been how best to make this happen.  The National Association of Scholars has watched these efforts unfold first as naked aggression, as we reported in “An Elbow in the Ribs: Prof-Prodding Toward Sustainability.”  Sometimes it took more than an elbow bestowed on the reluctant professor, as we observed in “The Sustainability Inquisition.”  Carrots in the form of cash incentives are arguably an improvement over the sticks that the movement more typically uses. 

The money might be put to some good uses.  Who would object to the Earth and Space Sciences professor taking the cash to make videos of fluid dynamics to explain how the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came about?  There is, however, something a little unsettling about an effort to make every class in a university into a brick in a wall of advocacy.  “Sustainability” falsely presents itself as settled wisdom not only about the science of climate change, but about the proper economic, political, and social responses.  These are matters where students deserve the benefit of hearing the best arguments from all sides.  UCLA’s decision to stack the deck is, unfortunately, all too common for the University of California.  The best response from UCLA faculty members would be to refuse the money and to teach their courses in the spirit of fair-minded scholarship, not as exercises in recruitment to a cause.  

Vague-Talking and the Loss of English

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In the mid-1980s, American English was overwhelmed by a linguistic mutation that transferred the burden of verbal communication fraom speaker to listener.  Because it sidestepped the need for vocabulary and clarity, and because its shapeless syntax shielded speakers from the risk of saying something insensitive or incorrect, this new mode of expression won rapid acceptance, jumping from campus jargon to national discourse with astonishing speed.  It was, like, you know, like, whoa.  I mean, I’m like omigod!  It was, hello, you know, totally amazing, and stuff. 

                                                             Nouns Are Kinda like Verbs

This deliberate descent into verbal bedlam first came to my attention when I was  interviewing intern candidates for Mayor Edward I. Koch’s speechwriting office in New York City.  Until the mid-’80s I had no trouble finding talented students from colleges such as Columbia, NYU, Pace University, and the senior colleges of New York’s City University system. Suddenly, however, it became difficult to recruit articulate candidates with writing ability.  Even English majors had withered vocabularies and a hazy grasp of grammar. Many didn’t know a noun from verb and – strangest of all – they struggled mightily to avoid direct speech.  In its place they employed self-quoting, playbacks of past conversations, “uptalking” (ending declarative sentences with an interrogative rise), and run-on sentences. They seemed to be defending themselves against their own words. I called this evasive dialect Vagueness.      

At first I wondered if Vagueness had escaped from the zoo of post-hippy slang.   For example, the overuse of “like” as a speech particle goes back to the early 1960s and beyond.  But slang usually has an edge.  Vagueness was amorphous.  Operating as a kind of oral anti-matter, Vagueness camouflaged meaning with childish idioms, vocal intonation, facial expressions and ambiguity.  To be understood, Vagueness had to be decoded.  It wasn’t as though these students were capable of speaking standard American English but, for some perverse reason, had decided not to.  Extended interviews revealed that most of them had no idea how to carry on a lucid conversation.

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A Campaign Against the Koch Foundation

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There is an old saying in politics that “They don’t scream unless you hurt them.”  When your adversaries scream, it is a good sign that your measures have been effective. Judged by this standard, the Koch Brothers (David and Charles) have been very effective in recent years in advancing their causes of limited government and classical liberalism, much to the discomfort of liberal foes promoting business regulation, higher taxes, and ObamaCare.

The Koch brothers have been on the receiving end of non-stop attacks from liberal journalists and academics ever since Jane Mayer published a hit piece on them last year in The New Yorker purporting to show that their contributions were behind the rise of the “Tea Party” movement.  This wildly exaggerated claim was meant to cast the Koch brothers as great villains, but villains possessed of a satanic combination of power and tactical brilliance.  In a predictable course, Mayer’s fairy tale was circulated by the columnists and editorial writers of the New York Times and from there through a network of second-level columnists and political magazines until at length it came to the attention of the credulous foot soldiers of the liberal-left who have kept the pot boiling in recent months with ever more inventive and exaggerated versions of the original lie.     
 
The latest controversy surrounding the Kochs arises from an article published last week in the St. Petersburg Times titled, “Billionaire’s Role in Hiring Decisions at Florida State University Raises Questions.”  The author insinuates that the Koch Foundation was trying to “buy off” the Economics Department at Florida State University through a $1.5 million grant (paid over six years) to hire new faculty and to support graduate fellowships under a program in “political economy and free enterprise.”  Under the grant, a three-person faculty committee was set up to review candidates for the positions, including one member designated by the Foundation.  The paper suggested that by designating a member of the review committee the Foundation was undermining academic freedom by interfering in the faculty’s right to appoint colleagues on the basis of professional competence.   

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