Singing for your supper...

A lot of you have probably read the article on Inside Higher Ed about Marshall University accepting a gift that carried a stipulation that a particular book be taught. To talk about it as a question of academic freedom ("academic freedom means you don't have to teach the book") is a bit shortsighted since what the contract for the gift does is essentially put a price tag on that freedom. Honestly, this shouldn't be surprising - there have been plenty of in-roads that are not only well-paved but well-trod - that would lead a donor to think this would be fair game.

On one hand, the increasing professionalization of higher education has given plenty of cause for other institutions to feel like they could dictate curriculum. And I want to be clear that we can't just talk about this in terms of business, which would be the first logical jumping off point from the article. As an institution, higher education is increasingly dependent on the will of outside benefactors. Take a stroll through any campus and look at everything that's got a plaque on it. In virtually every case, the money that bought that plaque and that helped procure that space came with stipulations. When you're dependent upon the kindness of strangers, you can't be surprised when one of them makes you perform a bit.

Obviously, there are strategies for dealing like things with a gift that requires you to teach a particular view. First, don't take it. But if you do, you don't have to teach it the way they want. Want to talk about Ayn Rand and The Wealth of Nations? Well, you can talk about all the ways those things don't really fit the world we live in quite so well as people would like us to believe. But the larger strategy has to be finding a better way to fund higher education.


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