We're Not in Kansas Anymore

January 14th, 2014
in Op Ed

Written by

I want to cut back on what I write for the holidays. The exception will be those items which simply make my skin crawl in anger and frustration. There is one such item from the University of Missouri, Kansas City's renowned economist and former regulator, Bill Black, that is almost too frightening to believe. It concerns the actions of the Kansas Board of Regents and the state Attorney General in creating policies which effectively eliminate tenure and academic freedom and all state related institutions of higher education - and not just tenure and academic freedom, but also the effective right of citizenship for employees of these institutions.

Follow up:

In a second shorter post Prof. Black has posted a summary addendum to the original article which I will quote from here:

In thinking about the rule I realized that I had failed to make in blunt terms five points about how radical a rule it was. I circulated these five points about an hour ago to a number of my contacts.

  1. The Regents' rule allows the CEO to terminate tenured faculty upon their arrest for a felony. There is no requirement for a conviction and no provision for reinstatement if not convicted.
  2. Truth is no defense. The comment that tenured faculty makes can be accurate and the faculty member can still be fired by the university's CEO.
  3. Lack of ill intent is no defense. The faculty member can make an accurate statement of fact or well-founded statement of opinion for exemplary purposes and can still be fired.
  4. There are no meaningful "standards" so the statement by the faculty member could unknowingly subject him/her to dismissal because the faculty member did not know that the CEO was a global climate change denier (or partisan) and believes that those with the opposite view pose a grave threat. The concepts are so vague and subjective ("harmony" and "efficiency") that a faculty member's only sure means of safety is to say nothing.
  5. The rule creates different levels of (not very) protected speech. The same statement by a professor in a traditional physically published journal - if not posted online (recall that most print publishers also make one's article available on line) - enjoys greater protection that any comment published "online."

But upon further review as they now say in the NFL, I realized that I failed to point out the most fundamental aspect of the Regents' rule changes. In an odd way, this aspect suggests a certain degree of (unintentional) honesty by the Regents. There is nothing in the Regents' rule changes that evidences any understanding that universities are not businesses run for the purposes of whatever the CEO defines as "efficiency." There is no fig leaf provided by any clause in the rule changes that suggests that the Regents believe there is any value to academic freedom. The Regents have not crafted a word in the rule changes purporting to value vigorous debate and inquiry, the expression of diverse and unpopular views, or academic integrity in "speaking truth to power." Instead, they had their lawyers craft the most draconian restriction on "online" academic free speech that they believed could pass constitutional review. They never inquired whether that was a good way to run what was, until yesterday, a top university system. The Regents have made clear that they want to crush academic freedom because they do not value it.

Now, admittedly, this is Kansas. I've driven through Kansas a couple of times and could never figure out why anyone would want to live there, but people do and they apparently have (or had) some pretty good schools. The problem is not that it has happened in Kansas, though that is bad enough. The problem is that once something like this gets moving it tends to gain momentum - particularly when well-funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, which this apparently was - and spread to other states, perhaps even to Pennsylvania. This is an insidious form of mind-control which rivals even the maniacal hysteria of the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

It is Orwellian in the extreme for the most effective form of propaganda is not permitting ideas contrary to the official doctrine be disseminated and them convince the population that they are free to know whatever they want to know. It is a form of propaganda which has been especially well-formulated and implemented in the United States under the expert tutelage of Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, during the early and mid-twentieth century which has become known as "public relations".

Public relations has been used to convince people that their individual desires were all that was important. Bernays taught corporations and politicians the secret of manipulating these desires. What is taking place in Kansas is the inverse of this. It is a simple form of what you don't know can't hurt us; and, if you can be kept from ideas of which we disapprove, we will never have to answer the hard questions which might be posed.

This is something which might be expected in the old Soviet Union, Albania, East Germany, or in parts of modern day China; but, for heaven's sake, not in Kansas. Or, to quote Dorothy, "We're not in Kansas anymore Toto," we're in the totalitarian homeland in the heartland.

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