The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story today out of Alaska about a legislative budget hearing wandering towards tying university funding to the specific views of students and faculty. The source of the story, and more complete reporting, is a piece in the Juneau Empire.
Representative Anna Fairclough is highlighted for making the economic point that the oil and gas industry drive the Alaskan economy and supply most of the state revenue from which university budgets are created. She further states that university staff and students are often seen as not connecting North Slope oil field development and state revenue that supports universities.
So far so good. Sometimes we need to be principled; sometimes we need to be pragmatic. We all make these choices based on our own priorities, and we make different choices at different times. But then, Rep. Mike Kelly is quoted as saying “They come down here and rail against anything that brings in the very bucks that they come down here and tell us that we owe them.” As a statement of fact, this could be innocuous. But coming from a member of a legislative Finance Committee, it can also sound like intimidation. There is more than a hint that if Alaskan students want an education, then they ought to have different political views.
To be sure, this isn’t censorship. The state is not stopping anyone from expressing a viewpoint. But by tying funding to expression, they are proposing a limit on what can be studied on campus. As we work through these economically difficult times in all states, we need to be on the lookout for legislative limits on academic concerns.
– Dan Lee