Letter to the editor in today’s New York Sun from State Senator Martin Golden of Brooklyn:

Question: What should happen to an untenured professor, who calls for the defeat and death of the American military, at a university that receives very significant amounts of government funding [“Professor Is Condemned for Speech, But Likely Will Keep Post at Columbia,” Julie Satow, page 2, 2003]? Answer: He should be relieved of his duties immediately. It’s as simple as that. […] On April 9, Columbia University is organizing “Lobby Day” in our nation’s capital. Students are set to meet with Congress and staff members on Capitol Hill to express their support for federal student aid and urge funding for projects that will enhance their educational opportunities. I urge members of Congress to keep in mind Mr. De Genova’s remarks as they are asked by Columbia students for assistance. In the past, the federal and state governments have been extremely generous in funding school projects and assistance programs. While I do not challenge–and actually support–our government’s funding of educational institutions such as Columbia, I must say that if Columbia is unappreciative of our troops, maybe we should consider spending the money elsewhere. Maybe we can use this money to increase the pay for our military servicemen and women who have for so long sought an increase in salary.
Two things.

First: Are people really so blind as not to realize that you can’t fire professors for their views without a major institutional change taking place? Even if the guy’s not tenured, you’re never going to get it through until the universities adopt a rational notion of “academic freedom.” Golden probably thinks he’s being radical by advocating De Genova’s firing–but how about something really radical, say abolishing tenure as a first step?

Second, here we have a vivid example of the threat posed by government funding of ideas. Initially, the government provides money more or less indiscriminately, providing support for people who couldn’t earn it by offering something of value to willing customers. Then when the irresponsibility of this policy becomes too outrageous, the government cracks down: It inevitably gets drawn into becoming the arbiter of ideology, by means of the threat to withdraw funding. Of course the man supports government funding of institutions like Columbia. Look at the power it gives the government.

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