Monday, March 26, 2018

Cut off research funding to Fascist universities

In recent years, the foundational values of free speech and open inquiry have increasingly come under assault at the nation's colleges and universities. Every week, it seems, there is a story concerning campus speech codes being imposed, speakers being silenced, or faculty members being assailed for wrong-think. In response, some have proposed reforms intended to compel colleges and universities (public ones, at any rate) to honor academic freedom and free inquiry. Some critics have called for cutting off all public funds — including student aid — to institutions judged to limit protected speech.

While the impulse is understandable, the problem is that such measures threaten to give public officials extraordinary power over colleges and students. One needn't possess much imagination to envision how quickly that kind of authority could go awry. The challenge, then, is to identify how policymakers might promote academic freedom and free inquiry in a manner consonant with the university's fundamental mission and independence.

One promising response is also straightforward. Colleges and universities are not just places of learning; they are also research enterprises. Indeed, in the years after World War II, the federal government began using the nation's universities as subcontractors — farming out big-dollar research in medicine, defense, energy, and more. Universities conducted the work, used the dollars to fund faculty and students, and collected overhead at hefty rates. This win-win relationship was always marked by concerns that federal funding could interfere with free inquiry. Historically, this resulted in measures designed to protect research from federal interference. Today, however, a new risk is posed by the myriad universities no longer invested in securing free inquiry. It is both reasonable and appropriate to insist that federal funds no longer support research at institutions that choose to circumscribe speech and thought. If this stance winds up exerting a healthy influence in favor of open inquiry, so much the better.     

Colleges and universities constitute a crucial thread in America's civic fabric. In his 1818 plan for the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson recounted the "benefits & blessings" of higher education, on which "public prosperity, & individual happiness are so much to depend." Higher-education institutions train young minds and produce the research and knowledge that help sustain and enrich a free society.

That distinctive public purpose is why Washington disburses upward of $150 billion each year in federal grants, student loans, work-study funding, and education tax benefits to support higher education. Like all institutions that receive federal funds, colleges and universities are required to adhere to copious policies, regulations, and guidelines. And while discussions about federal funding for higher education tend to focus on student aid and student loans, there is another, quite substantial, source of revenue that tends to fly under the radar.

Since World War II, the United States has consciously made higher education a pillar of the nation's approach to research and development. The National Science Foundation reports that Washington spent almost $130 billion in fiscal year 2015 on R&D, nearly $38 billion of which went to higher-education institutions. These funds include more than $20 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health); more than $5 billion from the NSF; more than $5 billion from the Department of Defense; and more than $1 billion each from the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. The American Association for the Advancement of Science calculates that federal dollars represent roughly 60% of all university-based R&D funding.

In spending these tens of billions, Washington is not seeking to support higher education's degree-granting and teaching; rather, it's engaging scholars at colleges and universities as subcontractors with the skills and capacity to conduct research that federal officials want done. Whether this involves bench science, materials engineering, climate research, or analysis of Russian political behavior, these grants and contracts are funded with the expectation that the data and conclusions will be valid, reliable, trustworthy, and of some use. 

This subcontracting relationship is why Washington pays colleges and universities hefty overhead rates on top of the actual costs of research. Such funds are intended to help these subcontractors pay necessary upkeep and related expenses. For instance, the base "indirect-cost" rate for NIH grants averages about 52%, so that a school awarded $100,000 for grant-funded research will receive an additional $52,000 to cover overhead costs. All told, about $10 billion a year in federal funds — more than a quarter of all federal funding for university-based research — goes to these indirect-cost payments (for things like administrative salaries and building depreciation), atop the salaries of researchers and necessary research expenses. Because they help to pay for administrators, facilities, and institutional operations, taxpayer-funded research grants constitute some of the most sought-after dollars in higher education.

The size and nature of Washington's investment give it a clear stake in ensuring that colleges and universities that take federal research funds adhere to the tenets of responsible science — including the assurance that research questions, methods, and reporting will be guided by an inviolable commitment to free inquiry. It's important to highlight the crucial distinction here: between campuses as self-regulated communities of teaching and learning on the one hand, and as places of research on the other. The focus here is solely on the latter. If campuses choose to cater to cosseted enclaves of like-minded ideologues, that's undoubtedly a societal problem, but it's a question distinct from ensuring that research funded by American taxpayers is uninhibited by ideological or political constraints.

Federal funds support university research because universities are deemed to be equipped — in terms of human capital, infrastructure, and environment — to conduct the necessary work. As an Institute for Humane Studies report aptly observes, "[H]igher education receives special financial and policy protections in exchange for providing society with a good that is distinctive to its mission: the pursuit of truth accompanied by the utmost freedom of speech and inquiry." To be sure, the special relationship between the federal government and higher-education institutions has long been cherished by both parties, with a history that can be traced back at least to the Morrill Act of 1862.

Federal investment in and support of university research was catalyzed, however, by World War II. In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Scientific Research and Development "for the purpose of assuring adequate provision for research on scientific and medical problems relating to the national defense." Led by Raytheon co-founder and MIT engineer Vannevar Bush, OSRD eschewed government-run laboratories in favor of contracting out its research and development efforts to private firms and to colleges and universities. By the end of World War II, OSRD had channeled contracts of at least $1 million to some 50 universities.

Drawing on his wartime experience, Bush prepared a 1945 report for President Harry Truman that framed the postwar research relationship between Washington and higher education. Entitled "Science, The Endless Frontier," Bush's report stipulated the basic principles of governmental support for scientific research and education. He held it paramount that scholars must be unmolested in their research efforts. In the introduction to the report, Bush penned a section titled "Freedom of Inquiry Must Be Preserved," which asserted:

[C]olleges, universities, and research institutes are the centers of basic research. They are the wellsprings of knowledge and understanding. As long as they are vigorous and healthy and their scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems in Government, in industry, or elsewhere....Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown. Freedom of inquiry must be preserved under any plan for Government support of science.

Bush was concerned, sensibly enough, about federal authorities impeding academic inquiry. The underlying understanding was that institutions would respect and defend "the free play of free intellects" and the freedom to "pursue the truth wherever it may lead." Inherent in this was the expectation that Washington would subsidize institutions because (and only as long as) they were repositories of such freedom.

Appreciation for untrammeled inquiry has deep roots. In 1220, Pope Honorius III entreated the then-fledgling University of Bologna to protect its "libertas scolastica" — its "scholastic freedom" — from external threats to its autonomy. Emblazoned upon the seal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — one of the oldest learned societies in the United States, founded by John Adams and James Bowdoin and formally established in 1780 by the Massachusetts legislature — is the motto "Sub Libertate Florent" (roughly, the arts and sciences "flourish in freedom").

In 1915, the American Association of University Professors — then headed by John Dewey — issued its famed "General Declaration of Principles," which proclaimed, "[T]he university cannot perform its [primary function] without accepting and enforcing to the fullest extent the principle of academic freedom." The AAUP continued, "[A]ny restriction upon [academic] bound to react injuriously upon the efficiency and the morale of the institution, and therefore ultimately upon the interests of the community". A quarter-century later, the AAUP and Association of American Colleges restated those principles in the "1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure":

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good....[And the] common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth.

The 1940 Statement has been endorsed by more than 250 professional associations and scholarly and education organizations. Following the tumult that roiled the nation's campuses in the 1960s and early 1970s, the 1974 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale — more prominently known as the "Woodward Report" — reaffirmed these principles:

The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.

The Woodward Report would become the model for colleges and universities across the nation. In 2005, the American Council on Education — the major coordinating body for the nation's higher-education institutions, representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and executives of related associations — joined with nearly 30 other higher-education organizations to issue the "Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities." It held, "Intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education." Further, "Colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas....Neither students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions."

More recently, in 2013, the Association of American Universities adopted a statement of academic principles in the same spirit (and drawing on a 1967 Supreme Court case), insisting,

Like freedom of speech or of the press, academic freedom is "of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned."...[U]niversities play a vital role in the functioning of our democracy. Freedom of inquiry, exercised through academic freedom and supported by institutional autonomy, underpins that mission.

These principles were yet again enumerated in the 2015 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. The report, often called the "Chicago Statement," argued,

[T]he University's fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.

As of January 2018, the Chicago Statement had been adopted or endorsed by 34 institutions and faculty bodies, including Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Georgetown.

Vannevar Bush feared in 1945 that the government might unduly restrict necessary freedoms in its oversight and management of contracted research. The possibility that many universities would themselves act as censors perhaps never occurred to him. Yet that is what has come to pass.

The academy today reflects a decided ideological lean. In some disciplines — such as the arts, humanities, or law — the tilt is overwhelming. On its own, this ideological imbalance is arguably problematic for robust debate around important questions regarding race relations, immigration, social policy, climate change, and more. After all, researchers, like anyone else, can fall prey to confirmation bias — and the more ideologically uniform a research environment, the greater the risk of that bias going unnoticed, being reinforced, and tainting results. Yet, individual colleges and universities are and should be free to set their own ideological compasses.

The salient issue here is what happens when that ideological homogeneity starts to yield formal policies and practices that stifle free inquiry. Speech codes, the heckler's veto, and attempts to discipline those expressing "improper" thoughts can stop certain questions from being asked and lines of research from being pursued, and they can make it less likely that suspect findings or methodologies will be thoroughly scrutinized.

As a team of social psychologists led by José Duarte explained in a 2015 study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, ideological and political uniformity "can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike." Such phenomena raise questions about the rigor and reliability of federally funded research produced at institutions that fail to safeguard free inquiry or that proscribe certain words and questions.

Absent a principled commitment to free inquiry and expression, certain lines of thought can quickly become hazardous. Last May, Duke divinity professor Paul Griffiths resigned after facing administrative backlash and formal punishment for criticizing the intellectual rigor and ideological tolerance of university-sponsored anti-bias training. In December 2016, then-Johns Hopkins professor Trent Bertrand was barred from his classroom and suspended for telling an off-color joke in order to emphasize a point in his lecture. When campus policies governing speech and expression yield investigations or sanctions, they create a culture wherein certain lines of inquiry and research are almost inevitably foreclosed and others may escape rigorous examination.

The costs of challenging prevailing orthodoxy were strikingly illustrated by the experience of former UCLA environmental-health-sciences professor James Enstrom. Enstrom, a non-tenured member of the UCLA faculty for more than 35 years, was fired by the public institution in 2010 after he questioned the veracity of several climate studies used to justify the state's proposed diesel regulations. In 2008 and 2009, Enstrom had exposed faulty data in a California Air Resources Board study underlying the regulatory proposals, helped unearth the fraudulent credentials of the study's lead researcher, and documented that several members of the study's scientific review panel were serving without being properly nominated.

At least five of the nine panel members — one a prominent UCLA scientist — were removed after Enstrom's whistleblowing. As a result, UCLA repeatedly retaliated against Enstrom, depleting and redirecting his research funds without his knowledge or consent and then terminating his position due to "lack of funding." Enstrom later sued the university, earning vindication in 2015 when UCLA agreed to pay him $140,000, grant him a title, and restore his access to university resources.

The threat to free inquiry is more systemic than a catalogue of one-off controversies might suggest. Limits on speech and expression have become ingrained in campus culture — largely due to the proliferation of campus policies intended to regulate conduct. In fact, official policies restricting free speech are held today by most colleges and universities: In a 2017 study, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reviewed 449 higher-education institutions — 345 public institutions and 104 private institutions — and found that an amazing 93% maintained policies that prohibit certain categories of constitutionally protected speech.

For example, Middlebury College's hopelessly broad "General Conduct Standards" stipulate that "[b]ehavior that violates common standards of decency, fails to comply with local laws or statutes, or demonstrates contempt for the generally accepted values of the intellectual community is prohibited." Such nonsensical language means that any view deemed to violate "generally accepted values" may be officially prohibited. (Of course, when guest speaker Charles Murray was shouted down in spring 2017 and his host, a Middlebury professor, assaulted, the ability to flexibly and asymmetrically apply such a policy was fully in evidence.)

Penn State University defines sexual harassment as encompassing any inappropriate "verbal" conduct (i.e., speech), while specifying under its "Gender-Based Harassment" policy that such conduct includes anything considered to exhibit "gender-stereotyping." (University employees "are required to report" all potential violations.) Policies like those at Middlebury and Penn State can intimidate and put at risk faculty pursuing work that — just for starters — fails to hew to contemporary academic conventions around topics like public morals, gender, or family structure.

Speech codes and so-called "civility" policies frequently run afoul of constitutional protections when challenged in court. They are often undone by concerns about vagueness and overbreadth — as in the 2010 case of McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands, in which the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the university's policy prohibiting the infliction of "emotional distress" created a "blanket chilling" of protected speech. Such policies can lead researchers to self-censor or risk punishment for any expression deemed "disrespectful" or "uncivil." This serves to inevitably privilege certain questions and lines of inquiry, regardless of academic merit, and discourage and deter others.


Utah Attorney General Credits School Safety App for Intercepting 86 ‘Credible’ Threats

Students and teachers at Utah schools have access to an app that allows users to report threats of violence and seek help from crisis counselors.

The software application, designed to promote school safety and student well-being, has flagged 86 credible threats of school violence over two years, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.

“‘Credible’ ranges on a scale from imminent to yes, we think there are some means, motive, and ability to accomplish the threat,” Reyes said. “It can range anywhere from a hand-held weapon to a bomb or other types of threat.”

Called SafeUT and initiated in 2016, the app is downloaded to smartphones and other mobile devices. It allows students, teachers, or other users to start a chat with a crisis counselor by phone or electronic text, or to submit a tip about a possible threat.

“The powerful part of this is that on the other end of the line, it’s not a voice answering machine, it’s not a calling tree, it is someone who will text back immediately who’s a trained professional,” Reyes said.

The professionals, trained in behavioral and mental health, are experts from the University of Utah’s University Neuropsychiatric Institute who “work staffing the SafeUT lines 24/7,” he said. “And we work with them on funding, they are part of our state system.”

The Utah Legislature funded the app for use in public and private schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, in collaboration with the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, the Utah State Office of Education, the Utah Office of the Attorney General, and the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition.

Reyes said he thinks the technology of SafeUT could have helped stop the 19-year-old with a rifle who killed 17 and wounded 17 others Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

“The tragedy in Florida is just horrible,” the Utah attorney general said, “and I don’t want to sound like we are second-guessing anybody or any agency. But I do think that if young people, including this particular young person, may have had more help and attention from some experts earlier in his life, he might have had a better chance to be more productive and less destructive.”

The confessed shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was a former student at the school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He could have been deterred by technology such as the SafeUT app, Reyes said.

“How does this tie back into school safety?” the Utah attorney general asked. “You have the immediate component of 86 threats that were intercepted, thwarted, because we got real-time information about a physical threat, somebody making a threat to other students or the school at large.”

Threats could include tips such as an overheard conversation, a post on social media, or a personal challenge faced by a student, he said.

According to the University of Utah, the app has reached 75 percent of Utah’s students and receives an average monthly ratio of 819 tips and 1,493 chats.

The University Neuropsychiatric Institute refers threats deemed credible to local police departments, and no statistics on follow-up are available, a spokeswoman for Reyes said.

Aside from the convenience of the software application, which can be downloaded from the app store and used 24/7, the big advantage is the availability of crisis counselors to respond to the messages, Reyes said.

“To me, some of the magic that is happening is that we also created an opportunity for youth to text in if they are in a mental, physical, [or] emotional crisis,” he said.

Reyes said Utah officials settled on an app rather than a crisis hotline to gear their outreach to what students would be more comfortable with.

“We did some research and talked to students and teenagers,” he said, “and figured out very quickly that they never called the hotline numbers because they never called anybody. They just don’t call, they text and use other social media for interaction.”

The app is an optimal tool to address issues students struggle with before those issues escalate to security threats, he said.

Reyes said he hopes more students will use the app for access to resources that could help them avoid “becoming destructive” toward themselves or others.


Australia: Federal Leftists trying to buy the Catholic vote with school funding

Bill Shorten’s promise to give an extra $250 million to the Catholic school system has been credited as a decisive factor in Labor’s victory in the Batman by-election last weekend. The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria actively campaigned for the Labor candidate, reigniting the war of words between the Turnbull government and some elements of the Catholic education system.

Both the Catholic school system and government school advocates (such as teacher unions) have been rallying against the government’s ‘cuts’ to school spending.

This ignores the facts. Under the Coalition’s Gonski 2.0 plan, real per-student funding for the Catholic school system is going up by 3.7% per year (well above inflation and enrolments) for the next 10 years — and the Catholic system will retain the right to distribute the funding however it likes. Both the government (5.1%) and independent (4.3%) school sectors are receiving large yearly per-student increases as well.

The average increase for each sector is less than it would have been under Labor’s original (unfunded) Gonski 1.0 plan, which was full of ‘special deals’ and funding inconsistencies. While it is reasonable for any group to advocate for more funding, it is highly disingenuous to describe Gonski 2.0 as a ‘cut’.

The Catholic school system should be far more concerned about preserving the right of religious schools to decide who they hire, who they enrol, and what they teach. These freedoms currently rest largely on precarious exemptions to state-based anti-discrimination laws, and are under attack by some activists. Catholic schools should be pushing the major parties — at both state and federal levels — to confirm exactly what their positions are on religious freedom in education.

The priority issue for religious schools at the next federal election should be religious freedom. It would be a shame if it is overshadowed by incessant clamouring about non-existent funding ‘cuts’.


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