The Root of All or at least Most Evil
by Alex Joffe • July 20, 2005
Today's InsideHigherEd.com treats us to an essay by Donald Lazare about the growth of conservative groups focused on issues relating to colleges and universities. He's not happy.
Lazare's theme is that "conservative foundations and think tanks established in the past 30 years were designed to be, in effect, public relations agencies or lobbies for the Republican Party and the political and economic interests of their corporate sponsors." This seems a bit harsh. He also think that liberal foundations such as Ford and Carnegie "fund projects that are often antithetical to their corporate patrons' class interests is evidence that their motives are philanthropic, not propagandistic." This seems more like straightforward evidence of contradiction, in the Marxist sense. Better yet, it is just evidence that the union busting robber barons and industrialists who endowed these foundations are a long time dead and the people running them believe wholeheartedly in transnational progressivism.
In any case, Lazare argues that "the outcome of the ostensibly objective research conducted by conservative corporate-funded scholars is virtually predetermined to support its sponsors' financial and ideological interests." Having sat in meetings with Ford and Carnegie administrators, I can assure him that precisely the same can be said about these institutions. A simple glance at their record or projects and publications also demonstrates this. And having dealt with the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation, as a submitter and reviewer, I can assure him that their ideological agendas are as clear and rigid as any private foundation, set in large part by their senior staff and their interpretation of "normal science." This is how the world works.
Lazare also bemoans the role of conservative intellectuals in Republican administrations. This may be because the Republicans have had control of the White House for 17 of the last 25 years. It is also true that, as with trailer parks, if you drag a twenty dollar bill through a university you'll get a lot of takers. And besides, "Democrats" doesn't always equal "smart." Remember how well that whole Vietnam thing turned out, thanks in part to Camelot era involvement of intellectuals? He also cites David Brock and Michael Lind as authorities on how "pseudo-scholarly" conservative foundations and politics work. All I can say is that these two particular individuals come off not simply as "apostates" but as scourges, an all-too-frequent pose of the recent convert. Still, if there is a "network orchestrated by the foundations resembl[ing] an old-fashioned political patronage machine" I'm ready to be patronized.
But Lazare's real gripe is, predictably, about money. "Conservatives may not like the politics of us tenured radicals, but it would be hard for them to claim that many of us are in it for the money." Of course not, but lifetime job security, not to mention social standing, are something that the rest of us don't enjoy. Surely these must be calculated as more than a marginal benefit. Consider, for example, all the job search and moving expenses avoided, all the teaching awards and faculty development grants, some reported as income and others not, the subsidized healthcare, a semester or year-long sabbatical at whatever pay level, and so on. Surely a clever economist could whip out a calculator here and come up with a more meaningful figure than baseline salary.
And this is not to begrudge faculty their pay or perqs. Standing in front of a classroom of young people, who range wildly in terms of maturity, interest and ability, trying to keep one's own interest and enthusiasm high, faculty should be paid well. But the kvetching is frankly unappealing. Lazare goes on to compare the budget of the journal Radical Teacher, published by the Modern Language Association's Radical Caucus with " the millions and millions spent by conservative foundations in the past three decades." Of course, Campus Watch is mentioned in this context, although looking around me I see little evidence of "millions and millions" at work. Apparently I was absent the day "millions and millions" were being handed out on the basis of conservative ideology.
Which is another thing. What makes Lazare think that an operation like Campus Watch is "conservative," politically, culturally or otherwise? Where is the willingness to judge our efforts on their intellectual merits rather than dismiss us on the basis of presumed associations? But the sanctimony only gets deeper:
This sort of simple-minded syllogism – conservative foundations=corporate sponsorship=Republican extremism – is exceeded only by the vulgarity of demanding denunciations. I do not demand that Lazare denounce George Soros for his support of legalized drugs or for his looting of the British treasury, or that he denounce or disassociate himself from things that I don't like. I demand he stop reading The Nation because of its treatment of Christopher Hitchens! I want him to denounce the Ford Foundation because its money comes from the notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford!
This type of foolishness is not restricted to the left, and having some sort of thresholds for whose money you take is certainly reasonable. But I cannot see that we should be imposing it on one another or denouncing the motives or abilities of others on that basis. Perhaps we could all agree that if the Nazi Party or the Communist Party were giving out money, taking it would be a bad thing. Or the Klan, or Islamic Jihad. At least I hope we could agree about these. But if someone whose goals are congruent with the academic goals of the competition of ideas, and the social ideals of pluralism and tolerance, if they want to give me money, then I'm all for it. The last name is spelled J-O-F-F-E.
There is an unpleasant crust of envy over Lazare's piece, a realization that the world is not especially fair and that, having chosen to teach English, people like him maxed out at about $65,000 per year.
Which reminded me of a song by the incomparable Randy Newman, It's Money that Matters.
Of all of the people that I used to know
All of these people are much brighter than I
When I was a young boy, maybe thirteen
Then I talked to a man lived up on the county line
Sonny it's money that matters, hear what I say
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