Buying a Spot on the Syllabus … for Atlas Shrugged

Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott Jaschik kindly sent a link to his new story “Buying a Spot on the Syllabus,” which is indeed very interesting. He begins:

Some professors at Marshall University believe that the institution has crossed an ethical line by accepting a gift that requires that a specific book â?? Ayn Randâ??s Atlas Shrugged â?? be taught in a course.

While the criticisms have come from professors who are not fans of Randâ??s philosophy, they stress that their objection has nothing to do with this particular book, and that they would have no problem with a professor making the choice to include it on a syllabus. Their concern, they said, is a university accepting a gift that requires any book to be taught â?? when book selection should be a faculty prerogative.

â??Atlas Shrugged can be taught. Itâ??s the required part that is problematic,â? said Jamie Warner, director of undergraduate studies in political science. Under this precedent, she said, â??you could see neo-Nazis giving money and saying that you have to teach Mein Kampf.â??

Boy, she didn’t waste any time raising the specter of Hitler, did she? Cause, you know, it would never occur to universities themselves to distinguish between gifts from neo-Nazis and gifts from advocates of the free society. That would be a difficult decision for them, no?

Wonder if she even knows it was public — rather than privately-funded — education that constituted a major cornerstone of Hitler’s strategy for brainwashing young minds. (…And I’m just getting started with the liberal fascism analogies. Imagine if we really studied the dynamics at work, here.)

In any case, see the full article for more about this controversy, which we’ve actually seen here before.

In any case, Kudos to Jaschik for including this perspective in his article:

Calvin A. Kent is a vice president for business and economic research and distinguished professor of business at Marshall, and he will be teaching the course with Atlas Shrugged in the fall. Kent argued that the gift provides a great opportunity for the university, and that there are no academic freedom issues. Kent noted that there is no requirement that Marshall students take the course, and that he will include material beyond Rand.

â??The expectation is that this book will be used. I donâ??t think that is an unreasonable expectation,â? he said.

Kent said that he is a fan, having first read Atlas Shrugged in college, where he found it â??pretty profound,â? and said that he still views the book that way.

The threat to academic freedom, Kent suggested, isnâ??t from accepting a gift but from discouraging it. â??I would not go around telling the history department or the English department that they have no business using a particular novel or a particular historian,â? he said. â??For someone to tell us that we should or should not include something smacks of censorship.â? Asked about the argument that some professors would reject a gift requiring any book to be taught, Kent said heâ??s skeptical.

â??I think thatâ??s the way they are trying to spin it,â? he said. â??There are a lot of people out there who donâ??t agree with her philosophy. I happen to agree with most of it, but not all of it. The thing that has really got people upset is that they donâ??t like the book.â?

The bottom line? Universities are free to reject gifts from neo-Nazis, just as they’re free to reject gifts from wealthy entrepreneurs who want to see more students exposed to the pro-reason, pro-freedom principles in Atlas Shrugged.

By making spurious comparisons between such donors, however, liberal professors are revealing just how much they need to read — or re-read — Atlas Shrugged and understand its lessons about the role of consensual relationships in a free society.

These gifts from BB&T force no professor to teach Atlas Shrugged and force no student to take a course on Atlas Shrugged. The gifts simply provide educational options for each that did not exist before.

The bottom line: Offering someone money to do something is, in no way, fascistic. Taking money from the public treasury to fund politically-correct government school curricula, on the other hand….

Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.