As the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are now demonstrating, creating democratic institutions involves a lot of hard work. So, as it turns out is defending democracy, especially when those in power are willing to sell it or legislate it away.
It’s certainly going to take a lot of hard work to defend academic freedom, since Florida State University, Clemson University in South Carolina, and West Virginia University [ht: ng] have decided to sell it to the Koch Brothers.
A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.
A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”
Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.
And it’s going to take at least as much work in Israel, since the Knesset has approved or is considering a spate of laws that curtail democratic rights. As Neve Gordon explains,
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel recently warned that the laws promoted by the Knesset are dangerous and will have severe ramifications for basic human rights and civil liberties. The association, which is known for its evenhanded approach, went on to claim that the new laws “contribute to undemocratic and racist public stands, which have been increasingly salient in Israeli society in the past few years”. . .
There is a clear logic underlying this spate of new laws; namely, the Israeli government’s decision to criminalise alternate political ideologies, such as the idea that Israel should be a democracy for all its citizens.
Both sets of measures—to undermine academic freedom in public universities in the United States and democratic rights in Israel—stand in sharp contrast to the rejection of tyranny and the demand for democratic institutions elsewhere in the world.
The other irony is that, once again, it falls to the Left to defend the basic ideas and institutions of democracy that mainstream academics and politicians celebrate but are so willing to sell or legislate away.