Friday, October 16, 2009

Another university caving in to business interests

Food industry critic Michael Pollan was slated to give a talk about the agribusiness at Cal State-San Luis Obispo.  Under the threat of rescinding a $150,000 donation from the chairman of a large agricultural firm, the university cancelled Pollan's lecture and instead put him on a panel discussion with a "meat-science expert," according to the Los Angeles Times.

This pattern of universities caving in to political or donor pressure to cancel controversial speakers is seen all over the country.  Last year, it was William Ayers, education professor at the U. of Illinois at Chicago who saw his speeches cancelled or postponed by the U. of Nebraska, Georgia Southern, and Boston College.  The argument used against Ayers is based on his time in the Weather Underground.  But it was interesting that each of these institutions had first invited him, knowing his background, and then rescinded the invitation after receiving pressure from donors, politicians, the media, or others.

Universities often cite "safety concerns" as the rationale for cancelling speeches by Ayers or other controversial academics such as Ward Churchill, formerly of the U. of Colorado.  I find it interesting that universities somehow manage to handle the security preparations when presidents or other high-profile domestic and foreign politicians come to campus, but are unable (or unwilling) to deal with security when a lowly college professor arrives.

I would have more respect for these institutions if they would admit that they were bowing to political or donor pressures in cancelling speeches by controversial figures, rather than falling back on the safety issue.  But isn't this what academe is supposed to be - a marketplace of ideas, including those that challenge the status quo from all sides of the political spectrum?

These invitation rescissions aren't restricted to left-wing speakers.  A Harvard student group just rescinded an invitation to speak that had been offered to the head of the Minuteman Project, an anti-immigration group.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saturday Night Live satirizes on-line learning

Inside Higher Ed this morning described how Saturday Night Live had a nice satire of advertisements for on-line colleges. One commenter on the IHE story noticed the similarity between the SNL clip (you can click on these images for larger versions):

and an actual page from the University of Phoenix site:

Just a coincidence?  Who knows, but I'm sure the folks at the U. of Phoenix don't appreciate the humor.