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Is it obvious now?

“One down, two to go,” said Elise Stefanik, gloating over the resignation of Liz Magill as president of the University of Pennsylvania. Magill had blindly walked right into Stefanik’s right-wing gotcha trap during a congressional hearing. An orgy of right-wing glee followed Magill’s resignation, amplified by a clueless media eager to pose as nonpartisan and principled.

Magill’s cautious answers, which were intended to respect the difference between speech and conduct, were exactly what Republicans would have wanted to hear, if right-wing speech had been the issue. But, to Republicans, left-wing speech is a different matter. To Republicans, the protection of left-wing speech on campus is so dangerous, even in the absence of conduct, that, not only does the principle of free speech not matter, liberal heads must roll.

As a Democratic member of the House (Robert C. Scott of Virginia) pointed out, Republicans wouldn’t hold a hearing in 2017 after white supremacists marched through the campus of the University of Virginia shouting, among other things, “Jews will not replace us.”

The issue I’m drawing attention to here has nothing to do with Israel and Gaza. My point, as I’ve argued before, is that all the fuss and spilled ink about free speech on campus has nothing to do with the principle of free speech. Rather, it is a right-wing propaganda strategy, funded by right-wing money and furnished with lipstick by right-wing think tanks. Its purpose is to weaken the standing of America’s universities and to advance the right-wing project of corporatization and right-wing control of education. This propaganda has been very effective, partly because so many well-meaning people who actually do care about free speech have fallen for the lie that it contains — that the right actually cares about the principle of free speech. For the right, it’s the perfect disguise for what they want to do to American education (and what they are already doing, in the states where they have the power to do it).

Now right-wingers have a university president’s head on a platter. They hope to have two more, and soon. They hope to also get the heads of the presidents of Harvard and MIT.

So far, I’ve seen only one piece in the media that saw through the lie (though only partly). That is in the Washington Post, “Republicans say they believe in free speech. Except when it comes to Israel.” I say “partly” because I don’t think it’s Israel that makes the difference. I think what makes the difference is whether speech serves, or opposes, right-wing power.

Why did Magill walk into the trap? I can only guess. But my guess would be that she was thinking in principles, and like a lawyer, but that she’s fatally naive on the matter of persuasion and propaganda.

Update 1:

Here’s a fine example of how right-wing interests use the media and how the media fall for it. The headline in the New York Times this afternoon is “Are academics best suited to lead big schools?” The idea is that maybe academics are not qualified to run academia! Who might be qualified, then? We know their answer to that, of course: political figures and our corporate masters.

Update 2:

Paul Krugman writes about this issue in his column for Dec. 15, 2023: “The Biggest Threat to America’s Universities.”

Update 3:

Here’s an example of how eager Republicans are to put money men in charge of universities: “Lee Roberts, former McCrory budget director, to serve as interim UNC chancellor.” Pat McCrory was a Republican governor of North Carolina. Roberts was appointed to the university’s board of governors by the state senate, which is controlled by Republicans. As the story in the Raleigh newspaper points out, Roberts has no experience in university administration. It’s all about money. What’s to stop university chancellors who are academics from choosing university vice presidents who’ll deal with money issues? Money rules, and the money men will do everything they can to accelerate the corporatization of universites.


  1. Chenda wrote:

    It’s disturbingly like McCarthy and HUAC hearings isn’t it ?

    Monday, December 11, 2023 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Chenda… They are the same people, yes. I know some of them well. My own congressperson, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s 5th congressional district, is chair of the “education” committee that held that hearing. Education is the very last thing Foxx is interested in. She has done quite a lot, actually, to support for-profit as opposed to public education.

    Monday, December 11, 2023 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

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