Believe it or not, a left-leaning foundation has taken notice of the risk to free speech on American college campuses. “Too often, academic freedom principles have been twisted to defend the freedom of students not to hear views that might cause offense, and the focus has become freedom from hearing rather than a freedom to express controversial perspectives,” the Ford Foundation’s Alison Bernstein said at Harvard last year.
Unfortunately, the Foundation’s solution was to offer grants to the very people who make that twist—college administrators. “Of the 2,400 university presidents who were sent invitations, an astonishing 700 replied with proposals—more than one in four institutions had responded,” Bernstein reported in the Fall 2007 Ford Reports. “The response made clear the initiative had tapped into a widely shared concern over promoting pluralism and academic freedom on campus.”
“After the final proposals were reviewed, 27 institutions received $100,000 grants and another 16 received $10,000 grants.” If your guess is that the Ford Foundation bankrolled more of the type of programs that are already suppressing the sort of speech that Bernstein acknowledged the absence of, you may be onto something.
Some of the Foundation’s beneficiaries included:
• A half dozen plays at The Interactive Theatre at Portland Community College “highlighting discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and other forms of bigotry. More than 1,600 students attended the performances.” Bernstein did not say whether attendance was mandatory.
• “As part of the Transforming Community Project, a five-year examination of the role of Emory University in slavery, segregation, integration and the civil rights movement in Atlanta, two summer seminars were held for faculty to learn about this research and design new syllabi.” The chance that Emory grads will score higher on their knowledge of American History just became more remote.
• A “project at Mars Hill College in North Carolina” that “focuses on religion, sexual orientation and race.” “These dialogues are designed to build active listening and civil discourse skills and are occurring in classrooms and in residence halls.” This sounds like something that the University of Delaware attempted that a freedom of speech lawsuit curtailed.
In a way, it is fitting that a foundation such as this should be underwriting projects such as these. In several books, author Martin Morse Wooster has shown that, like many colleges and universities, foundations such as Ford’s have strayed far from the original intent of its founders and initial donors.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.