A bizarre op-ed by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger in today’s WSJ calls for a government bailout — no, even worse, ongoing government subsidies — for the dying journalism industry. In response to the obvious problem that this would make the industry even more dependent on, and friendly to, the state than it already is, Bollinger offers the universities as a counter-example:
There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.
Yet — through a carefully designed system with peer review of grant-making, a strong culture of independence, and the protections afforded by the First Amendment—there have been strikingly few instances of government abuse. Indeed, the most problematic funding issues in academic research come from alliances with the corporate sector.
Bollinger offers no argument or evidence to support this breathtakingly naive view of university “independence.” He is apparently blissfully ignorant of the vast body of evidence, going back many decades, showing precisely the opposite, namely that college and university faculty are much more statist than than the average citizen. I summarize some of this evidence in a recent Mises.org piece; the most recent detailed empirical work has been done by George Mason University professor Dan Klein and a series of coauthors. In short, the evidence confirms exactly what one would expect, namely that the de facto nationalization of the higher-education sector in the US (and elsewhere) has produced generations of faculty who see their main task as promoting “civic virtue,” i.e., support for an ever-larger and more powerful central state. The same fate no doubt awaits Bollinger’s proposed new state-media enterprise.
Update: See also Roger Pilon.