Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 7, 2005

Phi Beta Kappa and George Mason University

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:28 pm

I didn’t make Phi Beta Kappa in college, but that’s never been more than a really minor disappointment to me. Until now, when I wish I’d made it jsut so I could resign in protest over this story (another version
here).

Apparently, up-and-coming George Mason University was denied a Phi Beta Kappa chapter for disinviting Michael Moore.

Naturally, they don’t officially give reasons for these decisions. But the gut-instinct version, of course, is that Phi Beta Kappa is liberal and anti-Bush and didn’t want to admit a university whose left-wing anti-Bush credentials were in question. But of course, even if that were true, they would know better than to say it, so the official unofficial version is that Phi Beta Kappa apparently didn’t like the fact that GMU, a state-funded university, disinvited Moore after state lawmakers objected to spending $35,000 of state-taxpayer money to pay his speaking fee.

University President Alan G. Merten said it was Moore’s $35,000 fee, to be paid with state funds, that prompted the university to pull out, not opposition to the filmmaker’s rhetoric. But Phi Beta Kappa officials apparently were not convinced: The organization, citing concerns about academic freedom, promptly rejected George Mason’s application, according to university professors involved in the process.

Which means, in effect, that Phi Beta Kappa believes if infringes on academic freedom for a taxpayer-funded university to acquiese to taxpayer’s elected representatives having a say in the use of taxpayer funds.

I’m not really sure how that makes Phi Beta Kappa look any better than they do in the “gut instinct” version. It makes Phi Beta Kappa look like they are opposed to democracy. Is that really any better than looking like they are against non-liberal universities?


Trivia that some people may find relevant: I’m not anti-academic. I’ve attended three universities (seven if you count summer and extra courses), I have a Ph.D., and I’ve even taught at one. I strongly believe in academic freedom — but I believe even more strongly in freedom generally, including democracy and democratic control of taxpayer funds. If GMU were a private university, no conflict between the two would exists — and Phi Beta Kappa would be forced to either form a chapter their, find some even-more-transparent excuse not to, or show their true colors. Any of which would, in my opinion, be a better outcome.

2 Responses to “Phi Beta Kappa and George Mason University”

  1. Caley Says:

    It seems to me that GMU would have to have known Micheal Moore’s price of attendance
    before booking the speaker. Therefore, the decision to disinvite Moore after already
    making arrangements reflects poorly on the faculty of GMU and their ability to arrange
    events. Upon this poor administrating incident, and the previous qualities which had kept
    PBK from accepting GMU in their earlier 2003 application could easily lead GMU to be rejected.
    So please keep your conspiracy theories to yourself, and don’t spread rumors about a great
    institution who has the right to accept anyone they want in the first place.

  2. Different River Says:

    Sure, they knew his fee before booking him — and they knew he was going to give an overtly political talk which is not authorized use of taxpayer funds. So, yes, it could be construed as “poor administrating” to use your term — which I think is an example of bad English. (Are you a member of PBK?) But the problem was not that the fee was too high, but that it’s inappropriate and possibly illegal to use state funds for campaign purposes.

    PBK knows all that, but they are taking the position that, in effect, it infringes academic freedom for a university to decline to spend tax dollars for political campaigns.

    As for “previous qualities which had kept PBK from accepting GMU in their earlier 2003 application”: They mentioned “academic freedom” this time, but not in 2003. They cited no other alleged violations of academic freedom.

    As for “So please keep your conspiracy theories to yourself”: I have alleged no conspiracy theories whatsoever. (You’ll note I did not use the word “conspiracy” at all.) PBK did not engage in a “conspiracy” to define academic freedom as “failure to campaign for Democrats” — they just did it, and I have every right — academic freedom, in fact — to disagree. Accusing someone with whom you disagree of peddling “conspiracy theories” merely makes it appear that you are doing so.

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