March 1, 2014

ADAM FREEDMAN: Politics And The University President: They go together—so long as the politics are left-wing.

Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president, got himself in hot water back in October for giving a speech to a Minnesota think tank. Not that anyone objects to Daniels making speeches in general; indeed, it comes with being a university president. In this case, however, the venue for the speech was the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative organization. And in the eyes of Indiana’s cultural elites, that made all the difference. . . .

What would mainstream academics say if a former governor used the “platform” of a public university to promote politically divisive “green-energy” policies? Actually, there’s no need to speculate: it’s already happened. In 2011, Bill Ritter, the former Democratic governor of Colorado, became head of Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, an organization bankrolled by Democratic Party donors. The express purpose of the center is to lobby state politicians in Colorado and elsewhere to adopt green-energy mandates. On top of that, Ritter has publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. Yet neither Colorado State faculty nor local media seem to have uttered a word in protest about the former governor’s overtly political activities. Imagine that.

Likewise, when former senator Bob Kerrey took the helm of the New School in New York, he made no pretense of steering clear of politics. In 2009, he gave a public speech urging Congress to pass the ill-fated “cap-and-trade” legislation promoted by President Obama. Kerrey argued that the climate-change bill was a “moral” imperative, and even compared it with 1960s civil rights legislation. How much criticism did that speech generate on the left? None.

One wonders what Daniels’s critics expected. When a university recruits a former governor to serve as its president, it is presumably because the university values the governor’s public-policy experience. And since universities are in the teaching business, why should anyone object to a university president sharing the hard-won insights that he gained in office?

Alternatively, they’re in the indoctrination business, and don’t want to send mixed messages.