Monday, November 10, 2003

Another step down the slippery slope, part III

Running Blog Capitalist is still trying to deny that the US government's plans to cut funding to universities that question administration foreign policy is any sort of attack on academic freedom or freedom of speech. His justification?

Withdrawing a benefit is not an "imposition" or a "penalty"

At some stage you just have to cry "bollocks" and be done with it. Withdrawing a benefit is a penalty, if it's done in an attempt to influence behaviour. And that's exactly why the authors of this bill are doing it - to pressure academics into refraining from publicly disagreeing with the administration. You'd think the old libertarian meme about coercion would be kicking in around here, but RBC seems to think that only applies if you shoot people and throw their bodies in a ditch.

If this was a case of a private donor withdrawing funding, then there would be no issue; an individual can fund only those who politically agree with them, and it would be an infringement on their rights to deny it. But the State is not an individual - it belongs to all its citizens. This means that it must act in a neutral and impartial manner. It must not discriminate on the basis of belief in the benefits it assigns, and it cannot apply political content tests to recipients of government funding. Its expectations in funding academic institutions can only be in terms of measures such as papers published, research done, or students graduated. Private donors can expect political agreement in exchange for funding, but the State (or rather, the government of the day) cannot.