All Commentary
Friday, June 1, 1990

Book Review: Federal Support Of Higher Education: The Growing Challenge To Intellectual Freedom Edited by Roger E. Meiners and Ryan C. Amacher

Professors World Peace Academy, distributed by Paragon House Publishers, 90 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011 • 1989 • 393 pages • $15.95 paperback

Higher education the world over is dominated by government. In the United States, most colleges and universities are government institutions, or rely heavily on government support even if they are private. Since it is an article of common sense that “whoever pays the piper calls the tune,” the question naturally arises as to the effects which government funding has had upon the direction and quality of university teaching and research.

Surprisingly, however, as the editors note in theft foreword, “understanding of the impact of governmental domination of the academy by scholars is not very good.” Of course, there is no shortage of academic literature seeking to justify ever larger public support for higher education, but studies that examine government’s role in a detached and impartial manner are quite rare. The papers collected in this volume are an attempt to redress this imbalance, at least as far as the situation in the U.S. is concerned.

Overall, the contributing authors tend to conclude that the effects of government intervention in the market for higher education have been negative, although the first chapter by the late Sidney Hook does not find, in principle, any conflict between government support and academic freedom. The following chapters are less sanguine, and point to more subtle and less obvious influences. “The Growth of Government Control of American Higher Education” is chronicled in the chapter by Leonard Liggio and Roger Meiners, and the effects of this growth do not appear to have been wholly salutary. The chapter by Donald Erickson, for instance, shows that in the academic field of “education,” research is devoted almost entirely to justifying government policies, while more controversial issues tend to be ignored. Similar situations are encountered in accounting (Ross Watts and Jerold Zimmerman) and agricultural economics (E. C. Pasour). These are all fields in which government not only finances research, but also has a direct impact on practice through policy and regulation.

The chapter by Peter Aranson suggests that these effects are not so much a question of ideology as one of simply “not biting the hands that feed them.” To be sure, academics as a group are more left-of-center than the general population. However, within academia the natural scientists, whoreceive a larger share of government research funds, tend to be more politically conservative, while political science, where government research support is trivial by comparison, has the largest proportion of left-leaning professors. (In this regard, the case of the “hard” scientists seems comparable to that of other special interest groups, such as defense contractors and farmers, who also tend to be “conservative” while at the same time favoring government intervention in their own sectors.)

Other papers in this collection deal with the National Science Foundation (John Sommer), how college accreditation is allowing for additional Federal control (Robert Staaf), “Intellectual Attitudes and Regulatory Change” (Fred Mc-Chesney), by-products of government-funded research (Michael Ghiselin), a critical analysis of the arguments for government intervention in education (E.G. West), and a highly learned discussion of the basic conflict between a free market in ideas and attempts to “organize” higher education (William Bartley). A final chapter by Gordon Tullock offers some provocative remarks on “What is Higher Education?” and some innova-five suggestions for restructuring it.

These are all important papers on an important topic, and this volume should help stimulate further discussion and debate on these issues.

Professor Cole teaches economics at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala.