Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amherst's Failed Attempt at Political Neutrality

The so-called Millennial Generation is the hot demographic this election cycle, and much to the joy of colleges across the country, this demographic is almost entirely located within what a political strategist might call their “media market.” One of the most left-leaning institutions in America is meeting the most left-leaning generation in forty years, and it’s a match made in heaven.

But it seems some universities have become a bit too comfortable with the ideological homogeneity on their campuses. The University of Massachusetts - Amherst has became embroiled in controversy last month when a chaplain offered credits to students who volunteered for Obama’s campaign (no similar credit was offered to students campaigning for other candidates). To quote the email sent out to students:

If you're scared about the prospects for this election, you're not alone. The most important way to make a difference in the outcome is to activate yourself. It would be just fine with McCain if Obama supporters just think about helping, then sleep in and stay home between now and Election Day.

In what might be the most revealing and disconcerting aspect of this whole debacle, the administration at Amherst roundly rejected this project, claiming that "There is no independent study for credit in the History Department that involves partisan political work, and no such activity has ever been approved."

To conservatives and libertarians, the knee-jerk reaction has been positive: the leftist student population is no longer being subsidized to campaign for a candidate of dubious liberty street cred. But this misses the full implications of the college’s decision: rather than offer credit to any student doing legitimate work on a campaign, whether it be Obama’s, McCain’s, Barr’s, or Nader’s, Amherst decided to deny credit to all partisan political activity. Rather than welcome and support open political debate, the administration decided to squash it.

Sure, students are not being prohibited from working on campaigns, and remain free to do so on their own time. But an institution of higher learning ought to encourage students to become involved politically, and if they’re offering credit for doing work at the Heritage Foundation or Center for American Progress, they ought to at least offer the same credit for students on a campaign. It might – that is, almost definitely will – advantage liberal candidates, but the greater victory will be for those who advocate for a free academy.


LarryK4 said...

Actually it was Umass, Amherst the flagship of the Public higher ed school system in the state and not Amherst College, a private institution,

Sam said...

larryk4 -- Thanks for catching that. The correction has been made.