Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Truman University Students Pulled from Summer Jobs

Correction to this story:  The current president was NOT at the helm when John Ashcroft was invited to speak.  My first version of this blog erroneously assumed that he was.

Under the guise of protecting students, Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., pulled students from summer jobs which would have had them scientifically monitoring odor from corporate hog farms.  The hog farms have long been viewed by some locals as a public nuisance, and possible health hazard.  Please view the excellent article from the Kansas City Star that outlines the details. It is a complicated story, but deserves your attention.  My point here is to address how a university, which should be a champion of truth, caved into political pressure when it ended up rejecting the $20,000 grant (that it had already agreed to) which would have paid the Truman students to perform the monitoring. 

Here is an excerpt from the Kansas City Star article which quotes Truman's president:

"We came to the conclusion that by having our students participate, there was a risk they could be brought into the middle of ongoing legal disputes between PSF and the attorney general and citizen groups," Paino said. "We didn't think that would be in the best interest of the students."

In today's world everyone bows to money, and the will of the people is subverted through a  political system that is available to the highest bidder.  In the words of economist James Galbraith, we are now in a situation where "there are only lobbyists and the politicians who do their bidding" (The Predator State, p. 5). Instead of taking the opportunity to go against that trend Truman State University gave into pressure, and then gave the very weak excuse that it wanted to keep the students out of a difficult situation.  I do not think that is true, or is at least only a small portion of the truth.  By all appearances Truman University succumbed to political pressure orchestrated by a corporate lobbyist, and executed by elected representatives who did their masters biding. The excuse given was, well, hogwash.

We should expect more from academia.  Academia serves as one of our searchlights, with its emphasis on academic freedom, assisting us as we explore diverse opinions in our search for truth.

I am sure the president of Truman is a good man.  I am sure that he was in a difficult situation, and received lots of pressure.  But, such crucial moments is when real leadership should come forward.  Unfortunately this kowtowing to power and money has become part of academic culture as we experience the commodification of education at all levels.

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