Letter of the Month
September's Letter of the Month is from Richard Long of Temple Terrace, who wrote about the influence of outside interests on universities.
Thanks to Dave Levinthal for his incisive report on the corruption of academic integrity at Florida State University, my alma mater. I used to tell my students that a university was like a zoo; a poor zoo had only a few kinds of animals, but a good zoo had representatives of as many species as possible, including rare and unusual ones. The worst university would be one in which all the music professors taught flute, all the history professors specialized in the Civil War, or all the economics professors were libertarians. That would be a sorry excuse for an education and a disservice to the students, their parents and the future of the nation.
Privately funded "think tanks" proliferated in the past decades when publicly funded universities resisted being bullied by special interests on a variety of issues such as public energy policy or global warming. Many of these are nothing more than collections of people paid to spin particular political agendas. There is no academic freedom or tenure in such an institution; independent thinking is the one thing one must not do.
The new strategy of special interests such as the Koch brothers seems to be to get their pet legislators to underfund the universities and then to buy them up on the cheap like so many bad mortgages and turn them into cut-rate think tanks. Who knows, in a strange twist on the Stockholm effect, a desperate university might even be inclined to hire one of those legislators to be its president, especially if he promised to use his connections to restore some of that lost funding. Of course, those connections will want something back for their money. As professor Bruce Benson felt the need to inform his FSU colleagues, "There is no free lunch."
Suppose one of these new Koch economics professors, selected for his already made-up mind and approved by Charles Koch, began to develop a different and more nuanced way of understanding the world? Would Koch withdraw his funding? Why would anyone with intellectual integrity accept an academic position if part of the job description was, implicitly, never changing his mind?
I'm offering to donate $500 to FSU, but I do insist on getting power of approval over the next two faculty hires in European history. "How dare you?" I expect to hear. "What sort of institution do you think we are?" To quote an old joke, we've already established what you are. What we're doing now is haggling over the price.
Richard Long, Temple Terrace
The cases for Crist, Scott | Sept. 28, Perspective
There's a third candidate
Disappointed is an understatement of my reaction to the political editorials from Adam Smith on the Charlie Crist and Rick Scott candidacies. Not only does he try to convince us that these sock puppets represent two parties, he leaves out the real second-party candidate: Adrian Wyllie, Libertarian.
Over the last 12 years we have had a Republican Legislature and governors backed by corporate handouts instead of principles.
Caren Oeseburg, Tampa
Focus on education
Thank you for the articles on the candidates for governor. At least there were some favorable reports about each of them.
Children and young people are a valuable resource, and quality education is of primary importance. I will vote for the candidate who is the most reasonable and yet creative regarding our educational system. We do not try to usurp a doctor's training and expertise in the medical field. We should listen to educators as legislative proposals are made relating to pre-K through university. Which candidate will listen to teachers?
Jean S. Johnson, St. Petersburg
TIA solar proposal is bay's biggest | Oct. 1
Duke can't see the light
As a Pinellas County resident at the mercy of Duke Energy, I applaud Tampa Electric for its proposal to install solar energy panels at Tampa International Airport. Here in the Sunshine State, Duke might want us to believe that solar power is inefficient because, as we all know, it gets dark every evening. That logic reminds me of the old joke about astronauts being safe if they land on the sun at night.
Robert Mathews, St. Petersburg
Outcry against Duke builds | Oct. 1
Better late than never
Better late than never, but where have these Republican leaders been the past few years while corporate electricity monopolies like Duke/Progress Energy and FPL have been fleecing Floridians?
I commend the Republican candidates for their newfound awareness of the problem. I also invite them to put some real teeth in their proposed legislation, like repealing the nuclear cost recovery fee, stopping the utilities from charging us for what they themselves break, and forcing them to meet renewable energy targets worthy of a place called the Sunshine State.
Carlos Milan, Largo
Doubt as a sign of faith | Sept. 28, Perspective
Gods and leprechauns
Julia Baird's essay appears to be offering the false dichotomy of either certainty in the existence of a supernatural being or slight doubt about one.
Possibly for reasons of brevity, she ignores the options at the other end of the spectrum: total certainty that there are no gods, or entertaining the smallest possibility of their existence.
An increasing number of people ally themselves with thinkers like Richard Dawkins, who admits the possibility of small-g gods at the same level as the likelihood of fairies, angels, leprechauns and unicorns.
Nick Hobart, New Port Richey
Too young to die, too old to worry | Sept. 28, Perspective
A polluting attitude
Leonard Cohen acknowledges that smoking is bad, but asks at his age why should he care? Well, he is polluting the air for the rest of us, young and old. So maybe he should care so others can live as long and healthier.
Jean Baptist, St. Petersburg