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Higher education, politics don't mix
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Hank Huckaby has heard such rumblings before. The University System of Georgia chancellor wants to silence these before they start picking up volume, and bravo to him for trying.
There is, probably by the nature of the responsibilities and the personalities involved, an inherent tension between politics and academia. The economic crunch, which in Georgia took a bite out of the HOPE scholarship fund as well as virtually every other education line item, no doubt has intensified that tension.
What concerns Huckaby, judging from his comments in a recent newspaper interview, is that some lawmakers are trying to get more direct control over higher education.
There might be worse ideas, but at the moment it’s hard to think of one.
The chancellor readily admits that higher education is far from perfect and that the university system has created, or at least aggravated, some of its own political problems.
But that doesn’t change a profoundly important principle: Political meddling in higher education is, always has been and always will be toxic.
Huckaby obviously is concerned that higher education’s independence could be at risk if enough voters are vulnerable to anti-intellectual demagoguery.
Before he became a long-tenured U.S. senator, Gov. Richard Russell saw the wisdom of a higher education system funded by the state but governed by an independent board. That wisdom was made even more obvious when the political tampering of a later governor, Herman Talmadge, temporarily cost the state’s colleges their accreditation.
More recently, in Alabama, Auburn’s accreditation was jeopardized by the micromanagement of its own board in academic matters.
Public institutions of higher learning are answerable to the taxpayers who help support them. What they should be most answerable for is independent academic and intellectual inquiry.

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