Editor’s Note: Guest writer Evan C. Maloney is the director of a documentary film on abuses in higher education entitled “Indoctrinate U,” which will debut September 28 in Washington, D.C.
Most people wouldn't say that having someone call the police on them was the best part of their day. But for me, it's a sign that I'm doing my job. You see, I'm a documentary filmmaker, and I spent the last four years investigating abuses of individual rights in academia.
My documentary "Indoctrinate U" analyzes the prevailing political environment on our nation's campuses. I looked into case after case of students and professors having their free speech and free thought rights suppressed when they failed to adhere to the campus political orthodoxy. The horror stories were so numerous that the toughest task in producing the film was figuring out what not to include -- otherwise, I could have ended up making a 100-hour film.
About half-a-dozen times, college administrators at various schools decided that I was a threat that required police intervention. And I admit, the threat I posed was grave: I was asking questions. Rather simple questions, but questions that they couldn't answer honestly without embarrassing themselves and their institutions.
One notable incident occurred in the fall of 2005, when I was invited by a student group at Bucknell University to screen a short film I had assembled from a series of interviews with people at all levels of academia. Considering that Bucknell is my alma mater, I was eager to accept the invitation. Some of the footage in that film was shot at Bucknell, and it had apparently caused a bit of controversy on campus.
After I arrived on campus, I got an e-mail suggesting that the event was going to be disrupted. I notified a Bucknell administrator about this, and also that I was planning to film the event. If there was any trouble at the event, I wanted to be able to prove exactly what happened. Because the student group that invited me routinely filmed their own meetings and had given me permission to film the screening, I assumed that filming my own event wouldn't be a problem.
The Bucknell administration didn’t see it that way. I was told that if I proceeded to film, I would be arrested.
I didn't doubt the administrators. Over the preceding months, I had been asking questions that made the administration uncomfortable and asking for information that they did not want to provide. Students on campus had recently exposed the fact that certain university offices -- specifically, the Women's Resource Center and the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness -- had been using school resources to promote blatantly political agendas. Paid university officials were encouraging students to attend political rallies and support specific legislation. How much was being spent by these offices? How many other offices are using university resources to push a political agenda? I wanted to know.
Those are legitimate questions for an alumnus to ask. After all, when dinner is interrupted by solicitation call from a Bucknell fundraiser asking me to fork over some of what little remains after the government is done gnawing at the carcass of my income, I feel that I have a right to ensure that the school isn't wasting money entrusted to it by parents, students and alumni.
Bucknell refused to release the information.
Therefore, I wasn’t surprised at the way school officials reacted when I next came to campus. When I walked into the auditorium, packed with students, professors, and alumni, I was confronted by the head of security who told me that the university would have me arrested if I filmed my own event. I replied that, given the threat I’d received, it would be unwise for me not to film. He left and I proceeded to film anyway.
The cops never came. Apparently, more media-savvy heads prevailed -- they didn't want me to leave town with footage of my arrest. Aside from a student sent by a professor to hand out flyers denouncing me, the event went on without incident.
A few days later I was surprised to read in the school paper that "charges are pending" against me over the filming. Who knows what'll happen next time I set foot in Lewisburg. There’s a big prison in town that houses the first World Trade Center bombers. Maybe my quest for academic openness will earn me a spot in the next cell over.
Higher education remains one of the least transparent institutions in America, even though it depends on the financial generosity of the rest of society. Academia's access to that public money is predicated on the idea that academic institutions improve society by providing educational benefits. At the very least, it needs to be open with pertinent information and live up to its professed ideals regarding inquiry and debate.
Unfortunately, academia is not only becoming less open, but also more political. A recent study of campaign contributions found that academics put more money toward political candidates than the oil and gas industry, electric utilities, computer and Internet businesses, and pharmaceuticals. Considering how rapidly the cost of a college education is rising, I'm surprised that someone in Congress hasn't denounced higher education’s "obscene price increases" and "heartless gouging of the consumer."
What we do know is that the political donations of academics leans heavily toward one side of the ideological spectrum -- more than three-quarters of it goes to one political party. Perhaps not coincidentally, that political party tends to support higher taxes and more money for the academic industry. In other words, taxpayer money is paying the salaries of academics who use some of their salaries to fund politicians who support sending even more taxpayer money to those very academics. That's a nice setup.
Perhaps now you understand why academics view me as something of a threat.
Parents, students, taxpayers and alumni have been blindly handing over money to colleges and universities without demanding any accountability. If the recipients of that money are using it to further political ends -- while at the same time trampling on people's civil rights -- then taxpayers and donors should take notice.
When I began asking the uncomfortable questions, I didn’t find a single administrator who was willing to go on the record and publicly defend what their institutions were doing. Instead, administrators often deployed the police in hope that the public could be kept in the dark about what happens on campus. But on Friday, September 28, when “Indoctrinate U.,” premiers at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the public will get to see what made those administrators so nervous.