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A UA Prof Chimes In on the 'Freedom Center'

David Safier Nov 10, 2017 8:00 AM
courtesy of Bigstock
The discussion continues. First I wrote a guest opinion in the Weekly's print edition about University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, aka the Freedom Center, creating a high school course being taught in Tucson Unified and other local school districts. The next week, Michael McKenna, director of the Freedom Center, responded with a guest opinion of his own. I followed with a post about one small part of what McKenna's wrote, promising I would write more in the future.

In place of my post, here is a letter submitted to the Weekly by David N. Gibbs, Professor of History at the UA, which wasn't included in this week's print edition. It covers the main points I was planning to make and takes it a few steps further by linking the Center to state politics.
To the editor:

David Safier’s recent article brought to light disturbing connections between the Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, associated with the UA Philosophy Department, and a series of far right funders, including Charles Koch. Safier noted that the Freedom Center has produced a high school curriculum that contains a strong flavor of political indoctrination.

In a Guest Opinion, Freedom Center director Michael McKenna defends his program, but if read carefully, McKenna confirms much of Safier’s original article. Thus McKenna bristles at the notion that the Koch family has influenced the center – but he concedes that they provided $1.8 million in funding, a sizable sum for an academic unit, and have played a major role in funding the Philosophy Department’s graduate program. McKenna adds that the center has received funds from approximately twenty-four other sources, including such conservative stalwarts as the Kendrick family and the Templeton Foundation. Clearly, the Freedom Center has not been hurting for funds. McKenna bristles at the accusation that the Freedom Center’s high school textbook is tendentiously slanted in favor of the libertarian economics favored by their funders; but McKenna concedes that the text “is perhaps intellectually biased.” And yes, the textbook does “favor somewhat libertarian or more generally right-leaning views.” This is hardly a model of balance.

One might add that Republican legislators have provided additional funds for the Freedom Center, and also its counterpart in Tempe. According to the Arizona Republic (4/27/16), the two freedom centers have become “academic allies” for Governor Doug Ducey and his friends. Legislators of both parties acknowledge that the two freedom centers serve ideological purposes – or to quote Republican legislator Jay Lawrence, the state funding for the centers constitutes “'a wonderful opportunity' to fund conservative viewpoints.” And in the view of Democrat Eric Meyer, the centers constitute a “think tank that spews out propaganda.”

What is this ideological Freedom Center doing at a state university? Why is the UA administration allowing this to happen?


David N. Gibbs
Professor of History
University of Arizona