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Fairness Doctrine for Education
Ayn Rand, 1972

The "Fairness Doctrine" is a messy little makeshift of the mixed economy, and a poor substitute for freedom of speech. It has, however, served as a minimal retarder of the collectivist trend: it has prevented the Establishment's total takeover of the airwaves. For this reason - as a temporary measure in a grave national emergency - the fairness doctrine should now be invoked in behalf of education.

The doctrine is a typical product of the socialist sentimentality that dreams of combining government ownership with intellectual freedom. As applied to television and radio broadcasting, the fairness doctrine demands that equal opportunity be given to all sides of a controversial issue - on the grounds of the notion that "the people owns the airwaves" and, therefore, all factions of "the people" should have equal access to their communal property.

The trouble with this fairness doctrine is that it cannot be applied fairly. Like any ideological product of the mixed economy, it is a vague, indefinable approximation and, therefore, an instrument of pressure-group warfare. Who determines which issues are controversial? Who chooses the representatives of the different sides in a given controversy? If there are too many conflicting viewpoints, which are to be given a voice and which are to be kept silent? Who is "the people" and who is not?

It is clear that the individual's views are barred altogether and that the "fairness" is extended only to groups. The formula employed by the television stations in New York declares that they recognize their obligation to provide equal time to "significant opposing viewpoints." Who determines which viewpoint is "significant"? Is the standard qualitative or quantitative? It is obviously this last, as one may observe in practice: whenever an answer is given to a TV editorial, it is given by a representative of some group involved in the debated subject.

The fairness doctrine (as well as the myth of public ownership) is based on the favorite illusion of the "mushy" socialists, i.e., those who want to combine force and freedom, as distinguished from the "bloody" socialists, i.e., the communists and the fascists. That illusion is the belief that the people ("the masses") would be essentially unanimous, that dissenting groups would be rare and easily accomodated, that a monolithic majority-will would prevail, and that any injustice done would be done only to recalcitrant individuals, who, in socialist theory, do not count anyway.

In practive, the fairness doctrine has led to the precarious rule of a "centrist" attitude: of timidity, compromise and fear (with the "center" slithering slowly, inexorably to the left)- i.e., control by the Establishment, limited only by the remnants of a tradition of freedom: by lip service to "impartiality," by fear of being caught at too obvious an "unfairness," and by the practice of "window dressing," which consists in some occasional moments of air time tossed to some representatives of extreme and actually significant opposing viewpoints. Such a policy, by its very nature, is temporary. Nevertheless, this "window dressing" is the last chance that the advocates of freedom have, as far as the airwaves are concerned.

There is no equivalent of the fairness doctrine in the field which is much more important to a nation's future than its airwaves - the field which determines a country's intellectual trends, i.e., the dominant ideas in people's minds, in the culture, in the Establishment, in the press and, ultimately, on the air: the field of higher education.

So long as higher education was provided predominantly by private colleges and universities, no problem of unfairness existed. A private school has the right to teach any ideas of its owners' choice, and to exclude all opposing ideas; but it has no power to force such exclusion on the rest of the country. The opponents have the right to establish schools of their own and to teach their ideas or a wider spectrum of viewpoints, if they so choose. The competition of the free marketplace of ideas does the rest, determining every school's success or failure - which, historically, was the course of the development of the great private universities. But the growth of government power, of state universities, and of taxation brought the private universities under a growing control by and dependence on the government. The current bill providing federal "aid" to higher education will make the control and dependence all but total, thus establishing a governmental monopoly on education.

The most ominously crucial question now hanging over this country's future is: what will our universities teach at our expense and without our consent? What ideas will be propagated or excluded? (This question applies to all public and semi-public institutions of learning. By "semi-public" I mean those formerly private institutions which are to be supported in part by public funds and controlled in full by the government.)

The government has no right to set itself up as the arbiter of ideas, and, therefore, its establishments - the public and semi-public schools - have no right to teach a single viewpoint, excluding all others. They have no right to serve the beliefs of any one group of citizens, leaving others ignored and silenced. They have no right to impose inequality on the citizens who bear equally the burden of supporting them.

As in the case of governmental grants to science, it is viciously wrong to force an individual to pay for the teaching of ideas diametrically opposed to his own: it is a profound violation of his rights. The violation becomes monstrous if his ideas are excluded from such public teaching: this means that he is forced to pay for the propogation of that which he regards as false and evil, and for the suppression of what he regards as true and good. If there is a viler form of injustice, I challenge any resident of Washington, D.C. to name it.

Yet this is the form of injustice committed by the present policy of an overwhelming majority of our public and semi-public universities.

There is a widespread impression that television and the press are biased and slanted to the left. But they are models of impartiality and fairness compared to the ferocious intolerance, the bias, the prejudices, the distortions, the savage obscurantism now running riot in most of our institutions of higher learning - in regard to matters deeper than mere politics. With rare exceptions, each of the various departments and disciplines is ruled by its own particular clique that gets in and virtually excludes the teaching of any theory or viewpoint other than its own. If a private school permits this, it has the right to do so; a public or semi-public school has not.

Controversy is the hallmark of our age; there is no subject, particularly in the humanities, which is not regarded in fundamentally different ways by many different schools of thought. (This is not to say that all of them are valid, but merely to observe that they exist.) Yet most university departments, particularly in the leading universities, offer a single viewpoint (camoflauged by minor variations) and maintain their monopoly by the simple means of evasion: by ignoring anything that does not fit their viewpoint, by pretending that no others exist, and by reducing dissent to trivia, thus leaving fundamentals unchallenged.

Most of today's philosophy departments are dominated by Linguistic Analysis (the product of crossbreeding between philosophy and grammar), with some remnants of its immediate progenitors, Pragmatism and Logical Positivism, still clinging to its bandwagon. The more "broadminded" departments include an opposition - the other side of the same Kantian coin, Existentialism. (One side claims that philosophy is grammar, the other that philosophy is feelings.)

Psychology departments have a sprinkling of Freudians, but are dominated by Behaviorism, whose leader is B.F. Skinner. (Here the controversy is between the claim that man is moved by innate ideas, and the claim that he has no ideas at all.)

Economics departments are dominated by Marxism, which is taken straight or on the rocks, in the form of Keynesianism.

What the political science departments and the business administration schools are dominated by is best illustrated by the following example: in a distinguished Ivy League university, a dean of the School of Business recently suggested that it be renamed "School of Management," explaining that profit-making is unpopular with students and that most of them want to work for non-profit institutions, such as government or charities.

Sociology departments are dominated by the fact that no one has ever defined what sociology is.

English departments are dominated by The New York Times Book Review.

I do not know the state of the various departments in the physical sciences, but we have seen an indication of it: the "scientific" writings of the ecologists.

As a result of today's educational policies, the majority of college students are virtually illiterate, in the literal and the wider sense of the word. They do not necessarily accept their teachers' views, but they do not know that any other views exist or have existed. There are philosophy majors who graduate without having ever taken a single course on Aristotle (except as part of general surveys). There are economics majors who have no idea what capitalism is or whas, theoretically or historically, and not the faintest notion of the mechanism of a free market. There are literature majors who have never heard of Victor Hugo (but have acquired a full vocabulary of four-letter words).

So long as there were variations among university departments in the choice of their dominant prejudices - and so long as there were some distinguished survivors of an earlier, freer view of education - non-conformists had some chance. But with the spread of of "unpolarized" unity and Federal "encouragement" - the spread of the same stagnant dogma - that chance is vanishing. It is becoming increasingly harder for an independent mind to get or keep a job on a university faculty - or for the independent mind of a student to remain independent.

This is the logical result of generations of post-Kantian statist philosophy and of the vicious circle which is set up: as philosophy degenerates into irrationalism, it promotes the growth of government power, which, in turn, promotes the degeneration of philosophy.

It is a paradox of our age of skepticism - with its proliferation of bromides to the effect that "man can be certain of nothing," "reality is unknowable," "there are no hard facts or hard knowledge - everything is soft (except for the point of a gun)" - that the overbearing dogmatism of university departments would make a medieval enforcer of religious dogma squirm with envy. It is a paradox but not a contradiction, because it is the necessary consequence - and purpose - of skepticism, which disarms its opponents by declaring : "How can you be sure?" and thus enables its leaders to propound absolutes at whim.

It is this kind of intellectual atmosphere and these types of cynical, bigoted cliques that the Federal Government now proposes to support with public funds, and with the piously reiterated assurance that the profiteering institutions will retain their full freedom to teach whatever they please, "no strings attached."

Well, there is one string which all the opponents of the intellectual status quo now have the right to expect and demand: the fairness doctrine.

If the public allegedly owns universities, as it allegedly owns the airwaves, then for all the same reasons no specific ideology can be permitted to hold a monopoly in any department of any public or semi-public university. In all such institutions, every "significant viewpoint" must be given representation. (By "ideology," in this context, I mean a system of ideas derived from a theoretical base or frame of reference.)

The same considerations that led to the fairness doctrine in broadcasting, apply to educational institutions, only more crucially, more urgently, more desperately so, because much more is involved than some ephemeral electronic sounds or images, because the mind of the young and the future of human knowledge is at stake.

Would this doctrine work in regard to universities? It would work as well - and as badly - as it has worked in broadcasting. It would work not as a motor of freedom, but as a brake on total regimentation. It would not achieve actual fairness, impartiality or objectivity. But it would act as a temporary impediment to intellectual monopolies, a retarder of the Establishment's takeover, a breach in the mental lethargy of the status quo, and, occasionally, an opening for a brilliant dissenter who would know how to make it count.

Remember that dissenters, in today's academic world, are not the advocates of mysticism-altruism-collectivism, who are the dominant cliques, the representatives of the entrenched status quo. The dissenters are the advocates of reason-individualism-capitalism. (If there are universities somewhere that bar the teaching of overtly vicious theories, such as communism, the advocates of those theories would be entitled to the protection of the fairness doctrine, so long as the university recieved government funds - because there are tax-paying citizens who are communists. The protection would apply to the right to teach ideas - not to criminal actions, such as campus riots or any other form of physical violence.

Since the fairness doctrine cannot be defined objectively, its application to specific cases would depend in large part on subjective interpretations, which would often be arbitrary and, at best, approximate. But there is no such approximation in the universities of Soviet Russia, as there was not in the universities of Nazi Germany. The purpose of the approximation is to preserve, to keep alive in men's minds, the principle of intellectual freedom - until the time when it can be implemented fully once more, in free, i.e., private, universities.

The main function of the fairness doctrine would be a switch of the burden of fear, from the victim to the entrenched gang - and a switch of moral right, from the entrenched gang to the victim. A dissenter would not have to be in the position of a martyr faciing the power of a vast Establishment with all the interlockings of unknowable cliques, with the mysterious lines of secret pull leading to omnipotent governmental authorities. He would have the protection of a recognized right. On the other hand, the Establishment's hatchet men would have to be cautious, knowing that there is a limitation (at least, in principle) on the irresponsible power granted by the use of public funds "with no strings attached."

But the fight for the fairness doctrine would require intellectual clarity, objectivity, and good, i.e., contextual, judgment - because the elements to consider are extremely complex. For instance, nthe concept of "equal time" would not be entirely relevant: an hour in the class of an able professor can undo the harm done by a semester in the classes of the incompetent ones. And it would be impossible to burden the students with courses on every viewpoint in every subject.

There is no precise way to determine which professors' viewpoints are the appropriate opposites of which - particularly in the midst of today's prevalent eclecticism. The policy of lip service to impartiality and of window dressing is practiced in many schools; and the elcecticism in some of the smaller colleges is such that no specific viewpoint can be discerned at all. It is the cases of extremes, of ideological unity on the faculty and monopolistic monotony in teaching - particularly in the leading universities (which set the trends for all the rest) - that require protest by an informed public opinion, by the dissenting faculty members, and by the main victims: the students. be continued...