March 26, 2003
Duke profs protest on departmental dime
Last month, Dartmouth's sociology and Spanish and Portuguese departments voted to use departmental funds to finance a student trip to Washington to protest the war. They were admonished by the administration for violating the school's obligation, as a tax-exempt institution, not to finance political campaigns: Even in the ethically challenged world of academic administration, the partisan activities of two Dartmouth departments were clearly recognized to be wrong. But academics don't always keep up with their own news or understand the responsibilities of their own jobs, and as a consequence they tend to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over again.
So it is that the Duke anthropology department recently took out a half page anti-war ad in the student paper. The ad read thus:
We wish to express our opposition to the U.S. bombing of Iraq, and affirm our solidarity with those students and student groups protesting the war. We consider this unilateral action by the U.S. government reckless, unjustifiable, and against the best interests of the international community, and urge the Duke community to find ways to engage in serious reflection and dialogue about this disturbing turn of events.
Beneath the statement appeared the names of 39 Duke faculty members, some from anthropology and some from other departments. Under the list of names was some damning fine print: "The ad is sponsored by the Department of Cultural Anthropology." The ad cost $312.90, and was paid for out of departmental funds. Apparently, it simply never occurred to anyone involved that financing political advertisements is not a proper use of departmental funding.
It occurred to Duke Provost Peter Lange, though. When the ad ran on Monday, Lange let the anthropology department know immediately that it was very far in the wrong. In an email to the faculty who signed the ad (the first of whom was Anthropology Chair Anne Allison), Lange informed them that under federal tax code, it is against the law for one of the University's divisions to pay for a political advertisement. But he was also clear that there is nothing to prevent faculty members from expressing themselves through paid ads as long as they pay for it themselves. Lange's clarity on that point derives in part from an administrative fiasco in the fall of 2001, when Duke shut down the website of sociology professor Gary Hull after he posted two articles that advocated a strong military response to the 9/11 attacks. After a public outcry led by FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), Hull's website was reinstated.