A Late Summer Stream

Since he retired to the Tar Heel State my friend the Brown Bear has been prowling the wilds of North Carolina, exploring remote streams and searching for the elusive brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout.  Although he is by training and temperament an angler, he occasionally can take a pretty good photo — like this shot of one of his secret, sun-dappled fishing spots, deep in the Carolina woods, on a warm late summer day.

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Mitt’s Views And The Inside-The-Beltway Gaffe Game

Omigod!  Mitt Romney made another colossal gaffe!  At a “secretly recorded” fundraiser, he noted that a lot of Americans receive some form of government benefits and a lot of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes.  Speaking extemporaneously, Romney expressed concern that we are creating a culture of government dependency, a victimization mentality, and an entitlement society — and he thinks the people who fall into those categories probably aren’t likely to be his supporters in the coming election.

Of course, although the surreptitiously taped video made the story seem more tantalizing, there’s nothing really secret about what Romney said at the fundraiser:  he’s been saying similar things about people wanting to get free stuff and the recent explosive growth in food stamps and government assistance programs as this ongoing recession lingers and lingers and lingers.  And the data back up Romney’s point about the growth of entitlements and government benefits.  According to the Census Bureau, in the second quarter of 2011 49 percent of Americans lived in a household that included someone who is receiving a government benefit.  Nearly half of Americans pay no federal income taxes.

People can agree or disagree about whether these circumstances are good news or a source of concern.  Romney thinks we should be worried about the growth in government benefits and the decline in people who are paying income taxes.  Why shouldn’t he say what he thinks?  Even if we vehemently disagree with him, shouldn’t we at least applaud his willingness to be honest?

Instead, the know-it-all inside-the-Beltway gang is howling.  What kind of idiot is Mitt Romney, anyway?  Doesn’t he know how this political game is played?  Any savvy insider knows that of course you can’t say what you really think to the rubes in the hinterlands!

I’m sick to death of the punditry and the silly, screeching gaffe games, which do nothing but distract from our ability to address the serious issues that should be discussed as part of this important elections — serious issues such as, for example, the proper nature and extent of government benefit programs.

Political Neutrality In The Classroom

In a heated presidential election campaign, are college classrooms becoming improperly political?  Two recent news reports address the issue.

At The Ohio State University, a professor notified fellow professors that the Obama campaign was willing to send a volunteer to classrooms to encourage students to register, a pitch that would take about five minutes of class time.  The message also said the staffer could talk to students about volunteering with the Obama campaign, but if professors “weren’t comfortable” with that, the presentation would be limited to voter registration.  A report about the message appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the OSU administration reacted promptly.  The University Provost sent a message to faculty stating that “we must make absolutely certain that Ohio State does not engage in partisan political activities,” which includes “inviting political organizers into our classrooms.”  The message added that national elections are important and exciting, but the OSU faculty and administration needed to ensure that “Ohio State will be seen as a base for impartial discourse.”

More recently, a professor at a Florida college is reported to have handed out pledges to vote for President Obama to her students during a math class; when the reports came to light, the school commenced an investigation to determine if its policies had been violated and the professor went on a leave of absence.

Do these reports show that our colleges and universities are being vigilant in ensuring that classrooms aren’t used as political indoctrination sessions?  Or, as some conservatives claim, are such reports merely addressing the tip of the iceberg of partisan political discourse — discourse that conservatives suspect is overwhelmingly liberal in orientation?

Colleges always will be hotbeds of political discussion among students, but I think most colleges and universities are legitimately trying to avoid partisan hackery by faculty members.  I was encouraged by the Lantern article which quoted OSU students as saying that professors weren’t expressing their personal political views in the classroom or pressuring students to vote one way or another.

This is an election where there is heated feeling on both sides.  Under such circumstances, you’d expect a professor to cross the line now and then.  The important thing is for school administrations to keep an eye our for such policy violations, respond to any reports with appropriate investigations, and remind faculty and staff of the rules.  American institutions of higher education should strive to achieve a neutral setting where students feel free to discuss and debate all political viewpoints — which is a lot of what college should be about.