The notion of what is â€œpolitically correctâ€ to do at American universities is historically a new problem. Through most of the history of the American republic, the federal government directly funded neither education nor science. Indeed the Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered and rejected proposals that would have given the federal government powers to fund academies or sciences directly or by incentives.
Instead, the Congress was only given the limited power to promote science and the useful arts by protecting actual inventors through grants of what we today call â€œpatentsâ€. Education, except for specific federal purposes such as training of military officers, was a state responsibility, or a purely private one. Federal science funding was most typically done by the use of commercial contracts or special purpose applied agencies, such as the Geographic Survey or the Census.
As early as October, 1945 hearings began in Congress on the idea of creating a â€œNational Science Foundationâ€. The entity proposed was (and became) not a true foundation with separate endowment, but rather a government agency, distributing Federal funds to academic institutions based on advice of scientific advisory panels.
In 1950 this idea became law, but not without opposition.Â
When the states and many separate private colleges, independent industries funded their own institutions and research, and stated funded their own institutions independently of central control, there was a great diversity in views and a broad wealth of possible innovation. Observers of both Nazi and Soviet science in the first half of the century certainly had good reason to believe that central control of funding was a threat to independence of mind. Imposition of a single national science funding source created the threat of imposing a single national ideology of what would be â€œcorrectâ€ to think about.
But not only did proponents of the new â€œfoundationâ€ not predict the dangers, some actually advocated the Soviet system as their model.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!