The “Cry Wolf” leader Professor Peter Dreier has a clear right to solicit all the biased, agenda-driven, fraudulent “research” he desires under the First Amendment of the Constitution he and his pals have so little regard for. But his antics may not pass muster under another set of guidelines that he – and his institution – operate under.
Occidental College, Professor Dreier’s employer, expressly promises the students, whose parents fork over a cool $55,655 a year for the privilege of attending, that they will not be subject to any political litmus test as they participate in the school’s academics between bong hits and sessions of binge drinking:
Students are entitled to an atmosphere conducive to learning and to even-handed treatment in all aspects of the teacher-student relationship. Faculty members may not refuse to enroll or teach students because of their beliefs or the possible uses to which they may put the knowledge to be gained in a course. The student should not be forced by the authority inherent in the instructional role to make particular personal choices as to political action or his or her own part in society. Evaluation of students and the award of credit must be based on academic performance professionally judged and not on matters irrelevant to that performance, whether personality, sex, race, religion, degree of political activism, or personal beliefs. (Occidental College Faculty Handbook, p. 2)
Of course, here a professor – in his capacity as an Occidental professor while using his Occidental email account – is expressly soliciting research work to support his personal political beliefs. Sure, he’s not technically granting or denying credit based on his students’ political views. He’s just exercising some of the informal “authority inherent in the instructional role.” And it’s abundantly clear – even if he doesn’t say it outright – that a student who disagrees with Professor Dreier’s politics best keep on walking.
Now, there’s no doubt this shabby scheme presents an appearance of impropriety. But is it actually wrongdoing under any kind of authority or guidelines? Well, to the extent this activity is “speech,” California Education Code Section 94367 makes clear that Occidental has no legal right to impose discipline. But this happens to be more than mere speech, and Professor Dreier’s actions have more potential for creating problems for the institution than merely the destruction of any reputation it might have had for open-mindedness and diversity of opinion.
The Occidental College has very clear policies about political activity by its employees while on the job and/or using school equipment:
- No member of the College community may speak or act in the name of the College in a political campaign or demonstration. Those who, in their official capacity, frequently speak for the College should specifically undertake to make it clear, when expressing individual views, that they are not stating the position of the College. Those holding elective or appointive office in organizations affiliated with the College should similarly exercise appropriate caution, both with respect to their expression of individual views and with respect to the position of the organizations within the College that they may represent.
- College-owned equipment and facilities, including the Copy Center and the College computer system, may not be used for the preparation and reproduction of materials to be distributed beyond the campus in support of a political party, ballot proposition, or candidate for elective office.
- To the extent that College-owned equipment and facilities, including the Copy Center and the College computer system, are used for the preparation, reproduction and dissemination of such materials for on-campus distribution, proper and appropriate charges shall be made and collected for all facilities and services provided.
- Extraordinary or prolonged use of College facilities for political purposes, even with reimbursement, will not be permitted. Student body funds, assessed and collected by the College, may not be used for contributions to any political party, for support or opposition of any ballot proposition, or for support or opposition to any candidate for public office.
It looks like Professor Dreier drove an academic Mack truck right through Occidental’s wall between academic endeavors and politics. He sent the “Cry Wolf” memo using his Occidental email account, and presumably used the College’s servers as well. He identifies himself as an Occidental College professor in the memo – in fact, he ensures that everyone knows that he is the renowned “E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program, Occidental College.” His email is directed to “Colleagues” – presumably other college professors and similarly situated social parasites. He solicits “faculty and graduate students” specifically. This memo is start to finish a product of Occidental College – which may find itself solely responsible for its content.
In light of existing federal regulations and legislation passed by Congress, it is necessary to make clear the intent to which certain types of activities may render the College liable under the law. Specifically, the exemption of colleges and universities from federal income taxes is predicated on the assumption that they are organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes, as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Legislation passed as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1969 extends the limitation on political activities by tax-exempt institutions, and absolutely proscribes participation in or intervention by such institutions in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.
No, Occidental College would certainly prefer to continue not paying Uncle Sam his cut of that $55,655 per student bounty. And they can’t be happy with Dreier, despite his status as the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program, potentially mucking that up.
After all, Professor Dreier’s activities, while on the job at the non-profit, tax exempt Occidental College, do not by any stretch of the imagination fall within the scope of “exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes, as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.” His memo itself is clear: This is “activist research” expressly designed for use not for teaching but for deployment in the “battle with conservative ideas,” especially those espoused by “conservatives in the Congress.”
The IRS tends to look askance on institutions that use their tax exempt status for political purposes – and liberals have not hesitated in the past to use this as a cudgel to beat on institutions perceived as conservative. With the GOP looking more and more likely to snatch back the House and – the Lord willing – the Senate as well, Occidental’s dean can’t be too happy about the thought of getting subpoenaed to Washington to spend a humid afternoon explaining to a bunch of “conservatives in the Congress,” flexing their majority power on the IRS oversight committee, about just what the hell his school thinks it’s doing letting Dreier exploit its tax exemption for the benefit of his pinko professor pals.
Of course, if Professor Dreier believes his noble quest to provide pseudo-academic back-up for every left wing meme his fellow travelers endorse is a higher moral responsibility than conforming to the guidelines of his employer and the IRS, he has a clear choice:
Because academic freedom has traditionally included the instructor’s full freedom as a citizen, most faculty members face no insoluble conflicts between the claims of politics, social action, and conscience, on the one hand, and the claims and expectations of their students, colleagues, and institutions, on the other. If such conflicts become acute, and the instructor’s attention to his or her obligations as a citizen and moral agent preclude the fulfillment of substantial academic obligations, he or she cannot escape the responsibility of that choice, but should either request a leave of absence or resign his or her academic position. (Occidental College Faculty Handbook, p. 3)
Now, the chances that Professor Dreier would ever give up his cushy, tenured academic perch as the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program for a real job are about the same as him waking up one morning, slapping his forehead and asking himself, “What the hell was I thinking with all this commie nonsense? I’m peeling the ‘Coexist’ sticker off my Prius, buying a .45, and finding Rush on my radio.”
But if Occidental believes its tax exemption is in danger, well, it’s got to figure that it can’t get another tax exemption, but it certainly can get itself another E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program.