By William K. Black
Two Kansas legislative leaders who have been attacking Kansas education for over a decade through their wars on teaching about sex and evolution are back. Their threats drove the Regents’ policy destroying academic freedom and tenure.
Poltergeist: A ghost that manifests itself by noises, rappings, and the creation of disorder – from the German Poltern (to make noise) and Geist (ghost).
My columns explained how the Regents’ policy was deliberately drafted to chill academic freedom. The policy is not limited to “social media.” Anything that is posted on line, which includes academic research, is grounds for firing. It does not matter that what the professor publishes on line is accurate, well-intentioned, and polite – if the university “CEO” decides that the article is “contrary to the best interests of the University.” The professor who is fired on this vague, subjective criterion can appeal the dismissal – to the CEO! Universities are simply businesses led by CEO and the faculty must demonstrate “loyalty” to the CEO and whatever the CEO decides are “the best interests of the University” (which can include not criticizing corporate CEOs’ crimes because they might donate to the university).
What I did not explain is what prompted the Regents’ policy. Some other articles have hinted at the source but have not provided the historical context or the key role of the legislative leaders that extorted the Regents’ assault. My readers could easily have assumed that the Regents’ unholy war against academic freedom originated with the Regents. Here is the bad news – the Regents are typical Kansas Koch-heads in their policy views. The Koch (pronounced like “coke”) brothers are the leading funders dedicated to turning Kansas into Aynrandia. Left to their own devices, the Regents would not have eviscerated academic freedom and tenure (at this time). The Regents hold policy views typical of the founders of Aynrandia, but relative to other senior Kansas Republican officials the Regents are well left-of-center. News coverage in Kansas described Governor Brownback’s (Kansas’ Koch-in-chief) appointments to the Regents as “moderates” who could not survive a Republican primary were they to seek elective office. The Regents decided to destroy academic freedom and tenure in order to save it from the Koch-heads leading the Kansas legislature.
The Regents are well-educated officials with a genuine interest in higher education Several Regents are lawyers. In future columns I will fault them for their cowardice and incompetence as lawyers, but they did not become Regents for the purpose of conducting an unholy war against higher education.
“Moderate” is the most insulting label that a Kansas Republican can bestow to a fellow-Republican. The Republican Party has absolute power in Kansas and the State is infra-red because Kansas Republicans are cannibals who eat their own if they show any lack of fidelity to the latest Koch dogmas. To be a Republican “moderate” in Kansas is to be a heretic who knows the truth faith but betrays that faith by refusing to display fealty to the Kochs’ dogmas. Koch-heads despise Republican “moderates” far more than they do Democrats. They dismiss Democrats as unworthy of respect, but they loathe “moderates” with a visceral passion. The Koch-heads’ favorite appetizer is sucking the marrow from the broken bones of Republican “moderates.” Their “night of the long knives” in the 2012 primaries purged 17 of the 22 Eisenhower Republicans (who were fiscal and social conservatives but not Koch-heads). The Kochs were leading funders of the Republican purge.
The 2012 Kansas general election was a Republican triumph. Republicans hold 32 of the 40 seats in the Senate. Democrats hold 33 of the 125 seats in the House. The Republican Party in Kansas is simultaneously infra-red and ultra-white. “Infra-red” is a fitting metaphor for Aynrandia because that portion of the spectrum can supply enormous heat without providing any visible light. Out of roughly 125 Republicans in the Kansas legislature, two are Latinos, one is black, and one is of Asian descent. The 32 Republican members of the Senate are all white.
In Kansas, even Mahatma Gandhi’s (Rep. Shanti Gandhi, R-Topeka) and President Obama’s relatives are Republican candidates for elected office. Shanti Gandhi was elected to the Kansas House in 2012. Obama’s cousin is a Tea Party member and Gandhi is a retired physician and Koch-head who attended an ALEC meeting as soon as he was elected.
ALEC is a Koch/corporate front group that spreads model legislation among (overwhelmingly) Republican legislators that advances the Koch/corporate agenda. Corporations pay for seats on ALEC task forces so that they can lobby Republican state legislators. Koch’s legislative efforts have ranged from efforts to destroy effective environmental and financial regulation, climate change denial, the most virulent forms of homophobia, and “stand your ground” and concealed weapons enablers. Republican members of the Kansas legislature adore ALEC. Susan Wagle, the Senate President, is a past national chair of ALEC and Governor Brownback recently wrote the foreword to the 2011 annual ALEC report, introducing Art Laffers claims (continuously falsified by reality) that if we just slashed taxes tax revenues would surge. Aynrandia is premised on Laffers’ errant curve ball.
When it comes to choosing their Party leaders in the Kansas legislature, the elected Koch-heads pick true believers who display unswerving loyalty to the Kochs. The result is that the higher up one goes in the Republican leadership the more passionate the faith in Aynrandia’s dogmas. The senior leadership of the Kansas GOP is not infra-red, but so far beyond that it resonates in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Kansas GOP leaders champion policies that put them firmly in the “tin foil” realm of ideas. Anyone who has seen what happens when “tin foil” (aluminum) is bombarded with microwave radiation understands why the combination is disastrous in your microwave or in Aynrandia.
The Republican leadership of the Kansas legislature is so extreme that it dropped Kansas’ membership in the two bipartisan national organizations of state officials (neither of which sells entrée to corporate lobbyists) so that Kansas’ Republican legislators would not have to hear views opposed to the Kochs’ agenda. They still pay, of course, to send Kansas legislators to ALEC so that they can receive the latest marching orders from the Kochs and other corporate lobbyists and dangle their lures for campaign contributions.
As this series of columns on Kansas will develop, the result of this fealty to Koch dogma does not produce a monolithic Republican legislature. Ambition and jealousy remain as do institutional differences between the House and the Senate and the Governor and the interests of local political contributors. The Kochs also don’t want to be bothered running the details of Kansas so on most day-to-day questions there is no answer provided by the Kochs or their dogmas.
There are two other forces that diminish the dominance of the Kochs even on major issues. First, the Koch’s fiscal policies don’t work. As I will develop in my next column discussing the Wagle’s poltergeist partner, the Kansas Koch-heads are engaged in a war on science. As someone who teaches economics, it is wondrously strange to see the Koch-heads denounce science as mere “theory” while dogmatically chanting Laffer’s falsified myths as if they were gospel. The Koch-heads, of course, see nothing inconsistent between embracing creation myths and Laffer’s myths as revealed truths. Brownback paid Laffer $75,000 to serve as Kansas’ high priest and celebrant of the miracle of income tax cuts. Because Laffer’s myths failed in Kansas the Koch-heads were promptly confronted with burnt ashes – the inability to fund their budget. The result was a wonderful series of accounting scams and attempts to raid the highway funds, a $2 billion “error” that produced Brownback’s fictional budget cuts, and as I discuss below, a Koch-headed assault on Kansas education.
Second, as I will explain in greater detail in a future column, the Koch-heads are still capable of embarrassment. They are not indifferent to their policies being exposed and prompting national disdain. This is fortunate for Kansas, for the number of nasty actions that the Koch-heads sought to inflict but backed off of when their proposals were exposed to ridicule is exceptional. Had the Koch-heads gotten their way Aynrandia would long since have become Aynrandistan. The irony is that the Koch-heads would have already destroyed Kansas but for the brake that their vastly outnumbered political opponents have placed on the Koch-head’s recurrent tendency to listen to the worst demons who repeatedly drown out the better angels of their nature. Since only derision seems to stop them from their worst abuses, such as the Regents’ craven destruction of academic freedom and tenure, I have adopted that tone in this article.
This column discusses one of the poltergeists who drove the Kansas Regents’ assault on academic freedom and tenure; Susan Wagle, the President of Kansas’ Senate. The next column discusses her most infamous legislative ally in the long war on education in Kansas, Dr. Steve Abrams (DVM) the Chair of the Senate Committee on Education. In 2003, Wagle pioneered the tactics used recently by the Koch-heads to extort the Regents to eviscerate academic freedom and tenure in her attack on a KU professor who had the audacity to teach about sex in a class on sexuality.
Wagle’s Wars on Education
Wagle’s War on Kansas Universities
Susan Wagle’s fame began in 2003 when she launched her campaign to smear Professor Dailey, KU’s most popular professor.
Wagle’s student intern, Ms. Zahn, was a student in Dailey’s class on human sexuality. The class was designed to educate students who intended to go into fields in which understanding human sexuality was essential. Zahn was a political science major. She recorded Dailey’s classes and provided the tapes to Wagle. Wagle took three principal actions. She filed a complaint against Dailey accusing him of obscenity. She led a media attack on Dailey, culminating in her appearance with Zahn on the Bill O’Reilly show (who would later settle the sexual harassment claims against him). She successfully sponsored legislation to deny funds not only to Dailey, but his entire department. The cutoff of state funds occurred without any legislative hearings and before KU could investigate her complaint against Dailey. Governor Kathleen Sebelius vetoed that provision. (O’Reilly repeatedly referred to Sebelius as “he” and “him.”)
As KU’s provost ruled, Wagle and Zahn’s claims proved “baseless.” For example, they claimed that Dailey “gave the finger” to a student who stormed out of his class on the first day because she was offended by the class (which had roughly 500 students). The story was inherently incredible given that Dailey had taught the class for 20 years, and no other student agreed that any student had stormed out or that Dailey ever gave anyone the finger. The students jeered while they watched the O’Reilly show when Wagle and Zahn repeated this claim.
Zahn praised Wagle’s approach, which was to condemn, judge, and punish Dailey and KU without hearing their views or finding the facts. Zahn complained bitterly, however, that Dailey’s chair publicly supported Dailey as a fine scholar and teacher prior to the KU investigation being concluded and all the facts being known. She also claimed that KU retaliated against her by firing her husband, but that occurred due to lack of funding and the decision was made before anyone but Wagle knew about Zahn’s role.
My conclusion is that Zahn and Wagle were horrified and outraged about an adult class on sexuality. Wagle claimed that any video of sex, even a clinical video created for scientific teaching purposes and used for teaching, was “obscene.” The claims that Dailey engaged in sexual harassment and supported pedophilia were particularly outrageous smears.
Wagle’s effort at defending her assault on academic freedom actually admitted her lack of understanding or appreciation of the value of academic freedom.
“I understand academic freedom, but this is taxpayer-funded academic freedom,’ she says. ‘In this case, the rights of the taxpayer outweigh this professor’s right to be offensive.’”
Academic freedom is essential for public universities. Public universities receive taxpayer funds (as do private universities). If this trumps academic freedom, then there is no academic freedom. The idea that anything the most extreme subset of a class (in Dailey’s case: one in 500) considers “offensive” can cause all public funding for the entire department to be withdrawn demonstrates that Wagle sought to extort KU to end academic freedom (and a class that, over 20 years, roughly 10,000 students praised). The KU chaplains were also strong supporters of Dailey’s course.
Wagle also demonstrated her failure to understand any aspect of academic freedom by claiming that it was outrageous that her baseless charges against Dailey failed to intimidate him. “Wagle said she was irked that even though Dailey was aware of legislators’ concerns, he did not change his classroom behavior.”
Wagle thinks that a professor’s duty is to “change his classroom behavior” if a legislator is “conern[ed]” about that behavior, even if that “concern” arises from the legislator’s reliance on “facts” that have no basis in reality. In Wagle’s world, professors have academic freedom until a legislator is “concern[ed]” about what they teach.
Contrary to Zahn’s complaints, KU, the leaders of other Kansas universities, and the Regents were notable not for their public support of Dailey against “baseless” charges and the effort to extort KU to censor Dailey and any other professor who would teach sexuality but for their timidity in standing up to Wagle’s extortion and censorship. The top leaders failed to speak up against Wagle’s extortion in 2003, which encouraged her reprising her strategy in 2013.
Wagle Extorts the Kansas Regents and Universities
The Regents immediately realized that Wagle and her legislative allies posed an immediate threat to destroy tenure after Professor Guth’s tweet in 2013 about the NRA and gun violence.
“Logan said he’s heard talk of legislators trying to change tenure rules, though no proposal has become public.
Conservative Republican legislators have demanded that the University of Kansas fire journalism professor David Guth over a tweet following September’s shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington that left 13 dead.
Guth is on indefinite paid administrative leave.”
The Regents’ fears were accurate (doubtless because the threats I am about to list were communicated to them directly by Wagle and her allies). Wagle led the charge to have Guth fired and the threatened means of extortion was the same one she wielded against Dailey and KU.
“State Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce (R-Hutchison) have both issued statements calling for Guth’s dismissal. State Sen. Greg Smith (R-Overland Park) released a statement Friday saying that unless further action is taken against Guth, he will react.
‘As a public educator in the Kansas high school education system, I am often consulted by my students as to which college they should attend,’ Smith said in his statement. ‘As long as Professor Guth remains employed by the University of Kansas I will no longer recommend the university as an institution worthy of attendance by any of my students nor, as a state senator, will I support any budget proposals or recommendations for the University of Kansas.’
Other Republican lawmakers echoed Smith’s comments about the university budget. State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) told The Huffington Post that the university’s latest budget proposal is arriving this week on lawmakers’ desks — and it asks for an increase. Swift action against Guth is needed to show that the university does not tolerate his tweet, Couture-Lovelady said.
‘It is a university decision,’ Couture-Lovelady said. ‘We are elected representatives of the people who develop the budget for the university. I could see something like this being detrimental to their cause. Things like this hurt their cause, and it’s unfortunate. I want to see them continue to grow.’
State Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), one of the most vocal pro-Second Amendment legislators in Kansas, told HuffPost that he and other lawmakers have been in contact with the university to express their opinions that Guth should be fired.
Several lawmakers expressed concern that Guth’s administrative leave is paid.
All of the legislators contacted by HuffPost said they agree that Guth has a First Amendment right to free speech. But, they said, he’s paid by the taxpayer and has embarrassed the state.
‘He has freedom of speech. Speak all he wants as a former KU professor,’ state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told HuffPost. ‘When he voices an insensitive and threatening opinion, he doesn’t get to take the good image of our institutions down with him.’”
I particularly like Claeys “agree[ment]” with Guth’s right to “free speech” – right after he’s fired for that speech. He’s read his Orwell.
Wagle’s standard for when academic freedom ends is: “Any attempt to continue employing this individual as an educational leader is offensive to taxpayers.” One hopes and prays that Kansas professors’ research causes them to find and write things “offensive to taxpayers” on an hourly basis. It they do not do so they are not worthy of being employed.
Wagle’s Campaign against University Funding
Wagle voted to cut state funding for universities, though she recognizes that doing so will harm Kansas.
“Susan Wagle of Wichita, the Kansas Senate President, warned that the cuts are ‘devastating’ to some of the state’s finest educational institutions, including WSU. She said it will harm the state’s ability to create jobs if the cuts aren’t restored.
Wagle voted for the budget package that included the cuts.”
“WSU” refers to Wichita State University. The Kochs’ stated rationale for ending the Kansas income tax is creating jobs, but because of Laffer’s curve ball Wagle decided it became necessary to destroy jobs in order to create them. We are not talking about “creative destruction” here – ending businesses that have become obsolete. We are talking about cutting WSU programs specifically designed to educate students for the clichéd “cutting edge” high-tech jobs that the Kochs claimed their tax cuts for wealthier Kansans – and tax increases for poorer Kansans – would produce.
Wagle isn’t leading the war against university funding (WSU is the Wichita’s greatest asset). She knows what is being done to WSU and other public universities is harming Kansas. As the Koch-heads rush rightwards they can leave even their most extreme leaders to their left – and Wagle knows the fate of any Republican Kansas elected official who occupies the center. Her vote to damage WSU proves she has learned the pivotal political lesson from dining on the marrow of the endangered species known as Eisenhower Republicans. She would rather gut WSU than be left behind in the Kansas Republican stampede to the right and risk being labeled a “moderate.” Wagle is the Kansas legislature’s cannibal-in-chief and she terrifies the Regents and university leaders because they know she has no moral restraints on abusing her power in order to retain her legislative spot as apex predator.
Wagle’s Wars on Elementary and Secondary Education
Wagle has led wars on elementary and secondary education. Extortion and a callous disregard for the law are her standard operating procedure in these campaigns. Wagle is one of the leaders in the Koch-inspired movement to replace Kansas’ progressive tax system with an exceptionally regressive tax system that is grossly inadequate to fund education. The Kansas constitution, however, mandates adequate funding of education by the State. (The “good old days” in Kansas (the 1860s) were filled with such progressive ideas that cause such angst to today’s Koch-heads.) The Kansas Supreme Court has also ruled that this constitutional guarantee does not allow the State to leave poor communities unable to fund the State’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to be educated. The Kansas legislature studied the question of funding required to provide an adequate education and determined the minimum required support to elementary and secretary education. Under the Kansas legislature’s findings they have deprived students of over $450 million in constitutionally-required educational funding.
The Kansas legislature has also stiffed poorer school districts on over $100 million in “equalization” funding. The result is that the gap between governmental funding to wealthy v. poor children is widening sharply.
Kansas could provide that minimum required funding and the equalization funding but the Koch-heads would have to end their plan to end the state income tax and comply with the Kansas constitution. Faced with a choice between following the Kansas constitution and the legislature’s own findings of minimum required funding to provide children with an adequate education and the demands of the Kochs for lower taxes the Koch-heads running the legislature and the state house kick Kansas’ kids to the curb and kvell for the Kochs. Folks sued to force the Kansas legislature and Brownback to comply with the law and the Kansas Constitution.
The Koch-heads love to talk about their reverence for the constitution and the rule of law in many contexts, but they are enraged by Kansas’ constitutional right to a decent education. In particular, they are driven into a frenzy by the idea that they would be taxed to help ensure that poor, minority Kansan children receive an adequate education and have a better chance of success. The fact that those children’s success has helped and would help the Koch-heads does nothing to mollify their rage against “social engineering.” Indeed, the fact that public education has been so successful in Kansas only adds to the Koch-heads’ unholy war on education because that success represent heresy under Aynrandia’s foundational dogmas.
Wagle and her allies’ answer to the intersecting problems of the Kansas constitution, the Kansas Supreme Court, and the Kansas legislature’s findings about the funding required to meet the constitutional obligation to fund education is her traditional answer – extort those exercising or protecting constitutional rights.
“Here’s the background: If the legislature is ordered by the court to spend more on public education, then the legislature might not comply — as it did eight years ago — and might resist the court instead, the Kansas City Star reported earlier this week.
‘I don’t see the Legislature right now, with this makeup, going along with what the courts say,’ said House Speaker Ray Merrick. ‘But I could be surprised.’
In oral arguments this week, the high court was asked to decide whether the legislature has violated its constitutional duty to appropriate a ‘suitable’ amount for public schools. [T]he legislature set a base aid per pupil funding level in compliance with a 2005 state Supreme Court order, but balked at actually paying out the full amount.”
Reprising the disgraceful Southern strategy of “massive resistance” to constitutional rights was actually the weaker response of the Kansas House Koch-heads. (Note that Merrick’s allusion to the current “makeup” of the legislature was a none-too-subtle reminder to the Kansas Supreme Court that their legislature was now a Koch fiefdom.) Wagle and Brownback were made of sterner stuff. They threatened the Kansas Supreme Court and its Justices.
Wagle adds another proof to our family rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody. The reader will recall that her first (fictional) complaint against the evil, obscene Professor Dailey was that he made a hand gesture that was so vile that it caused Zahn and Wagle to quiver with rage. Here is how Wagle’s legislative ally responded to the prospect of the Kansas Supreme Court upholding the constitution.
“Conservative Republicans such as Rep. Steve Brunk from Wichita are not ruling out the possibility of defying such an order. Senate President Susan Wagle also raised that prospect in a speech this past week.
‘I think there’s enough votes now in the Senate and House that if the courts rule for Gannon, we might just say to the court that deciding expenditures is not your responsibility, thank you, and we’ll take it from here,’ Brunk said. ‘I say this politely, but there’s a mood to give the courts the finger, so to speak.’”
Wagle raised no objection to her ally – presumably because he proposed gesturing “f*** you” “politely” to the Kansas Supreme Court should it do its duty – a duty it would not have to fulfill were Wagle and her Koch-heads to do their duty under the Kansas constitution and provide the required funding to educate Kansas children rather than adopt a viciously regressive tax system that cannot fund the state’s budget needs.
Wagle and Brownback went beyond “massive resistance” to the Kansas Constitution to direct threats against the Kansas Supreme Court’s justices.
“The Wichita Eagle reports that recent remarks by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback put the state’s Supreme Court on notice that its future could hinge on a school-funding suit. The court is set to rule on an earlier decision by a three-judge panel, which found that Kansas is underfunding its public schools. At an appearance in Wichita, Brownback and state Senate President Susan Wagle suggested that if the court rules Kansas must increase school funds, legislators would react by reexamining the system for selecting the court’s justices.”
Their threat is deadly serious. Ending the Kansas judiciary’s independence is a top priority of the Koch-heads. They recently politicized the appointment of court of appeals judges and promptly appointed a Brownback crony who is from the microwave end of Kansas’ political spectrum.