Commentary: Rep. Faircough - thought police

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

Eagle River Rep. Anna Fairclough engaged in a bizarre exchange with the University of Alaska president in a House Finance Committee hearing on the university last week. The exchange left us wondering, doesn't Ms. Fairclough believe in a university that values independent thought and the free exchange of ideas?

As president Mark Hamilton spoke to the committee, Fairclough bemoaned the fact that students and university staff who have come to see her opposed Chukchi Sea development, Pebble mine, Red Dog Mine and other resource development.

"Help me here in understanding how I should advocate funding more for a group that really doesn't want to see development go forward," Fairclough said to Hamilton. (An audio tape of the Feb. 3 hearing is in the Legislature's Basis system online).

In other words, if they want money from her, they have to think like she does. If they fail her litmus test, they are disqualified from the discussion.

Rep.Fairclough misunderstands her role as a legislator and misunderstands the role a university plays in our society and economy. (Though she's not alone – other legislators have made similar complaints.) It is not a legislator's job to browbeat citizens into conforming to her views. Legislators are supposed to be representatives of the people. We are a representative democracy, not a legislative autocracy.

Universities are supposed to develop students' critical thinking skills. Students should challenge the status quo. They should test out all sorts of ideas.

That kind of intellectual environment is what produces the innovations and the highly skilled, highly motivated individuals needed in today's high-tech, information age economy.

Fairclough acknowledged many of these students are concerned about the environment and that the students support fisheries and want a healthy economy.

And her idea that the university should conduct forums so that students know how state government is funded is fine; the university does have such forums already.

But Fairclough went way too far with her demands for intellectual conformity.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.