A Tale of Two Scandals
How Higher Education and the Security State Intermingle
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Two shocking scandals. Two esteemed universities. Two disgraced university leaders. One stunning connection. Over the last month, we’ve seen Penn State University President Graham Spanier dismissed from his duties and UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi pushed to the brink of resignation. Spanier was jettisoned because of what appears to be a systematic cover-up of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial child rape. Katehi has faced calls to resign after the she sent campus police to blast pepper spray in the faces of her peaceably assembled students.
The names Spanier and Katehi might now be synonymous with the worst abuses of institutional power, but their connection didn’t begin there. In 2010, Spanier chose Katehi to join 20 college presidents on the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board (NSHEAB), which “promotes discussion and outreach between research universities and the FBI.”
Spanier said upon the group’s founding in 2005, “The National Security Higher Education Advisory Board promises to help universities and government work toward a balanced and rational approach that will allow scientific research and education to progress and our nation to remain safe.” He also said that the partnership could help provide “internships” to faculty and students interested in “national security issues.”
GIVE THE FBI A FOOTHOLD, THEY’LL TAKE OFF THEIR SHOES AND GET COZY.”
FBI chief Robert Mueller said at a press conference with Spanier, “We knew it would not be an easy sell because of the perceived tension between law enforcement and academia. But once we briefed President Spanier on the national security threats that impact… universities, it became clear to all of us why this partnership is so important. “
The reality of this partnership is far different. Its original mandate was about protecting schools from “cyber theft” and “intellectual property issues.” But, as has been true with the FBI since Hoover, give them a foothold, and they’ll take off their shoes and get cozy. Their classified mandate has since expanded to such euphemisms as “counter-terrorism” and “public safety.” It also expanded federal anti-terrorism task forces to include dark-helmeted, pepper-spray brigades known as the campus police.
Chancellor Katehi said she was proud to join the NSHEAB because, “It’s important for us to learn from the FBI about the smartest, safest protocols to follow as we do our work, and it is equally important that the FBI has a solid understanding of matters of academic freedom.”
As for the actual meetings between the presidents of academic institutions and the FBI, those discussions are classified. If you are a rabble-rousing faculty member or a student group stepping out of line, your school records can become the FBI’s business and you’d be none the wiser.
The very existence of the NSHEAB should now be called to question. Given the personal character on display by these two, why should anyone trust that the classified meetings have stayed in the realm of “cyber theft” and intellectual property rights? What did the FBI tell Chancellor Katehi? Was “counter-terrorism” advice given?
As for Spanier, how much of Sandusky’s actions at Penn State was the FBI privy to? Why did the school hire former FBI director Louis Freeh to head up their internal investigation? And most critically, did the “chilling effect” of a sanctioned FBI presence at Penn State, actually prevent people from coming forward?
Fear not for the futures of these two stewards of higher education and academic freedom. Maybe Spanier can put his experience as a federal informant to good use from inside a federal prison. As for Katehi, if, as suspected, she’ll be unemployed shortly, perhaps she can take advantage of one of those fabulous internship opportunities having the FBI on campus provides.
DAVE ZIRIN is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love (Scribner)