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Shoot the Messenger?

Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech is moving along. I just worked my way through the copyedited manuscript and realized how long it takes to check 900 endnotes. But I want the book to be meticulously documented so that the energy industry and its political backers will be unable to deny their efforts to the silence artists, scientists and educators. But now I have reason to worry that censorship may be at play as my institution’s plans to eliminate academic programs—particularly mine.

With plummeting revenues from fossil fuels, the Governor cut $45 million from the university’s budget. The administration was told to develop “worst case” plans. And I was told that unless alternatives could be found, I’d be terminated in 2018—along with all the other staff and faculty (tenured or not) in the Department of Philosophy.

Why would a university eliminate philosophy? It could be that we’re small (philosophy is a notoriously difficult subject, so we don’t have hundreds of majors or award plentiful A’s); or we’re expendable (despite being vital to a credible university, few other programs strictly require our courses); or we’re dangerous (critical thinking threatens power structures).

We are, in fact, demonstrably dangerous. Harvey Hix recently published his collection of morally searing, politically critical poems, American Anger ( Read the book if you want to understand the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And my book, Behind the Carbon Curtain is slated for release next spring. The state legislature and university administration are well aware that my research tells the story of how corporations have coerced public leaders into silencing critics ( and Did exposing the collusion of energy executives and public officials paint a bull’s eye on my department? Under pressure from corporations and the legislature, the university has fired scientists and destroyed art—grim stories that are detailed in my book. Is this another warning to those who speak truth to power? If I put my colleagues in harm’s way, it was with their consent, as they courageously endorsed my work and rejected self-censorship .

The administrators and politicians will, of course, deny any connection, as they did with previous cases of censorship. And payback is probably not the whole story (the sociologists and statisticians are also on the chopping block). But there is often a price to opposing a company town’s corporate master.

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