An old Jewish joke, which I’m allowed to tell because of my background, is this: “Jewish dilemma: free ham”. But this dilemma is even bigger, at least for me. FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is an organization I’ve long admired, for its mission is to preserve free speech and civil liberties on American campuses. To that end it provides legal and advisory help for students, rates college campuses for their compliance with Constitutional free speech (the University of Chicago gets the highest rating), gives talks on campuses throughout the U.S., and helps file legal suits when freedom of expression is curtailed. They do good stuff.
So imagine my shock when I saw this on their homepage today (click to go to article):
Templeton! And FIRE! Indeed, on the John Templeton Foundation website you can see the announcement of the grant to Robert Shibley (FIRE’s executive director) and Greg Lukianoff (FIRE’s President and CEO):
This is a big shot in the arm for a good but financially strapped organization (and of course I mean FIRE). If I could find anything to carp about, it would be that the money is being used not for direct activism, but for surveying campus attitudes, so that in the end the money will produce a bunch of reports. As Templeton says:
These efforts will result in reports, articles, resources, events, activist networks, media, and more. In the end, FIRE aims to generate knowledge and spark activism, ultimately creating the momentum necessary to restore respect for free expression on campus.
And the FIRE site advertises the jobs created by the grant, which look a bit, well, academic-y:
With today’s announcement of SOAR, FIRE is also opening the job application process for nine new positions. FIRE is seeking energetic applicants who are entrepreneurial and passionate about its mission to fill the following positions by January 3, 2017:
Although I’d prefer more activism here, the grant does include an “outreach component” that will make FIRE’s mission and activities more widely known.
Whenever Templeton gives out a big grant like this, I ask myself, “What’s in it for the Foundation?” After all, their mission is ultimately to answer the “Big Questions”, melding the scientific with the numinous, and Big Questions are indeed identified in the Templeton announcement—but they’re purely secular ones. I hope I’m not so churlish that I won’t acknowledge it when Templeton money goes to good uses that don’t seem to promote their agenda of free-market capitalism and the empowerment of religion; and this appears to be one of those. But I’d prefer to congratulate the good folks at FIRE for getting the money, and I’ll still be keeping my eye on Templeton.