Professor, Pundit, Partisan: When Scholars Go Bad

Editorial note:  The following is a guest post from Jon Reisman, associate professor of economics and public policy and chair of the Professional Studies at the University of Maine at Machias. 

Professor Reisman’s opinion here is his own.  As a former student of Amy Fried’s at the University of Maine, I have nothing but admiration and respect for her, and believe her to be an excellent teacher.  As a conservative, I appreciated Professor Fried’s open-ness about her ideology, and believe very strongly that she inspired me to better formulate my own opinions by forcing me to think and defend my own position.  

While I do believe there is a fair criticism to be made about advocating for liberal causes without academic criticism of her own beliefs, I do not believe that she deserves to be impugned professionally in any way.  If my printing of this column had caused anyone to believe otherwise, I sincerely apologize to both them, and Professor Fried.  I had intended this to be a conversation starter about the narrowness of advocacy and team politics, to the detriment of independent thought.  I regret any other implication printing this may have made.  

-Matthew Gagnon

—-

Several years ago I encouraged my University of Maine System faculty colleague Amy Fried to pursue her blogging and twitter ambitions. I thought Maine could use an articulate public intellectual with a strong policy analysis background. I knew Amy as a consequence of more then a decade working together as part of the Maine Policy Scholars program.

That program, run by the Maine Community Foundation, includes UMS faculty members Jim Melcher (Farmington), John Martin (Fort Kent), former Governor (now Senator) Angus King, and former Speaker, Senate President and Gubernatorial Candidate Libby Mitchell. Like any effort in American higher education today, the participants have a decided left of center tilt, but there has always been at least a patina of intellectual and ideological diversity (I’m the token libertarian/conservative) and a commitment to policy analysis as opposed to partisan advocacy.

Unfortunately, Amy has not brought that commitment to her blogging and public service efforts. Rather, she has become Paul Krugman without the Nobel Prize- a Democratic Party hack reliably spreading progressive propaganda while pretending to be a high minded and non-partisan policy analyst.

She is the Maine chapter co-leader of  the “progressive minded” Scholars Strategy Network, which has regional networks in the “Bay Area, Boston, Evanston, Maine, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Haven, the Research Triangle, and the Southwest.” She has become a full throated advocate for expanding Medicaid (MaineCare), an apologist for the welfare nanny state, and an open opponent of Governor LePage, the Tea Party and all things conservative. That’s not at all unusual within the University of Maine System.

On Twitter, Fried regularly trolls the #MEpolitics hashtag and has amassed nearly 23,000 individual tweets. Many, if not most of her tweets are directed at Republican staffers, lawmakers or conservatives.

In the month of December, Fried posted 11 blogs – the majority of them touting Obamacare or Medicaid expansion. The New Year is young, and Prof. Fried has already published several blog posts – almost all of them offering support for top Democratic policy priorities. But Amy doesn’t just push Democratic talking points and policies, she’s also willing to serve as an attack dog.

Fried recently blasted House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) for writing in an op-ed that many of the people who would be eligible for an expanded Medicaid program can instead purchase insurance for four dollars a week on the Obamacare exchange. Fried came out of the gate saying this statement was outright false, but later revised her blog to acknowledge its truth

Rep. Fredette, despite holding three degrees from UMS (BS, MS, JD), gets no love from Amy…he’s a heartless male Republican. I can only hope her classes do not present a similar hostile environment for young Mainers who don’t share her progressive political persuasion, but I doubt it. A perusal of RateMyProfessor.com, a website that allows students to anonymously grade their professors, was not comforting.

On another occasion, Fried was forced to revise one of her blog posts in which she baselessly alleged that Republicans had (or would?) attack U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud because he is gay. (Who would gay-bait Michaud? How and why I changed some wording) After Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, publicly denounced her unwarranted assumption that Republicans would engage in hate speech, she edited her article, broadened her attack, and merely asserted that Karl Rove and the left’s other favorite boogeymen would make the homophobic attacks.

Given Amy’s revealed proclivities, she will be anything but an impartial analyst in the upcoming 2nd Congressional District race. She will undoubtedly support her State Senator, UMS colleague and fellow progressive Emily Cain in both the primary and general election. That prospect is sufficiently discomfiting to stir this op-ed.

UMS faculty are blessed with salaries, job conditions and a Cadillac health care plan that far exceeds Maine averages and what the taxpayers who support us have. Public service is an expected and valuable part of our employment. Academic freedom is cherished and vital.  A free market for ideas and vigorous debate are essential for both the academy and the republic, but they both benefit from truth in advertising and labeling. In Professor Fried’s case, that is not quite the case…yet.

Amy is seeking to influence elections and the policy process as a partisan behind a mask of supposed academic objectivity. She is free to do so…what I seek to remove is the mask. She’s a progressive partisan, not an unbiased academic/political scientist. Maine’s media can either promote or reveal the façade.

Jon Reisman is associate professor of economics and public policy and chair of the Professional Studies at the University of Maine at Machias. He was the 1998 GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional district.