By Albert Gustafson
As I read Morgan Aprill’s article in the Star Press, connecting Professor Ross Emmet’s presentation at Ball State University to Nazis and white supremacy, I wondered if we had attended the same lecture.
Ross Emmet, a scholar from Michigan State University, came on September 14 to share with the Muncie community about the problem economists call the “tragedy of the commons.” That is, the puzzle of how to responsibly manage community resources like national parks, air quality, water resources, and student housing; shared property to which no one person has a clear and exclusive claim.
Emmet concluded by highlighting examples of local private-public partnerships that proved more successful in governing common pool resources than mandates and rules from federal governments.
The professor led a thoughtful and engaging discussion that drew on a large body of academic work by economists from multiple universities.
Rather than providing a substantive criticism of Emmet’s arguments, Aprill, an activist with UnKoch My Campus, instead diverted into a theory of how money from the Charles Koch Foundation has corrupted colleges across the nation, and how this “Koch money” turns every professor it touches from serious researchers into agenda-driven activists.
Aprill painted parallels between Emmet’s work and Nazism, and attacked his ideas as “absolutist” and “Libertarian.” But Emmet’s talk stuck to positive economics, and never strayed into anything that could be remotely described as partisan – Nazi, Libertarian, or otherwise. None of the professor’s comments took an “absolutist” stance.
This isn’t new. UnKoch My Campus frequently engages in campaigns that vilify intellectuals like Emmet.
Karl Popper, one of the twentieth century’s intellectual giants and a defender of free society, argued that this trend “endangers the freedom and the objectivity of our discussion if we attack a person instead of attacking an opinion or, more precisely, a theory.” That’s precisely what Morgan Aprill has done; it’s what UnKoch My Campus and other smear campaigns have done; and it’s a mortal threat to freedom.
This piece was originally written as a letter to the editor of the Star Press, the Muncie newspaper that initially ran Aprill’s story. They declined to publish my response.