“Gifts with Strings a Knotty Issue,” is the latest in a recent stream of articles about academics going berserk because BB&T, under the direction of CEO John Allison, has made contributions to universities with the stipulation that Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged be included somewhere in the schools’ curricula. For those who have not yet read Atlas, let me begin by saying a few words about the novel in order to set the context necessary for understanding the hostility of certain academics toward the book.
Atlas Shrugged is a spellbinding mystery about a man who said he would stop the motor of the world–and did. But the book is more than a wonderful suspense story; it is also a profound philosophical treatise dramatizing: the fact that reality is absolute (i.e., that facts are facts and cannot be wished or prayed away); the fact that reason is man’s only means of knowledge and basic means of survival; the fact that the requirements of man’s life constitute the standard of moral value; the fact that pursuing one’s rational self-interest is moral because doing so is necessary for one’s life; the fact that the initiation of physical force against a human being is immoral because it stops him from acting on his rational judgment (i.e., his basic means of living); and the fact that laissez-faire capitalism is the only moral social system because it is the only social system that bars physical force from social relationships, thereby enabling everyone to act fully in accordance with his own rational judgment and thus to live fully as a human being. The theme of Atlas Shrugged is a condensation of all of this: the supreme role of reason in man’s life.
Given the forgoing, it should come as no surprise that many of today’s academics loathe Rand and Atlas. “Absolutes? Reason? Egoism? Banning force? Capitalism?”–you can hear them shrieking in horror. Nor should it come as a surprise that these hostile-to-reason academics are coming unglued at the idea of Atlas being included in university curricula: The ideas presented in the novel clearly correspond to reality and thus are persuasive to students and threatening to the academic status quo.
What is a little surprising, however, is the ridiculously transparent nature of the “arguments” used in the efforts to keep Atlas out of the academic mix.
The universities receiving these donations from BB&T made voluntary agreements with the corporation whereby, in exchange for the donations, the schools include Atlas in the reading material for certain courses. More importantly, the professors in whose courses the book is used personally choose to use it because they see educational value in the book. Nevertheless, as the above article reports: “The schools’ agreements have drawn criticism from some faculty, who say it compromises academic integrity. In higher education, the power to decide course content is supposed to rest with professors, not donors.” Are we to believe that these anti-Atlas academics regard the act of using a book in which one sees educational value as a compromise of academic integrity? If so, they are operating with a bizarre definition of integrity. Integrity is, as one of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged puts it, “the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake your consciousness . . . that man is an indivisible entity, an integrated unit of two attributes: of matter and consciousness, and that he may permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions