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Political Foundations

July 31, 1993

I would like to see a debate on these pages regarding The Times' practice of publishing articles from left- or right-wing political foundations. Is this habit, widespread among American newspapers, a good thing?

In a recent edition (Commentary, July 8), Sheila K. Johnson remarks, "in academia, as elsewhere, he who pays the piper often does call the tune." She is writing specifically about a Japanese business group's recent 30-billion yen ($271 million) grant to Harvard to promote greater social and cultural understanding between Japan and the United States.

But her remark applies equally well to any politically slanted funding of scholarship--and not only in universities, but also in those dozens of heavily endowed political institutes, foundations, think tanks, etc. that, justifiably or not, have assumed the trappings of academia.

Have we not witnessed in the rise of our Hoover Institutes, Heritage Foundations, and the like a whole new class of Sophists? In publishing their writings, are we not substituting for the healthy bread of independent thought the ersatz bread of propaganda?

No doubt many, perhaps most, of the "senior" or "junior" "fellows" or "distinguished chair holders" of these organizations love full and impartial truth quite as much as most of their university counterparts. But there are many exceptions. Even the good ones, moreover, render themselves suspect by accepting positions ("chairs," "fellowships," etc.) in such intellectually partial institutions.

The concept of paying scholars to promote politically inspired causes is itself repellent. Truth, science, philosophy belong to no one wing or party. Should our newspapers encourage and tacitly support these outfits by providing outlets for their literature?

PHILIP WALKER

Santa Barbara

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