Publishing and Politics: Education Secretary Will Stick by Appointment of Illinois News Exec despite Two Controversial Columns He Wrote about David Duke

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Education secretary will stick by appointment of Illinois news exec despite two controversial opinion columns he wrote about David Duke

U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander has no intention of dumping Champaign-Urbana (Ill.) News-Gazette president and chief executive officer John Hirschfeld from an advisory committee because of two controversial columns, a department spokesperson says.

Neither Alexander nor anyone else from the Education Department has contacted Hirschfeld about opinion columns he wrote last November saying former neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's "message is appealing, even if Duke is not," said Education spokeswoman Etta Fielek.

"It has not been a big issue here," Fielek said in a telephone interview. "It's kind of ironic that we've gotten calls from the media kind of questioning his right to say this because he is in the media. He's got a right to say it; you don't have to agree with him."

In a telephone interview, Hirschfeld himself called the sudden flap about the columns "a tempest in a teapot."

"Nobody [from the Education Department] has called me to ask for my resignation or complain about the columns," he said.

The columns have, however, raised a clamor among some academics who say they worry about Hirschfeld's membership on a government panel that oversees the role accrediting groups can play in encouraging more minority students and faculty.

In October, Alexander appointed Hirschfeld to the National Advisory Committee on Accreditation and Institutional Eligibility.

Among the big issues that panel will study is whether accrediting groups should evaluate student and faculty "diversity" when considering a college's fitness.

One of the most prestigious and powerful accrediting organizations, the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, has stirred a heated controversy by adopting "diversity standards" for its evaluations.

One result of the furor is that the Education Department has withheld its recognition of the group for more than nine months.

The charge against Hirschfeld, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is that some academics believe his columns show a bias against diversity standards.

For his part, Hirschfeld says he has not made up his mind about just what role, if any, diversity standards should have in accrediting.

"I've not really made up my mind on that," he said. "I don't think accreditation is the problem. I think [the problem] is federal funding. Maybe we can break the link so they are not affected by each other."

Liberal criticism of his columns is nothing new, Hirschfeld says, but what he says he finds disturbing is that most of his critics this time seem not to have read the columns fully. …


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