Georgia’s Ivory Tower Behavior Modification-istas

This month a campus-wide smoking ban is supposed to take effect at the University of Georgia. Students objected that the ban was not passed with adequate student or faculty input and planned to protest with a “smoke-in.”

Reasonable people can agree that smoking is not healthy—but forcing smokers to quit is a “cure” that’s worse than the disease. UGA officials aren’t going quite that far, but their rationale for the ban reveals a troubling paternalism that seems as rampant on college campuses as it does the halls of government these days. As the Daily Caller reported:

Several Regents have been outspoken on their support for the ban. “This is about behavior modification. That is what we’re all about in higher education,” Regent Larry Ellis told the Athens Banner-Herald in a January interview.

Chairman Phillip Wilheit has also spoken out. Talking to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he said, “I personally feel a great responsibility to protect our students from their own devices and also to protect the students from secondhand smoke.”

All this behavior modification mumbo jumbo traces its origins squarely back to progressive and radical theories about education that have far less to do with actually teaching students anything than with indoctrinating them.

The radical years of the 1960s and 1970s come to mind.

Of course today, the former college-campus radicals now hold esteemed positions of power and respectability—that’s one reason why we don’t see them smoking weed and dancing barefoot in the mud as high as a kite anymore. Old age probably has something to do with that, too.

Needless to say, those who long ago relished “fighting the man” are now very much “the man.”

And their present-day “social consciousness” is still as narrow and one-sided as it was back then. It’s just cleaned up a bit to be more mainstream and respectable.

But make no mistake: the last thing the Ivory Tower behavior modification-istas want is for anyone else to have the freedom to choose what they wouldn’t (publicly) choose.

Higher education is supposed to provide students of all ages with the required knowledge and skills they need to complete their chosen degree programs. It is categorically NOT about “modifying” the behavior of grown adults OR protecting them from themselves.

That’s what parents do on behalf of their minor children.

There are better ways to promote healthy living—and one’s point of view—besides extinguishing personal freedom.

If UGA officials had the courage of their anti-smoking convictions, they would have been upfront with current students: As of the current academic year, UGA is a smoke-free campus—and no, you don’t get any meaningful say about that—but be sure your tuition checks are in on time.

If UGA officials were truly as “concerned” about the health and welfare of their students as they claim, they would ban smokers as well as smoking from campus. UGA officials should advertise that smokers and their taxpayer-subsidized tuition dollars are no longer welcome on campus. They would also prominently list all of the other behaviors and beliefs they find objectionable and refuse to accept tuition dollars from those offending parties as well.

What’s more, UGA behavior motification-istas should take their crusade beyond the Ivory Tower walls. They should storm the state legislature and demand that elected officials outlaw all tobacco and e-cigarette products (because even though there may not be any documented harmful health effects, e-cigs sure look a lot like the real thing, and that’s offensive). UGA officials should proclaim that they who represent Big Education no longer want to be the beneficiaries of Big Tobacco or any other Big sin-tax proceeds.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for the buck to stop here—or on any other taxpayer funded college campus.

However much higher education officials may chafe at the idea, theirs is very much a money-driven enterprise, with UGA receiving more than $10,000 per student in state government funding alone.

In the final analysis, dishonest and undemocratic paternalism stinks more than the cigarettes UGA’s trying to ban.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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