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Gov. Rauner Appoints Right-Wing Crackpot to Represent Faculty on IBHE

By John K. Wilson

John Bambenek has been appointed to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) by Gov. Bruce Rauner (but must still be approved by the Illinois Senate, which is not expected to act until 2017). Bambenek (an adjunct who teaches classes on cybersecurity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is listed as the sole “representative of faculty” on the IBHE.

Rauner wanted someone far too gutless to ever criticize the governor’s failure to fund higher education in Illinois, and Bambenek is a dutiful right-winger, telling the local newspaper: “When someone wants my opinion on what the higher ed appropriation should look like, I’ll be happy to work with staff to figure that out.” That’s not a representative of faculty; that’s a representative of Rauner.

Bambenek has a disturbing record of seeking to suppress freedom of speech. In 2007, Bambenek tried to get the federal government to shut down free-wheeling opinions on the liberal website Daily Kos by filing a Federal Election Commission complaint accusing it of being a political committee rather than a blog site. Everyone, liberal and conservative, mocked this very stupid and repressive idea. The National Review called it “an outrage against the First Amendment that every conservative should fight vigorously.” Red State called Bambenek “woefully uninformed” and noted, “This complaint is a sorry attempt to use government institutions to silence opponents.”

Then, in 2008, Bambenek tried to get Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas arrested for voter fraud by filing a criminal complaint with the attorney general of Michigan. Bambenek claimed Moulitsas was “felonious” for writing a blog post urging, “Let’s have fun in Michigan” by encouraging Democrats to vote for Mitt Romney in the open Republican primary.

As the representative of faculty on the IBHE, Bambenek’s past views expressed about higher education are directly relevant to his qualifications. Bambenek denounced the University of Illinois policy that said “discussion and expression of all views is permitted within the University.” Bambenek responded, “This sounds all well and good — until it becomes clear that some people use these policies to enforce certain campus orthodoxies.”

The free speech Bambenek objected to included a talk by “a left-wing troll” (Ted Rall), a panel discussion that supported gay marriage, and a textbook that claimed “the traditional view of families and marriage is no longer sufficient.” Bambenek also opposed campus anti-discrimination rules because they are “ensuring that various ‘heretical’ ideas are repressed.”

Bambenek denounced campus unions: “unions on this campus are nothing more than an added expense placed on taxpayers and students. University unions, and public-sector unions in general, have largely hijacked the legacy of the unions from the days when they were necessary.”

In another column, Bambenek denounced “The misuse of ‘academic freedom’ as a bludgeon to impose academic serfdom.” He complained, “Instead of talking about intelligent design, the acolytes of Darwinism engage in character assassination.” Yes, that’s right: Bambenek demanded the teaching of creationism in college.

He proposed limiting academic freedom to only the right of researchers to explore ideas, and the right of students to “determine for themselves what is sound.” He explicitly rejected academic freedom in the classroom: “Academic freedom should not be a right of classroom instructors to turn their podiums into pulpits.” Bambenek concluded his column by declaring that universities that are too “liberal” ought to be shut down: “liberal academia needs to engage with the world and ideas around it, or we will close down these bastions of failed thought.”

Rauner has been trying to destroy Illinois higher education from the moment he became Governor. So it’s not surprising that he would appoint as the faculty representative on the IBHE someone who is anti-faculty, anti-free speech, anti-union, anti-academic freedom, anti-science, and anti-academia. Bambenek was not chosen for this position in spite of his loony ideas and efforts to repress freedom; he was chosen because of it.

Faculty in Illinois should not accept Bambenek as their representative on the IBHE, and the people of Illinois should not accept Bambenek’s power over higher education.