On Monday, I posted a blog called “The Day I Was Terminated.”
In that blog, I recounted that I received an email on June 5 from Grover (Russ) Whitehurst of Brookings telling me that I was being terminated–after a 19-year association with Brookings–because I was “inactive.” That’s a pretty abrupt way to finish off a 19-year affiliation.
My first thought was that the termination might be related to my pointed criticism of Mitt Romney; Whitehurst is an advisor to the Romney campaign. I then went on to admit that I might be over-reacting by assuming a political motivation. As you will see in Brookings’ response, the decision was made in April, before I blogged about Romney (it should be noted that Russ, who served during the George W. Bush administration, was unlikely to be pleased with my ongoing critique of No Child Left Behind, the administration’s signature education program).
I reviewed whether I was “inactive,” and recalled that when I asked permission to present my latest book at Brookings in 2010–in which I dissect the failings of NCLB, test-based accountability, and choice, Russ told me I had to rent the auditorium and bear other expenses that might mount into thousands of dollars. Since I do not have an organization, I had no budget to draw upon, and I declined.
As I pointed out in my original post, it is impossible to be “active” if the program leadership does not invite you to participate in forums or debates, and declines your offer to be active. Since my book went on to become a national best-seller and was, on the day that I was terminated, the #1 book in the nation in both social policy and in public policy, the whole affair seemed bizarre.
The blog went viral, with notice taken in the Wall Street Journal blog and Esquire and other media outlets, and Brookings issued a response. The response said that the decision was taken in April, which meant that Russ was not responding to my scathing analysis of Romney’s education agenda on the morning of June 5. It also defended the practice of Brookings fellows taking an active part in political campaigns, a practice that I had not questioned or even mentioned.
In its response, Brookings chose to treat the matter as a routine cleansing of the rolls, removing the names of those who were “inactive.” It did not comment on my statement that I had asked to be active and my offer was rejected (although you can infer that from the statement that “it’s up to the program or center director to pursue and to identify the necessary funding”). Since Whitehurst was not interested in having me present my book, he made no effort to pursue the necessary funding. As I wrote in my original blog, AEI–a conservative think tank–had no problem finding the funding for me to present my arguments against choice, vouchers, charters, NCLB, and high-stakes testing in its auditorium.
I don’t mind being terminated, since it was clear that the center director (Whitehurst) did not welcome my involvement in Brookings’ activities, nor was he interested in my critique of NCLB, choice and testing. If there is no role for me to play at Brookings and if the issues I care about it will not be discussed or debated, then there is no point in maintaining a connection to the institution.
It is sad, however, that the education policy program now has no one to represent “the other side” on these issues, if they should be discussed or debated at all. It’s unfitting for a great institution and will leave the punitive ideas now dominating the policy agenda without any thoughtful critique, at least not at the Brookings Institution.
Here is the Brookings response, as reported on the Wall Street Journal blog:
On an annual basis, Brookings reviews the appointments of its nonresident senior fellows. Last April, Diane Ravitch’s appointment was among three that were reviewed by the Governance Studies program and ended because, in each case, the fellows had little contact with the program and were not involved in programmatic activities. Their scholarly views had no bearing in the decision.
As you know, Brookings is a nonpartisan institution that welcomes the free exchange of ideas. Many Brookings experts in their personal capacities often serve as policy advisors to candidates and officials of both parties, in and out of government. Russ Whitehurst’s role as an advisor to the Romney campaign is in keeping with long-established policies at Brookings.
I [the Wall Street Journal writer] asked her to be more specific: Did Brookings dispute Ravitch’s account of having her overture to discuss her book turned down? How can a non-resident scholar participate if she’s not invited to? She said:
We’re not commenting much beyond the statement.
But I would add that programmatic activities with our nonresident senior fellows typically arise in one of two ways: we invite them to participate in research, events and scholarly pursuits in which they can offer expertise and can contribute in substantive ways, and, secondly, nonresident scholars approach Brookings with their own ideas. If it’s the latter, it’s up to the program or center director to agree to pursue and to identify the necessary funding.