The Ethics of Libertarian Academics Employed by State Universities:

Is it wrong for libertarian academics who oppose government ownership of universities to take jobs with state schools? This issue came up in the comments to my previous post, and is raised often enough on this site and elsewhere that I think the time has come to address it more systematically.

In an ideal libertarian world, all (or nearly all) universities would be private. However, we do not live in that ideal world and are unlikely to achieve it in the near future. Therefore, libertarian academics have only two choices: 1) take jobs at state universities (if that is the best or only offer available), or 2) refuse any such offers, thereby ensuring that all the jobs in question will go to advocates of statist ideologies.

Picking Option 2 does not reduce the overall amount of statism. The job will not be abolished, but will instead go to a nonlibertarian. Moreover, Option 2 also probably undermines the cause of libertarianism. To the extent that academics influence political debates, picking Option 2 means that fewer such opportunities to influence opinion will be in libertarian hands and more will be controlled by our ideological rivals. Obviously, picking Option 1 serves the self-interest of libertarian academics (myself emphatically included). But it's also the right choice for an altruist whose only goal is advance the cause of libertarianism (and, no, I am not claiming to be such a person).

Finally, it's worth noting that private universities are also heavily subsidized by government in ways that most libertarians disapprove of. And many public universities earn a significant percentage of their revenue through the (relatively) free market, in the form of tuition payments and alumni donations. From a libertarian point of view, the difference between public and private universities is one of degree rather than kind. If the "right" decision for libertarians is to refuse jobs at any school funded by the state in ways that we find objectionable, the result would be a complete absence of libertarian faculty at almost every school. That outcome is hardly likely to advance the cause of limiting government power.