It’s great that students and others have been pressing the Maine Legislature to provide decent – that is, increased – funding for the University of Maine System, and the University of Southern Maine in particular (“Our View: USM spending cuts are just a Band-Aid for bigger issue,” June 17; “Another View: Legislature should help University of Maine System,” June 27).

Public higher education requires public funding. Students and the state deserve a good system of higher education and fair access to it.

However, asking the Legislature to go beyond that and to involve itself in the management of the university is problematic.

Historically, legislative involvement in universities has often lead to micromanaging curriculum and limiting academic freedom.

In the 1920s and 1950s, and sometimes in the 1960s, many legislatures added to the Red Scare and Mc- Carthyism by requiring loyalty oaths, hauling faculty and staff and sometimes students before investigating committees, and closing programs of which they didn’t approve.

This isn’t just a relic of the past. Recently, state legislatures have cut appropriations to colleges that asked students to read books that legislators didn’t like the sound of, and called for the punishment of faculty whose email they objected to.

Perhaps the Maine Legislature at the moment seems trustworthy in this regard. What about the next one?

Likewise, if we ask Maine legislators to authorize money for specific programs we like, what is to stop them from cutting funding to programs they don’t like or think are a waste of money? I can think of programs I value and whose survival I wouldn’t like see put up to a vote either by the Legislature or in a referendum.

Legislative involvement in the university system is a two-edged sword. Maybe it is worth the risk, but I think it’s a risk that needs to be carefully calculated.

Eileen Eagan

associate professor of history, University of Southern Maine