Progs Target Conservatives at GMU

Henry Butler, dean of the Scalia Law School

There’s no disputing that the faculty of U.S. colleges and universities skew heavily to the left side of the ideological spectrum. Mitchell Langbert, a Brooklyn College professor, reviewed the party affiliations of 8,688 tenure-track, Ph.D.-holding professors at 51 of the top 60 liberal arts college and found that, of those registered either as Democrats or Republicans, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 10 to one. Two out of five colleges had zero registered Republicans.

And for some people, it seems, that’s just too darn many Republicans.

Now the culture wars are buffeting George Mason University as lefties seek to humble two rare institutions — the Antonin Scalia Law School and the Mercatus Institute — where conservatives and libertarians predominate. The New York Times and Washington Post both have highlighted the work of a student group, Transparent GMU, claiming that “deep-pocket donors” like the Koch Brothers “were given undue influence over academic affairs.”

The NYT indictment:

As early as 1990, entities controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch were given a seat on a committee to pick candidates for a professorship that they funded, the records show. Similar arrangements that continued through 2009 gave donors decision-making roles in selecting candidates for key economics appointments at the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded think tank on campus that studies markets and regulation. The appointments, which also created faculty lines at George Mason, were steered to professors who, like the Kochs, embraced unconstrained free markets.

More recently, in 2016, executives of the Federalist Society, a conservative national organization of lawyers, served as agents for a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor, and were given the right to terminate installments of the gift at their discretion. Emails disclosed by the university show that Federalist Society officials were also involved in hiring discussions and had suggested a student for admission. In turn, a professor at the law school wrote the society asking for help securing recommendations for prestigious federal judicial clerkships for students active in the society.

There are two levels of response. One is the one that Law School Dean Henry Butler takes here, responding point by point to the NYT article. He dives deep into the weeds, and it’s an effective rebuttal if you have the inclination to wade through it. That approach may work with law school faculty, students and alumni who are intimately familiar with the school, its history and its personalities. I haven’t spoken to Butler in years (maybe decades), but I knew him when he was a young and passionate conservative who would have adopted a more combative tone. As dean, I suppose, he has to take university politics into account, so he chose instead to maintain a measured demeanor.

Which brings us to the other level of response — punching back. It’s not enough that liberals and progressives dominate college faculties by a 10 to one margin. It’s not enough that identity politics has taken root almost everywhere and that conservative speakers are hooted off campus. Far-left progressives basically want to expunge conservatives and libertarians from college campuses, and organs of the progressive movement like the New York Times and Washington Post are only too happy to advance their agenda.

A couple of years ago, I covered a scandal at GMU regarding Jagadish Shukla, head of a climate-change institute who was double dipping from his GMU salary and his federally funded research grant. As I recall, the Washington Post never touched the story, even though  it was in their back yard. The New York Times also was nowhere to be seen. No surprise — the Shukla story damaged the progressives’ narrative that the only bad guys in the global warming debate were climate “deniers” and the big fossil fuel companies that funded them. Yeah, Democracy Dies in Darkness. Guess who’s turning out the lights!

Butler focuses only on the “numerous misleading and inaccurate statements in the press coverage.” I’m sure he has his reasons for adopting such a defensive crouch. But he will never win the culture war that way. The progs will come back with another set of allegations again, and again, and again.

And let’s be clear about motives: The progs’ putative interest in academic freedom is purely tactical, just like free speech once was when it suited their purposes and now no longer is. The issue of academic freedom is a club they can use to purge the few conservatives and liberals remaining in academia. The irony is that they aren’t interested in academic freedom at all. They want academic uniformity — one that they define and control.

Update: National Review eviscerates the Washington Post article, rips out the entrails, and feeds them to the dogs.

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7 responses to “Progs Target Conservatives at GMU”

  1. CrazyJD Avatar

    I’d be interested in other points of view, Larry and Peter.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I dunno Crazy. Obviously wealthy alumni contribute gobs of money to get to name a building or seat or a scholarship, or other thing but I thought actually deciding who to hire or not was not a norm and that seems to be the distinction with the GM/Koch issue.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I’m glad Dean Butler (I can kinda see my old high school classmate in the photo) is aggressive in pushing back and I hope the administration stands firm. The original push was for transparency and public release of any agreements that accompanied major financial support, and I cannot argue with that if the rule is uniformly applied. To the extent any conservative donors sought to impose specific restrictions on the use of their money, or sought a seat at any meeting, I am confident it was not an idea they originated. I bet the university lawyers whipped out some standard agreement forms or previous contracts to start the discussion. Of course liberal donors are just as likely to do that.

    I applaud the school for listening to and weighing the recommendations of the Federalist Society. It is a highly reputable professional group.

    I’m a donor to W&M and am acquainted with several administrators there and I have done recommendations for admission, some for my own signature and some for other signatures. They were probably worth the value of attached stamp….

    Yep, the culture wars continue.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Thanks for asking for my opinion. A few thoughts:
    (1) There are more professors who are Democrats and progressives because as a group they are SMARTER than conservatives.
    (2) More seriously, I do not care if the Kochs contribute to education but it should not be with strings attached and they should not have a say in which professor gets hired.
    (3) The problem with the Kochs is that so many of their initiatives are not up-front. They hide behind facades like ALEC and push white papers from their think tanks that get sheep dipped and then are presented as kosher.
    (3) Jim Bacon’s attack on the GMU climate scientist was just as ridiculous as his and Cuccinelli’s attacks on Michael Mann.
    (4) I get sick and tired of reading about how liberal the WAPO and NYT are. The Post and Times have plenty of conservative commentators (David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer come to mind) but they tend to be of the more intelligent and analytic sort than jihadists from the right wing echo chamber that the Jim Bacons of the world tend to favor. The Post actually was neo-con in its approach to the Second Gulf War and it disappointed me. As noted, I worked for BusinessWeek some time ago which was somewhat to the left of the WSJ. I even wrote a few editorials myself. To say they are anti-capitalist is absurd. What’s really absurd is when the Richmond Times Disgrace picks up some very clearly pro-industry essay written by a flak or a lobbyist and pretends it is serious, unbiased analysis. If you are the author and you are a flak, say so. You are getting paid to pitch a message, but at least let us know where it is coming from.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Yet, as noted above, so far no follow up to see if other groups or individuals – of any political persuasion – also seek to place such strings on their support. Is this a widespread practice? I think whether or not that is the case makes it an even more important story, either way. And when I see an obvious question not being asked, it rings a bell.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    One set of rules for everyone. I’m with Steve. Let’s disclose all the gifts with strings for every public college and university in Virginia.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    If you think about it – the concept is problematical . Is the person essentially an employee of the Koch’s? Will they pay his pension and health care benefits? How about the terms of employment? What do they teach or not? How many classes? Who do they report to?

    If they are not direct employees of Koch – and Koch is just giving a pot of money to essentially “buy” control of an employee of the University – who in the University then directs the employee to do what Kochs wants?

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