Faculties, Not Donors, Drive University Hires

Steven Pearlstein

Steven Pearlstein, a Washington Post business and economics columnist, teaches economics at George Mason University. While he applauds making visible contractual terms between the libertarian, loathed-by-the-left Koch Brothers and GMU’s Mercatus Center, he doesn’t see a big threat to academic freedom. (Get the background to this controversy here.)

Any time a philanthropist makes a donation to a university, writes Pearlstein, he or she influences the priorities of that institution.

When someone gives $10 million to an engineering school rather than the college of humanities, it changes the university’s priorities. When someone endows a center to study the causes and consequences of climate change, it affects who is hired and what is taught and researched. When someone gives enough to name a school after a public figure, it shapes a school’s ideological profile. It would be great if all donations were unrestricted, but they aren’t. Many donors have agendas; the Kochs are just an extreme example.

In the case of Mason’s economics department, the faculty have driven the donor relationships. In most instances, it was the faculty who approached and solicited Koch and other donors with specific projects in mind, not the other way around. Faculty also recruited and hired for the newly funded professors’ positions, decided which courses would be taught, chose which topics to research and selected the students who would attend its graduate programs. Our economics department is not libertarian and conservative because it is funded by Koch and his friends; they fund our economics department because its faculty is — and always has been — overwhelmingly conservative and libertarian.

The underlying problem, suggests Pearlstein, is that “the rules and norms of university governance give faculty the power to hire people who think like they do. … There is ample evidence that feminists prefer to hire other feminists, behaviorists like to hire other behaviorists, ‘crit lit’ scholars hire other ‘crit lit’ scholars. Sorting by political or academic ideology is a naturally occurring phenomenon at universities.”

Pearlstein is absolutely right, but he doesn’t quite complete the loop. The phenomenon he describes is overwhelmingly a left-wing one — progressives systematically purging liberals and conservatives from among their ranks. GMU’s economics department and law school are oases of alternative thinking in a vast, desiccated Sahara of the nation’s overwhelmingly left-leaning schools, centers, institutes and academic departments.

The demand for Koch Brothers transparency, while justified at one level (I totally believe that higher ed should be more transparent), is not uniformly applied. At Virginia Commonwealth University a few years ago, Philip Morris USA contracts with university researchers created a huge controversy that ended with the retirement of President Eugene Trani. The controversy was justified. But no one is holding other donors to comparable levels of public scrutiny. When philanthropist Jane Batten donates $10 million to the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, as was announced yesterday, does anyone ask if strings are attached? Does anyone demand to see the contract? No. No one asks because, I’ll wager, there are few high-profile libertarians or conservatives in the faculty to trigger progressives’ ire. (If I’m wrong, please let me know. I’d love to think that there is still some philosophical diversity at UVa.)

This controversy is all about power. Principles such as transparency and academic freedom are employed selectively and tactically to de-legitimize and expunge conservatives, libertarians and other bogeymen of the left like tobacco companies. Progressives never apply the principles against their own. It’s all about enforcing leftist ideological conformity.

(Hat tip: Steve Haner)

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7 responses to “Faculties, Not Donors, Drive University Hires”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    Big money almost always corrupts – whether it comes from Soros or the Kochs. Given the unquenchable thirst of America’s higher education establishment for mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money I think transparency is the only viable option. Why aren’t all donation contracts to public colleges and universities a matter of public record?

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. All donations and their restrictions/conditions should be a matter of public records for all public institutions.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Any time a philanthropist makes a donation to a university, writes Pearlstein, he or she influences the priorities of that institution.”

    Does such money actually influence WHAT is taught or NOT?

    For instance, at GM , would they only teach supply side economics if money were provided for that purpose?

    Would money to an Engineering school requiring teaching something not accepted as a legitimate engineering discipline?

    So, sure .. perhaps some very successful economist or engineer alums might want to help an educational institution invest more towards that favored field of study – but hopefully – the money does not influence what is taught or not or hiring of folks who don’t believe in some scientific, engineering or economic principals.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    The problems here are so overwhelming that one hardly knows where to start. Getting a fair and balanced faculty into place within academia is so difficult, it justifies the Koch Brothers other wise crass approach.

    At least the Koch Brothers use their own money to buy off universities in order to install some balance within faculties. Today’s liberal leftist faculty uses other peoples money to destroy higher education for the benefit of their own private interests.

    How is this destruction being carried out? In many ways. Consider the vast sums of public monies that are spent to hire faculty who do not teach but whose research might attract private gifts and federal grants under programs that are often thoroughly corrupt, paid out the achieve political results, whether in science or politics, to shift public opinion for the benefit of one group or special interest over another. This is every where in academia.

    See for example Barbara Perry’s propagandist political campaigns that are disguised as Presidential scholarship and history at the University of Virginia. This racket is ginned up at UVA in the Miller Center. The UVA Miller Center is used to propagate and disburse its fake history through its allied operatives within our burgeoning fake news industry in America. And we pay for it.

    If you don’t believe me, then go read Barbara Perry’s work found at:


    This is only one small example of an out of control American Academy.

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Between the Right and a Hard Place: How JFK Pivoted to Righteousness

    Written August 17, 1917 by Barbara Perry, White Burkett Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions and Presidential Studies Director at UVA’s Miller Center. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.

    “We don’t typically think of John F. Kennedy and Donald J. Trump as leading comparable presidencies. Yet they both faced a right-wing faction of their party over the issue of race.

    In JFK’s case, southern segregationists represented a segment of the Democratic Party that Kennedy had to contend with in Congress, in Dixie’s governorships and flagship universities, and in the streets of the former Confederacy. Adding to the political complexity was their crucial role in his winning the 1960 electoral vote over Richard Nixon.

    All of these factors forced JFK to walk a fine line between the Dixiecrats and the civil rights wing of his party, as well as civic leaders advocating racial equality. Martin Luther King, Jr. urged President Kennedy to declare the fight for civil rights a moral crusade and send a comprehensive bill to Congress to prevent discrimination in employment, education, and public facilities. Federal enforcement of voting rights also constituted a major goal of King’s movement. From 1961 to mid-1963, JFK refused to undertake both objectives, saying he would have more leverage once he won re-election in 1964. He worried that if he pressed for an expansion of civil rights, the balance of his New Frontier agenda would languish on Capitol Hill, stymied by senior members of Congress who hailed from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

    For Trump, the Tea Party faction of the GOP spurred his candidacy, and his stunning victory in 2016 undoubtedly has emboldened white supremacists. He, too, is struggling to satisfy these key constituencies while the other side calls for him to condemn them and the violence the latter perpetrated last weekend in Charlottesville. Like the 45th president, the 35th had to address white supremacists violence in the first year of his administration …”

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Beyond the Iran deal: Trump’s campaign to undo Obama’s legacy
    CBC Radio

    How much of Obama’s legacy can Trump undo? A lot, says presidential historian

    CBC Radio

    May 12, 2018
    IRAN-NUCLEAR/ U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement on May 8, 2018. Trump has now rolled back 11 major Obama policies and presidential historian Barbara Perry says he won’t stop there. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal this week shouldn’t have been surprising. His animosity for the agreement was well known. He campaigned on it. He didn’t like it because he didn’t negotiate it and he really doesn’t like the people who did.

    “There are a few reasons that President Trump dislikes the Iranian nuclear deal,” says David E. Sanger, the national security correspondent for the New York Times. “First, it was negotiated by Barack Obama.” Bulldozing Obama’s legacy is a preoccupation of the 45th president.

    “I also think it’s visceral and personal on Donald Trump’s part,” says Barbara Perry, Miller Centre, University of Virginia.

    In addition to weakening the Affordable Care Act, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He’s tried to impose a ban on transgender military service. He’s cancelled Obama’s executive orders and slashed Obama-crafted regulations, especially pertaining to the environment. Presidential history expert Barbara Perry says Trump’s actions are both normal and extraordinary.

    “I do think that it’s part and parcel of presidents wanting to roll back those of the opposing party, those precedents that they think are wrong,” she says on Day 6.

    “But I also think it’s visceral and personal on Donald Trump’s part.” Perry is director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Centre, an expert on the U.S. Supreme Court and a presidential biographer. Perry says it is not unusual for previous executives to dislike their predecessors and some presidents were universally unloved.

    “Whenever you have presidents of opposing parties, and you have presidents who differ on their policies, there are going to be people who don’t like each other,” Perry says.

    This feels different in the Trump era to have him turning back, again, what most experts believe was actually a good arrangement with the Iranians. – Barbara Perry, Miller Centre, University of Virginia “I can give you the example of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. There was no love lost between them. Very few people liked Richard Nixon personally, both in his own party and among Democrats and the opposing party.” In Trump, though, Perry sees a shift in both his character and historical context.

    “I think that, as is often the case with Donald Trump, he’s unprecedented. I call him the unprecedented president. And by that I don’t mean that other presidents haven’t rolled back policies of their predecessors,” she says. “That tradition in this country, and in our government, is as old as our founding and as old as our republic.”

    Perry says America’s founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson fought a bitter, contested and dirty election in 1800 with Jefferson intent on undoing the work of the Adams administration. Jefferson and Adams Policy rollbacks date back to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

    “And they of course were battling each other in the campaign and Jefferson tried to roll back — particularly by putting on new judges and justices of the Supreme Court — tried to roll back the Adams policies.”

    She says with Trump it’s more personal.

    “I think on this scale, and again on the sort of the personal and visceral approach that Donald Trump has taken — not only in office — to his predecessor Barack Obama, but that he led the birther movement against him, I think proves that it’s personal and visceral on his part.”
    A new global era

    Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal has attracted criticism from the people who framed it and the European allies who hope to salvage it. Perry says Trump’s move comes as the U.S. moves away from the political consensus in foreign policy that was enforced by the Cold War.
    98967939 U.S. President Donald Trump presides over a meeting about immigration in the Cabinet Room at the White House Jan. 9, 2018.

    “There was a common enemy, obviously the Communists. And there was a bipolar world, rather black and white, between the United States and the Soviet Union. And so there was this general feeling [that] it was important to have multilateralism and international law, international treaties, international institutions,” Perry says. “Democrats and Republicans alike — with some differences among them of course — but by and large [they] met the centre in that consensus. And so that’s why, again, this feels different in the Trump era to have him turning back, again, what most experts believe was actually a good arrangement with the Iranians.” Perry says abandoning this consensus will hurt America’s reputation among allies.

    “Now they feel that they’ve been left hanging and that they cannot trust the United States. And they cannot trust this president in foreign policy. And in these multilateral agreements that, again, were such part and parcel of the Cold War consensus of the United States’ foreign policy from every moment after the end of World War II.”

    Perry says Trump’s dismantling of Obama’s policies isn’t over. She says Trump has more work to do and that it will play to his base.

    “I think at every opportunity, both in the foreign and domestic ground, he will take every possibility to overturn those positions of Barack Obama with which he disagrees, with which those who supported him disagree,” she says.

    Perry says some of Obama’s legacy remains untouchable. “I always point to the killing of Osama bin Laden,” she says. But there’s still much more Trump can do. “Everything that can possibly be done, both in terms of process and politically, I think you will see Donald Trump attempting to do.”
    Trump and Obama Donald Trump isn’t the only president to roll back on his predecessor’s policies.

    To hear the full interview with Barbara Perry, download our podcast or click the ‘Listen’ button at the top of this page. See https://www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4655634?__twitter_impression=true by Brent Bambury

  6. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    In the Age of Trump, who are America’s Moral Leaders?
    by Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY, May 14, 2018

    “What is happening to my country?” Regardless of political identity, if you spend time on social media or following the news, you’ve probably asked that question, disillusioned by a sense that the nation’s moral ground is shifting beneath your feet.

    As America has grown more diverse, more secular and more polarized, its moral compass is harder to tune to a true north, with no particular voice emerging as an authority. Fifty years ago, the U.S. faced one of its most tumultuous periods, yet millions of eyes still turned toward identifiable leaders:

    The presidency had not yet been shaken by Watergate.
    Martin Luther King Jr. was the most recognizable civil rights leader.
    Walter Cronkite was the trusted voice of news.
    More than 65% said religion was “very important” in their own lives (Gallup).
    62% said they trusted the government all or most of the time (Pew Research Center).


    63% of voters say President Trump does not provide moral leadership (Quinnipiac University poll).
    Movements such as Black Lives Matter and the women’s marches make a point of democratized, not singular, leadership.
    News comes not from an authoritative few but from hundreds of sources with varying standards and reputations.
    51% say religion is “very important” in their lives.
    Only 18% trust the government all or most of the time; roughly half of Democrats and Republicans alike say the other party makes them “afraid” (Pew Research Center).

    Some experts say these trends have created a moral vacuum.

    “Society used to be more unified in the people they saw as moral leaders,” said Barbara Perry, a historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, which specializes in presidential scholarship …

    Leader of the free world

    In history class, presidents often are held up as beacons of morality.

    “Look at the legend that grew up around (George) Washington: ‘I cannot tell a lie.’ And then carry that on to Abraham Lincoln: ‘Honest Abe,’ ” Perry said.

    That doesn’t mean they all upheld high personal moral standards. Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate child with a woman he was accused of raping; likewise, Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings. The public was largely in the dark about John F. Kennedy’s womanizing while he was in office, but if he behaved that way today, one can imagine the tweets and late-night jabs akin to Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and the infamous blue dress.

    And those are just the sexual scandals. Trust in the government plummeted during President Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

    “I think it’s almost inevitable where we are now,” Perry said. “We have become more skeptical and cynical about authority generally and about presidents specifically.”

    With the 2016 election, Perry said, Trump removed “a moral standard for becoming president.”

    During his campaign, Trump faced accusations of sexual misconduct and of not paying his workers. He said in January 2016: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

    “With Donald Trump, I think we have just crossed the Rubicon, because … his very platform of running was ‘all presidents lie, all politicians lie,’ ” Perry said.

    Trump has made more than 3,000 false or misleading claims in his presidency, according to The Washington Post. His administration has faced a slew of ethics complaints. A USA TODAY focus group of Trump supporters revealed that they think the president is lying about Stormy Daniels, but they don’t care.

    Former FBI director James Comey told USA TODAY the president lacks the “external moral framework” required of his position. He also says he was struck by the president’s apparent unwillingness to criticize Vladimir Putin, even in private. USA TODAY …

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