Phi­lan­thropist’s gift nur­tures con­ser­va­tive voices on cam­pus

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Va­lerie Richard­son

When Col­lege Repub­li­cans at Stet­son Univer­sity griped about the lack of con­ser­va­tive thought on cam­pus, Martha Ap­gar was lis­ten­ing.

In a first-of-its kind gift, the phi­lan- thropist do­nated $1 mil­lion to es­tab­lish a con­ser­va­tive speak­ers’ fo­rum, the John N. Ap­gar Jr. Lec­ture Se­ries, at the private univer­sity in De­Land, Fla.

The se­ries, named af­ter Mrs. Ap­gar’s late hus­band, kicked off in the fall with leg­endary con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor William F. Buck­ley Jr. in one of his last cam­pus ap­pear­ances. The col­lege is sched­uled to host Prince­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Robert Ge­orge later this year.

Mr. Buck­ley’s speech was seen as a ma­jor re­gional event, or­ga­niz­ers said. Stu­dents from neigh­bor­ing Florida univer­si­ties drove to De­Land to see him, and mem­bers of the Col­lege Democrats helped serve as ush­ers.

“Even the lib­eral stu­dents were hon­ored that we got such a big speaker to come,” said Danny In­field, a ju­nior who served last year as Col­lege Repub­li­cans chair­man. “Mrs. Ap­gar, the lady who

do­nated the money, was so great. This was a big wind­fall for us.”

The idea for the se­ries grew out of an ap­pear­ance by con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist David Horowitz, who has led the charge for greater aca­demic di­ver­sity. He spoke at Stet­son in Oc­to­ber 2005 at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Col­lege Repub­li­cans.

Erik Detlef­sen, a past chair- man of the Col­lege Repub­li­cans, said the group in­vited Mr. Horowitz to bring a rare con­ser­va­tive per­spec­tive to the pre­dom­i­nantly lib­eral cam­pus.

“We hosted David Horowitz on cam­pus, and one of the peo­ple in the au­di­ence was Martha Ap­gar,” said Mr. Detlef­sen, who grad­u­ated ear­lier this month. “We ex­pressed some frus­tra­tion to her that there was never a con­ser­va­tive voice on cam­pus, so she de­cided in her gen­eros­ity to start this lec­ture se­ries.”

Mrs. Ap­gar was no stranger to col­lege giv­ing. In 2004, she do­nated $1 mil­lion to Stet­son to start the Law­son Lec­ture Se­ries, named af­ter her child­hood priest, Fa­ther Leroy Law­son. That se­ries, which fo­cuses on the “syn­the­sis of rea­son and faith” in West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, hosted prom­i­nent Catholic the­olo­gian Michael No­vak in Fe­bru­ary.

While some fac­ulty mem­bers grum­bled about the need for con­ser­va­tive speak­ers on cam­pus, there was no real op­po­si­tion to host­ing the se­ries, or­ga­niz­ers said.

“If you know a lot about fac­ulty, you know you can never make state­ments about ev­ery­one be­ing uni- formly happy,” said dean Grady Bal­lenger. “It’s been an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion for us. There’s been wide­spread sup­port for hav­ing a con­ser­va­tive lec­ture se­ries.”

What’s more, the Buck­ley speech drew no pro­test­ers, which isn’t al­ways the case at his col­lege ap­pear­ances.

“We’re a cam­pus that’s very se­ri­ous, very com­mit­ted to vig­or­ous de­bate, but not a cam­pus where you have the pro­test­ers you see at other cam­puses,” Mr. Bal­lenger said. “Maybe it’s the South­ern thing.”

The dean pre­dicted other col­leges would fol­low suit, say­ing “I think there are other col­leges ea­ger to in­crease di­ver­sity of thought that char­ac­ter­izes col­lege and univer­sity life.”

Plenty of con­ser­va­tives would dis­agree, in­clud­ing Mr. Horowitz, who noted that a few prom­i­nent univer­si­ties have ac­tu­ally turned down donor ef­forts to spon­sor con­ser­va­tives on cam­pus.

“Th­ese peo­ple are so po­lit­i­cal that they’re re­sisted gifts,” he said. “Money doesn’t al­ways talk that way. But most univer­si­ties are sen­si­tive to donor pres­sure, for­tu­nately.”

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