The life of the lost mind

Academe wel­comes all man­ner of thought ex­cept the Founders’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By R. Em­mett Tyrrell Jr.

Look­ing back through the years, I have seen it all com­ing: the mil­i­tant ig­no­rance strut­ting across our col­lege cam­puses to­day, the au­thor­i­tar­ian style of the ad­min­is­tra­tors, the medi­ocrity of the pro­fes­sors, the sheer goofi­ness of the stu­dents. It all came out of the late 1960s. Most of my fel­low 1960s grad­u­ates went on to ca­reers in the pro­fes­sions, com­merce, and in­dus­try. But some re­mained on cam­pus, be­com­ing profs and ad­min­is­tra­tors, and in­creas­ingly, as the years went on, swamis of iden­tity pol­i­tics. They es­tab­lished women’s stud­ies pro­grams, black stud­ies pro­grams, gay stud­ies (or is it queer stud­ies?) pro­grams. Now I as­sume there are stud­ies pro­grams for peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders, trans­gen­dered peo­ple who trans­gen­dered once again, peo­ple who only eat dirt.

Yes, I can see it. There re­ally are peo­ple who eat dirt liv­ing in dif­fer­ent places around the coun­try, usu­ally in the South. They tend to be ru­ral. Why should they not band to­gether? Es­tab­lish a kind of sub-civ­i­liza­tion in so­ci­ety. Study their way of life. What bet­ter place to do it than at one of our great uni­ver­si­ties? They could be­gin their stud­ies by pub­lish­ing cook­books and bi­ogra­phies of fa­mous dirt eaters, dirt eaters whose lives have been ig­nored by our in­fa­mous dead white males. Yale Uni­ver­sity might be an ideal place for the estab­lish­ment of a Dirt Eaters’ Stud­ies Pro­gram. Yale al­ready has Black Stud­ies and Women’s Stud­ies and much much more. Just the other day a co­terie of self-ap­pointed stu­dents pub­lished a poorly worded bull or­der­ing the uni­ver­sity to ex­punge the names of such dead white males as Wil­liam Shake­speare and John Mil­ton from the bib­li­ogra­phies of Yale’s English De­part­ment. Do­ing so would help to “de­col­o­nize” the cur­ricu­lum.

We treat the de­ranged dif­fer­ently to­day than in the past. Nowa­days, we send them to uni­ver­si­ties. Bernie San­ders wants to make them tu­ition-free. Why not? My only caveat would be that we make it dif­fi­cult for per­sons who have spent an un­due amount of time on cam­pus to re­turn to main­stream so­ci­ety. Per­haps they would have to take a test.

Now, my way of deal­ing with the fan­tas­ti­cos of uni­ver­sity life is ad­mit­tedly a bit ex­treme. There are other ways. In fact, there are pa­tri­ots and phi­lan­thropists who take the aca­demics at their word. They be­lieve the aca­demics when they say they are for the life of the mind and that their uni­ver­si­ties are open fo­rums for the free play of ideas. Many of these phi­lan­thropists en­dow chairs and schol­ar­ships, and es­tab­lish li­braries and re­search in­sti­tutes. Though in the uni­ver­sity en­vi­ron­ment to­day such gen­eros­ity is usu­ally greeted with sus­pi­cion.

Just the other day there was a la­bo­ri­ous full-page re­port in The Wash­ing­ton Post on the gen­eros­ity of Charles Koch to­ward uni­ver­si­ties through­out the coun­try. Over the years he has do­nated more than $200 mil­lion to bring his lib­er­tar­ian ideas to cam­pus. Af­ter read­ing the great philoso­phers and build­ing a world-class busi­ness, namely Koch In­dus­tries, he has set out to en­dow uni­ver­si­ties while also prac­tic­ing the phi­lan­thropists’ art in med­i­cal re­search, cre­at­ing hos­pi­tals and en­dow­ing the arts.

His giv­ing may re­flect his per­sonal be­liefs, but these lib­er­tar­ian be­liefs are also per­fectly main­stream Amer­i­can, to wit, the be­lief in free mar­kets, lim­ited gov­ern­ment and per­sonal free­dom. In sum, they re­flect the be­liefs of the Found­ing Fa­thers and of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans alive to­day. His crit­ics ac­cuse him of try­ing to in­flu­ence in­tel­lec­tual de­bate, but what is wrong with that? As long as his ideas have merit and he al­lows other ideas to ex­ist un­mo­lested, he be­lieves stu­dents and pro­fes­sors can de­cide for them­selves. But many of the profs and ad­min­is­tra­tors want to “un-Koch” academe. That is to say, they want to end his phi­lan­thropy in the uni­ver­si­ties. They, ap­par­ently, do not be­lieve oth­ers can think for them­selves.

Not ev­ery­one shares this au­thor­i­tar­ian streak. As a mat­ter of fact, a prof from old Yale has spo­ken out against those who would “un-Koch” the cam­puses. He is Robert Shiller, a No­bel Prize-win­ning econ­o­mist and pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Eco­nomic As­so­ci­a­tion. He told The Post, “As long as [the Kochs] don’t cen­sor re­search, as long as they pub­lish the results hon­estly, it’s OK to have a bi­ased source” fund­ing pro­grams. And he went on to ob­serve, “You couldn’t get the gov­ern­ment to sup­port Dar­win …” be­cause he was too con­tro­ver­sial. “But some­body be­lieved in him,” Mr. Shiller con­tin­ued, “some smart per­son, who made money.” That would be Charles Koch and his brother, David.

By the way, speak­ing of smart peo­ple who have made money, how much has the left­ist bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros spent on the life of the mind? R. Em­mett Tyrrell Jr. is editor-in-chief of The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor. He is author of “The Death of Lib­er­al­ism,” pub­lished by Thomas Nel­son Inc.

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