Conservatives recruiting historians on campus to establish academic beachheads for their ideas





Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.

They are finding like-minded tenured professors and helping them establish academic beachheads for their ideas.

These initiatives, like the Program in Western Civilization and American Institutions at the University of Texas, Austin, or a project at the University of Colorado here in Colorado Springs, to publish a book of classic texts, are mostly financed by conservative organizations and donors, run by conservative professors. But they have a decidedly nonpartisan and nonideological face.

Their goal is to restore what conservative and other critics see as leading casualties of the campus culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s: the teaching of Western culture and a triumphal interpretation of American history.

“These are not ideological courses,” said James Piereson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, which created the Veritas Fund for Higher Education to funnel donations to these sorts of projects. The initiatives are only political insofar as they “work against the thrust of programs and courses in gender, race and class studies, and postmodernism in general,” he said.

The programs and centers differ in emphasis, with some concentrating on American democratic and capitalist institutions and others on the Western canon, the great books often derided during the culture wars as the history of “dead white men.” They sponsor colloquia, seminars, courses, visiting lecturers and postdoctoral students. At Brown, the Political Theory Project even put on a play by the capitalist heroine Ayn Rand.


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