Dartmouth historian Matthew J. Garcia says conservative partisans in Arizona have taken over a civics school he once ran

Historians in the News
tags: education, civics, Matthew J Garcia, Koch Bothers



Matthew J. Garcia, was the director of Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies from 2012 to 2017. He left ASU for Dartmouth College, “sickened” by the events that led to the establishment of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. He is now a professor of history and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies at Dartmouth.

... The infusion of partisan projects and the polarization of once noble institutions is underway, influenced by billionaire investors and conservative state legislators.  In Arizona, Republican elected officials leveraged an initial investment by the Charles Koch Foundationto advance an agenda that undermines faculty governance and the integrity of the humanities and social sciences in public universities.

Arizona State University’s president, Michael Crow, recently was quoted in aNew York Times storyabout using public money to support a pet projectof Arizona conservatives: The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL).  Crow said, “They were interested in having a broader set of curricular offerings than the one we presently have, particularly as it related to economic thought or political theory, philosophy.” He added, “The fact that someone from the state came along and gave us money for it, O.K., good.”

But it’s not good.

I served as the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University from 2012 to 2017. I had a unique vantage point to watch the birth of  the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

The new school came in the wake of the creation of “freedom” centers largely funded by the Charles Koch Foundation:  The Center for the Philosophy of Freedomat the University of Arizona and the Center for the Study of Economic Libertyand the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, the latter nested within our school in the form of a certificate program and contributing faculty.

I welcomed the new perspectives the center and faculty brought to our curriculum. I felt then as I do now: we are strengthened by all forms of diversity.

Welcoming Koch gifts undoubtedly came with risks, then, as it does now.  The Charles Koch Foundation has infused existing college curriculum with libertarian ideology by supporting strategic hiresof new professors in existing departments in universities and colleges across the country.

More recently, it has circumvented history, philosophy, economics, and political science departments altogether by financing the creation of new schoolsand departments that contain only professors that share their conservative views. These are troubling trends.

Yet I trusted our agreement with the foundation because it guaranteed faculty control over the hiring process and required Center members to work within the school to create a curriculum that championed many perspectives. With their support, we succeeded in hiring a new historian of capitalism that complemented our hire of a senior U.S. historian of conservative politics. Both were integral to the center and our faculty and brought new vitality to our history major.

This is why I was profoundly surprised and disappointed when President Crow accepted the money from the state legislature to create an alternative school to our own, one that would absorb the original Koch-funded centers.  Born in secrecy at the 11th hour in the Arizona Assembly, a small group of conservative legislators inserted funding for the new school into the overall annual allocation for public universities.  The maneuver forced Crow to make a choice — defend Arizona State University’s curriculum or lay down to these political partisans.

He invited them in by hiring a group of conservative professors at private institutions to construct the foundations of the new school. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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