Since William F. Buckley’s "God and Man at Yale" in 1951, conservatives have consistently bewailed the absence of conservative voices in America’s colleges and universities.
In my forty years of experience in higher education, I have seen conservatives excluded, expelled, and harassed by both administrators and professors. But the time has come for us to stop merely complaining: the time has come for action. Congress has the opportunity to fund the American History for Freedom program, creating dozens of enclaves of conservative thought in universities across the land.
There are a few bright spots in which prominent conservative scholars are allowed to flourish.
Princeton University is one example, and it is no coincidence that Princeton is also the home to one of the few conservative-friendly centers in the country, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, headed by the brilliant conservative constitutional scholar, Robert P. George. I had the privilege of spending a sabbatical year there in 2014-15, and I saw firsthand what a difference a center like the James Madison program can make in the lives of both students and teachers. The presence of such a center encourages conservative scholars to come out of the shadows and to identify themselves in public, and this in turn promotes true intellectual freedom and diversity among students. Students are empowered to ask politically incorrect questions and to pursue the arguments and evidence, no matter where they lead.
Creating a program like George’s James Madison Program is no easy matter. Many unsuccessful attempts have been made to replicate the Program. I tried to do so at the University of Texas at Austin in 2006 and had some success, until The New York Times warned in 2008 that we were trying to promote “right-wing agenda” at UT. Immediately, the UT Faculty Senate erupted in horror, and its Chairman demanding that the administration re-think its support. I was forced out of leadership because of my conservatism, and the terms “Western Civilization” and “American Institutions” were dropped from its name.
Similar stories can be told about aborted programs at Hamilton College, Yale University, Yeshiva University, and many others. These programs face opposition from faculty and administrators, not because they would be unpopular with students and donors but precisely because they would be too popular with both groups, draining support from politically-favored programs with a left-wing tilt.
However, the depth of internal opposition is no reason for despair. Instead, conservatives must seize the opportunity provided by undivided GOP control of the federal government.
In 2008, in the closing days of the Bush 43 administration, Congress approved the American History for Freedom program, providing for the use of federal funds to create special centers in colleges and universities dedicated to promoting traditional American history, the nature of and threats to free institutions, and the history and achievements of Western Civilization.
The program lay unfunded through the two terms of the Obama administration, but now is the time for Congress to fund it fully, authorizing the Trump Department of Education to help with the creation of enclaves of traditional scholarship.
This is a great public good, very worthy of the modest investment of taxpayer money involved. Taxpayers are already on the hook for literally trillions of dollars, used by universities to subsidize left-wing indoctrination and political activism. It is past time for a few million to be invested in scholarship and teaching devoted to the American founding, to the philosophical and political foundations of freedom, and to understanding and appreciating the great legacy that we have inherited from the Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews, medieval Christianity, and British constitutional and legal history.
President Trump is committed to rebuilding America’s infrastructure. We must not neglect the cultural infrastructure that undergirds all of our unique practices and institutions. Please write, text, or call the relevant committee chairman, in support of the American History for Freedom Program (Section 805, Part E of the Higher Education Act): Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Tom Cole, and Representative Virginia Foxx.
Even if some of money ends up in left-wing hands, the dollars that reach more conservative-friendly programs will greatly multiply the resources available for studying the roots of American freedom and equal justice under the law. Now is the time to strike, when many colleges and universities are struggling to make ends meet. The potentiality to make inroads in ending the leftist monopoly of thought on campus may never again be as great as it is right now.
Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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