The New York Times earlier this week had a very interesting story on the latest strategy from conservatives to gain influence on American institutions of higher learning. The article takes the perspective that a lot of what these conservatives are doing is a sly new strategy to turn the clock back in American education:
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.
Unfortunately, the article is fairly predictable in almost entirely ignoring any religious aspects that are certainly part of this movement. Near the end of the article, readers are given a hint that something regarding religion is involved, but that is about it:
In 2006, at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., opposition from the faculty forced the administration to withdraw its support of an alumni-financed center focused on capitalism, natural law and the role of religion in politics. Many faculty members questioned if Hamilton would have sufficient oversight of it. At the time, the chairman of the faculty assembly, John O'Neil, was quoted as saying, "There are people on the faculty who think this center has an explicit, right tendency."
The alumni donors and professors ended up opening the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization as an independent entity in 2007.
Was this the only program that involved religion in any sense? Somehow, I doubt it. What exactly did this program study with regard to the role of religion in politics? Reporters would be wrong to assume that religion in politics means conservative Christians in politics. Last time I checked, the left of the country's political spectrum has been quite engaged in courting people who place religious values near the top of their priority list.
The article is unfortunately incomplete in this regard. In addition, the lack of coverage in this article leaves a large reporting gap for someone else to fill. Please let us know if you see anything regarding this significant story in American higher education.
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