BOULDER, CO – Imagine Thomas Sowell teaching an economics class at the University of Colorado Boulder, or Victor Davis Hanson lecturing undergraduates on the classics. It could happen, under a newly sanctioned program to bring conservative guest scholars to campus.
CU Boulder has raised $1 million in private donations to bring visiting conservative academics to what is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most liberal universities. The program is expected to begin in spring 2013.
“I believe they’ve raised the funds for this, so I believe you could call that going forward,” said CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue. “It took a while, but we’re moving forward with it.”
A group of donors and alumni had approached CU in 2007 about establishing a “Visiting Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy,” but university officials were forced to scale back plans after the 2008 economic downturn. Instead of raising as much as $9 million for an endowed chair, the university plans instead to launch a three-year pilot program for visiting scholars.
“I am very pleased with the significant progress that has been made this past year, after having this initiative languish for several years,” said CU President Bruce Benson, a prominent Republican, in an email to the Board of Regents obtained by the Daily Camera.
The concept of a chair in conservative studies gained national attention after being floated by former Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson, himself a Republican. The proposal grew in part out of an analysis conducted by CU professor emeritus Ed Rozek, who found that out of 825 faculty members on the Boulder campus, just 23 were registered Republicans.
The idea drew a few hoots from the national media. The Wall Street Journal ran the memorable May 2008 headline, “Help Wanted: Lefty Campus Seeks Right-Wing Prof.” A May 2008 opinion article in The New York Times called it, “More Colorado Follies.”
While conservatives have said they appreciate the effort at even-handedness, they also worry that a designated right-winger could become something of a curiousity on campus, like “an animal in a zoo,” as conservative author David Horowitz put it in 2008.
John Andrews, head of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University and former Colorado Senate President, praised donors for supporting conservative thought and gave the idea “two cheers.”
“Certainly major funding to bring to Boulder a visiting scholar who can articulate conservative principles would be welcome,” said Andrews. “But it just concerns me that this almost plays into the hands of the overwhelmingly left-liberal domination of CU, because it treats conservative thought as sort of an oddity, a zoo exhibit or the focus of an anthropological field trip.”
On the other hand, Andrews said he held out hope that such a scholar could sow the seeds of a conservative intellectual rebirth.
“If this represents the beginning of something that can grow into a general intellectual development, that’s wonderful,” said Andrews. “If it becomes a token sop to conservative donors, business-minded alumni and the center-right Colorado citizenry, then they put one over on us.”
Even without a right-winger in residence, the Boulder campus has experienced something of a conservative backlash in recent years. A conservative slate of candidates has won the last two student-government elections, and another slate, called Value, is running on a platform of fiscal conservatism in the April elections.
The university’s tight finances touched off a student protest earlier this month after CU officials proposed an 8.6 percent tuition hike for the 2012-13 school year. The Board of Regents has since countered by suggesting a 6.7 percent increase.
Given the economic climate, investing $1 million in conservative scholarship is likely to prove unpopular with many students and faculty, but McConnellogue emphasized that the position would be paid for by private donations, not university funds. He also said the idea of bringing a conservative to campus was consistent with the university’s philosophy.
“I think one of the things the university cares about are differing viewpoints, so this is in line with our mission,” said McConnellogue.