More Flinching on Right as CU Unveils Conservative Scholar Finalists

February 12, 2013
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Conservatives continue to have mixed feelings about the concept of the designated scholar position

DENVER–The University of Colorado Boulder unveiled Monday its three finalists for the position of Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy, prompting a fresh round of cringing by Colorado right-wingers.

The finalists are Linda Chavez, former director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Reagan; Steven F. Hayward, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and critic of the environmental movement; and Ron Haskins, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of a book on welfare reform.

Each finalist is scheduled to spend a day on the Boulder campus this month as part of the selection process, during which they will meet with university officials, teach a class and hold a public forum.

While Colorado conservatives agreed that all three finalists would bring a needed perspective to the university, they continue to have mixed feelings about the concept of the designated scholar position.

Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute as well as a Boulder resident and CU grad, says he finds it “distressing” that “a free-market conservative has to become a freak sideshow act at a college.”

“What they’re saying is that it’s so difficult to find real intellectual diversity on a college campus that we have to go out and hunt someone down,” said Caldara. “It speaks to how myopic the worldview is at CU.”

The three-year pilot program is funded by $1 million in private donations from about 20 donors. The university announced plans in 2007 to create an endowed chair in conservative thought, a project that would have cost $7 to $9 million, but scrapped the idea after the economic downturn.

Given CU’s status as a state university, funded in part by public funds and using state lands, it shouldn’t require a private grant to bring in a scholar with political views held by one of the two main political parties and shared by a plurality of Americans, said Caldara.

“You have to buy a seat at the table, but it’s the kids’ table, and all the tenured radicals are sitting at the adult table,” Caldara said. “I’m glad it’s happening, but it’s so sad that this is how it has to happen.”

In a press release, CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano called the program “a novel idea to further enrich discourse on our campus.”

“Any one of the finalists, if selected, will contribute to the diversity of thought on campus by encouraging debate and discussion, by sharing their scholarship and career experience, and by hosting public events in the campus community and perhaps around the state,” said DiStefano.

The public is invited to hear the three finalists speak at forums starting Friday. Hayward is scheduled to lead a forum from 3 to 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, in the Old Main Chapel on the topic, “Is ‘Conservative Environmentalism’ an Oxymoron?”

Hayward would arguably be the most controversial choice for the post, given his criticism of the modern environmental movement, which he has described as quasi-religious. One green website has labeled him a “climate denier” for his position on global warming.

Chavez is scheduled to speak from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 18, in the Old Main Chapel on the topic “A Conservative Approach to Immigration Reform.” Of the three finalists, Chavez has the closest ties to Boulder: She’s a 1970 graduate of CU, where she majored in English literature.

Haskins’ forum runs from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Old Main Chapel. The title of his presentation is, “Why Worry About the Federal Deficit? Our Kids Can Pay.” Haskins is less prominent within the conservative movement than are Chavez or Hayward, although his credentials as a scholar and author are comparable.

The finalists were selected by a panel of university and non-university panelists. The non-university members are David Pyle, founder and CEO of American Career College; Mike Rosen, long-time radio host at KOA-AM and Denver Post columnist and political commentator; Bob Greenlee, former Boulder City Council member and mayor and current president of Centennial Investment & Management Company Inc.; CU President Emeritus Hank Brown; and Earl Wright, CEO of AMG National Trust Bank.

CU faculty members on the committee include Vanessa Baird, associate professor of political science; David S. Brown, professor and chair of political science; Bradley Monton, associate professor of philosophy; Murat Iyigun, professor of economics; and Susan K. Kent, professor and chair of history.

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