Inside Higher Education
July 20, 2005
Money and Motives

By Donald Lazere
Donald Lazere is professor emeritus of English at California Polytechnic State
University, San Luis Obispo. His textbook Reading and Writing for Civic
Literacy: The Critical Citizen’s Guide to Argumentative Rhetoric was published
this year by Paradigm Publishers.

In the past year or so, the latest in the perennial waves of attacks by
conservatives against liberal bias in college faculties has included several
research reports like one by National Association of Scholars allies Stanley
Rothman, S. Robert Lichter, and Neil Nevitte, “Politics and Professional
Development Among College Faculty,” decrying a preponderance of Democrats in
academe. These reports have worked in tandem with the crusade led by David
Horowitz for an “Academic Bill of Rights,” versions of which were introduced
into several state legislatures.

Aside from the disputable accuracy of conservatives’ charges, it’s time to
call attention to their frequent origin in organizations funded by
Republican-aligned foundations.

Conservatives claim that “their” foundations and think tanks simply serve to
counterbalance more highly funded liberal foundations, professional
organizations like the American Association of University Professors and the
Modern Language Association, and the totality of university scholarship. These
are false comparisons:

1. The conservative foundations and think tanks established in the past 30
years were designed to be, in effect, public relations agencies or lobbies for
the Republican Party and the political and economic interests of their
corporate sponsors, many of whose executives have also been visibly partisan,
influential figures in that party, such as Richard Mellon Scaife (Scaife
Foundations), the Coors family (Heritage Foundation), William Simon (Olin
Foundation), and William Baroody (American Enterprise Institute). The same
cannot be said for more liberally inclined foundations like Ford, Rockefeller,
Carnegie, and MacArthur, in relation either to corporate sponsors or the
Democratic Party. The very fact that these foundations fund projects that are
often antithetical to their corporate patrons’ class interests is evidence
that their motives are philanthropic, not propagandistic; they fund precisely
the kind of projects least likely to attract corporate sponsorship. This can
also be said about George Soros’ politically oriented projects; Soros, perhaps
more than any other liberal sponsor, does have Democratic Party ties
comparable to those of Scaife and other Republicans — he supports,
the Center for American Progress, Emily’s List, Americans Coming Together and
several labor unions — but it would be hard to make a case that his
philanthropy advances his corporate interests. Much of his and his grantees’
writings warn against capitalists like him gaining too much wealth and power.
In contrast, the outcome of the ostensibly objective research conducted by
conservative corporate-funded scholars is virtually predetermined to support
its sponsors’ financial and ideological interests.

2. Academic professional associations democratically represent their
membership, and are primarily funded by dues. Their officials are not
appointed by, and are not accountable to, any higher power or special interest
other than the majority rule of their members. Thus, whatever political biases
they may have are those of their own constituencies, not of patrons or party

3. Likewise, the terms of faculty hiring and salary are normally determined by
peers, not patrons or parties. The political views of faculty members in the
humanities and social sciences are, in general, the consequence of their years
of independent study, not influenced by outside sponsorship or affiliation
with party apparatuses. That is, they may vote Democratic, but, with rare
exceptions — Robert Reich comes to mind — faculty liberals, and especially
radicals, in recent decades have not had the kind of insider roles in the
Democratic Party or presidential administrations that Republicans with
academic backgrounds like William J. Bennett, Lynne Cheney, Irving and William
Kristol, and Chester Finn, all also beneficiaries of the conservative
foundations, have had in that party. It is a breathtaking bit of
sleight-of-hand that so many conservatives’ high-minded protests against the
politicizing of higher education have come from individuals and foundations
that are up to their neck in Republican politics and that have the power to
incite government action against their academic opponents.

I do not doubt that many scholars who accept money from the conservative
foundations maintain intellectual independence and integrity, and are
motivated by their own beliefs. It is disingenuous of them, however, to claim
they are not compromised by their sponsors’ motives of recruiting the best
minds money can buy. These scholars claim that the sponsors do not dictate a
line to them, which may be strictly true, but there have been cases of
withdrawal of support to grantees who depart too far from the sponsors’ line.
Ample evidence of sponsors’ direct control of studies by conservative think
tanks and foundations has been provided by apostates from them like Michael
Lind and David Brock.

Lind, in Up From Conservatism, writes: “The network orchestrated by the
foundations resembled an old-fashioned political patronage machine, or perhaps
one of the party writers’ or scholars’ guilds in communist countries. The
purpose of intellectuals was to write essays and op-eds attacking liberals and
supporting official Republican party positions.” Brock, in Blinded By the
Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, describes the executives heading
the conservative “counter-intelligentsia” as “Leninists of the right,” who
exercise control over their subordinates that is “far more rigidly doctrinaire
than the PC crowd that had so offended me [as an undergraduate] in Berkeley.”

Brock exposes the pseudo-scholarly trappings of conservative think tanks,
mocking his own former title of “John M. Olin Fellow in Congressional Studies”
at Heritage. He also recounts how Scaife, the biggest financier of right-wing
attacks on Bill Clinton before and throughout his presidency, withdrew funding
from Brock (who at that time was the highest paid political journalist in
America) and later from The American Spectator when he found their writings
about both Bill and Hillary Clinton insufficiently damning.

Conservatives insist that their studies should be judged solely on their
intrinsic validity, and they dismiss any suggestion that their sponsored
scholarship or journalism is tainted as a fallacy of guilt by association,
poisoning the well, or argument ad hominem (perhaps ad lucrem would be the
more appropriate term). But a rhetorician’s motives, associations, and past
credibility are sometimes relevant considerations. Are we not justified in
being more skeptical about the motives and merits of arguments presented by
hired lobbyists (say, for the tobacco industry), party propagandists and spin
doctors, advertising or public relations agents, than we are about those
presented by independent scholars and journalists? So shouldn’t those who
accept funding from the Republican-aligned foundations also be willing to
accept the burden of proof on their independence?

Conservatives may not like the politics of us tenured radicals, but it would
be hard for them to claim that many of us are in it for the money. For
example, the Radical Caucus in MLA, to which I belong, for the past 30 years
has been publishing the journal Radical Teacher. Its editors from the
beginning have included such leftist notables as Richard Ohmann, Louis Kampf,
Paul Lauter, and Lennard Davis, who are portrayed by conservatives as
immensely powerful figures. (Lynne Cheney’s 1995 book Telling the Truth
singled out Radical Teacher as a key organ of the leftist menace.) When
academic leftists were starting out in the sixties, we were as marginalized as
conservatives now claim to be. Many of us didn’t get jobs or were fired after
gaining them, because of our politics. (This still sometimes happens, contrary
to conservatives’ lurid accounts of leftist academic hegemony; some editors or
contributors at Radical Teacher are afraid to list it on their vitas.)

To be sure, several radicals by now have indeed become tenured, respected, and
in some cases — through the cultural contradictions of capitalism — have
acquired endowed chairs, incomes in the (low) six figures, administrative
positions, foundation grants, and other perks. (My own salary, more typically,
peaked at around $65,000 after 35 years of teaching.) Their success, however,
is mainly attributable to the quality of their ideas and scholarship developed
over four decades, not to patronage. (Are there zealots, cronies, and
incompetents on the academic left? For sure, though not demonstrably more than
among those of any other ideological or theoretical bent, including
conservatives, and they are disowned by more responsible colleagues.) No one
has received a penny in payment for the countless hours they have put into the
Radical Caucus or Radical Teacher, whose current financial balance amounts to
$15,000, and which subsists solely on subscriptions and limited newsstand
sales, with virtually no advertising and only
small contributions by individuals.

Compare that record with the millions and millions spent by conservative
foundations in the past three decades funding the National Association of
Scholars (which in 2003 received $250,000 from the Scaife Foundations alone,
according to the Scaife Web site), the American Council of Trustees and
Alumni, Campus Watch, Horowitz’s enterprises, conservative student
organizations, and research like Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte’s. According to
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Horowitz has been making upwards of
$500,000 a year in personal income from Scaife, Bradley, Olin, and other
foundation grants and college lectures, at $5,000 each, also subsidized by the
same foundations through funding of conservative campus organizations.

One can understand that as conservatives see it, they are outnumbered,
outspent, and discriminated against in the humanities and social sciences, and
so they have turned to conservative foundations as their only recourse.
Nothing should prevent them from doing this, but neither would anything
prevent these acolytes of free-market competition and overcoming adversity
through individual spunk from independently gaining a foothold in academia and
expanding it purely through the value of their ideas and scholarship, as
leftists have done over four decades. Again granting the integrity of many
cultural conservatives, isn’t it coy of them to get indignant over any
suggestion that multi-million-dollar patronage by special interests gives
their beneficiaries an unfair advantage and is likely to attract opportunists?

It is also legitimate to ask how similar the kind of research on which
conservatives’ cultural offensives are based is to the pseudo-scientific
variety produced by corporate special interests through the usual foundations
and think tanks (and all too often through ostensibly independent university
scholarship) — research that purports to refute all evidence of corporate
damage to the environment, health, and safety. The greatest danger of the
machine that has been set up by Republican fronts, in science as well as in
the humanities and social sciences, is that it has developed the capacity to
take any finding produced through independent research or analysis, no matter
how valid, and fabricate counter-research to discredit it, thus jamming the
airwaves of public discourse to the point where ascertaining the truth is
virtually impossible.

Conservatives have sanctimoniously denounced poststructuralist theories
denying any objective truth and have accused leftists of being Orwellian
twisters of the truth, but many of their own forces — political, journalistic,
and academic — have cynically pursued the 1984-ish policies that truth is
determined by whoever has the power to dominate public perceptions of it and
that the righteousness of their ends justifies dishonest means such as
distorting and ridiculing their opponents’ positions without substantive
refutations (as my arguments here will predictably be distorted and ridiculed).

Thus, I do not think it is unfair to ask conservative scholars and journalists
of integrity to demonstrate it by honestly addressing the ethical problems
posed by Republican-aligned foundation sponsorship, by dissociating themselves
from the more extreme positions of the Republican Party and its corporate,
religious, and journalistic allies (e.g., Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and
Ann Coulter), and by presenting a body of evidence proving that they apply the
same critical standards and zeal to the forces of the right that they do to
the left, along with similar evidence that their sponsors are willing to
subsidize such criticism.

One such model of integrity is Nathan Glazer, the prodigious Harvard
sociologist who throughout his long career has shown scrupulous independence,
extending to his role as co-editor with Irving Kristol of The Public Interest,
subsidized by the Olin, Bradley, and Smith-Richardson foundations. Although he
identifies himself as a neoconservative, Glazer has written in defense of
affirmative action and multiculturalism, and, as he noted in the final issue
of The Public Interest this spring, “in defense of the more developed welfare
states of Europe, which to my mind have created a better society than we have
in the United States.” If such refreshing heresies against Republican
orthodoxies were the rule rather than the exception in conservative
intellectual circles, I would cease and desist from further criticism.

Here is a proposal that might forestall the further descent of polemics on
these issues to the level of, “Yeah, and you’re one too!” Horowitz’s blog comprehensively surveys the forces of what he defines
as the American left in politics, the media, foundations, and academia, along
with their sources and amounts of funding. Suppose that he, or like-minded
conservatives, were to collaborate with leftists on assembling a comparable
survey of the American right (including, say, major corporations and the
military, along with university faculties in service to them, and the forces
of the religious right), so that something like an objective comparison of
relative power could be attained. Who will volunteer for such a project — and
what foundations will fund it?