Dennis Prager, Donating Money to Universities

Although I do not often agree with Dennis Prager, I must acknowledge that this short essay of his is excellent. Its title is: “Why Do People Still Donate to Universities?” And his answer, if I can put words in his mouth, is, “Don’t do it, if you love our country.” He concludes his note with this statement: “But if you love America, among the worst things you can do is contribute to 95 percent of the country’s universities. America would better off if you burned that money.I heartily concur with him on this.

As a person who has spent almost his entire professional career in academia, I can attest that colleges and universities have become dens of intellectual iniquity, based on cultural Marxism (it is no longer only the bourgeois who are oppressing the proletariat; it is now, also, white males who do so, to pretty much everyone else) and political correctness (safe spaces, trigger warnings, and all the rest). Here is an instance of this of which even I was not cognizant, thanks to George Leef in his op-ed:  “How American Higher Education Turned into a False Promise.” He gives this example: “Perhaps the most telling is the nasty treatment a 79-year-old UCLA professor, Val Rust, received for his ‘microaggression’ of correcting grammatical errors in the papers of Ph.D. candidates. Among other ‘offenses’ against these students, he Defending the Undefend... Walter Block Best Price: $1.99 Buy New $10.80 (as of 07:55 EST - Details) “changed the capitalization of ‘indigenous’ in one of the papers,” which allegedly signaled  ‘disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view.’ A few of Professor Rust’s students defended him, one writing that the protest was merely ‘a cheap way of arousing public support.’ But instead of telling the students to behave like adults, the UCLA administration overreacted by appeasing the protesters and sending an email to all staff and students declaring that this  ‘troubling racial incident’ required that the university community  ‘work toward just, equitable, and lasting solutions.’” There you have it: a professor doing a reasonable job of editing, a culturally Marxist student, and an administration which supports the latter, not the former.

As grateful to Mr. Prager as I am, and as I think we all should be, I cannot go along with several of his suggestions. First, he recommends that if we must donate to an institution of higher learning, we choose Hillsdale: “And if you give to a college, give to one that actually venerates America and the life of the mind (Hillsdale College, for example).” At one time I would have actually agreed with him on this. But that institution has long since gone the Abraham Lincoln-worshipping, neo-conservative, war-mongering, route. A far better choice would be in my opinion Grove City College, where my Austro-libertarian friends and colleagues Jeff Herbener and Shawn Ritenour are the mainstays of their economics department.

However, my advice is a bit different. I say, patronize “chefs,” not “restaurants.” That is, if you must financially support higher education, do not bequeath money to a university, even Grove City; rather, direct your charitable giving to a single professor. Why? Well, suppose you, Mr. Smith, endow the Smith free enterprise chair at XYZ university. You are doing so because the president, the provost, the dean and several professors are all staunch advocates of limited government, free enterprise, private property rights, libertarianism, and non-interventionism. You trust that the first occupant of the Smith Chair will be a person who can be counted upon to promote free enterprise. The problem is, an endowment is forever, and there is turnover in most labor market positions; university personnel are no exception. In 20 or 30 years, there might be a sea change in the people occupying if not all of these university posts you relied upon, then, probably, most Ron Paul for President... Walter E. Block Best Price: $21.94 Buy New $25.95 (as of 08:30 EST - Details) of them.  The holder of the Smith Endowed Chair of Free Enterprise Studies might then be occupied by a Keynesian, a Marxist, a feminist, who is “interested” in studying free enterprise alright, but only to undermine it, denigrate it, cuts its legs out from under it.  You will be utterly dismayed, and turning over in your grave if deceased. However, if you were able to afford an endowment, your own life expectancy, too, is limited, and placing it with a chef, not a restaurant will only suffice if you can trust your own heirs to carry on in the manner you would have liked; and this is not always the case. So, the problem is not yet solved. Patience, dear reader, it soon will be, when I get to the next criticism I have of Prager’s article.

And it concerns this: “Or give to causes that are attempting to undo the damage of the universities. Examples include the Young America’s Foundation, YAF, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, ISI, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, and Prager University.” Here, this author and I widely diverge. FIRE is the least bad of these (I donate to them myself); the others are downright awful neo-con and/or conservative organizations. There is nary a libertarian bone, let alone an Austrian one, in any of their bodies. And even FIRE is mainly concerned with making present universities behave in this era of stultifying political correctness. Their work on speech codes is good, but, for example, they do not advocate the privatization of all public universities, nor a cessation of government subsidies to the ostensible “private” ones. Also, they are narrowly constituted, limited to education.

What then is to be done? MAKE A STRONG FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION TO THE MISES INSTITUTE. In that way, you kill two birds with one stone! The Mises Institute cleaves mightily to the economic and political philosophical perspective of its two guiding lights: Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. It applies its reach widely; to every area of freedom, liberty, and good economics. Membership in its board of trustees, of course, will change over time, but, unlike a university, no governor of any state will ever appoint any person to it, as occurs with public colleges and universities. Thus, its character will not likely change in the future, just as it has not in the past. So, if you are going to donate to any “think tank,” or other non-university institution, do so at most lightly for “Young America’s Foundation, YAF, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, ISI, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, and Prager University” if you do not eschew them entirely. And the same goes for the lightweight, fair weather friends of the free market: the “libertarian” organizations in the beltway Water Capitalism: The ... Walter E. Block, Peter... Best Price: $39.95 Buy New $93.16 (as of 02:30 EST - Details) of Washington D.C., whether geographically or philosophically.

But what about if your heart is set on supporting your favorite college? Then, DO SO THROUGH THE MISES INSTITUTE. ENDOW THEM, INSTEAD. But do so with instructions that this part of your gift to the MI is to be used to support the careers of “chefs” in higher education, not “restaurants.” In that way, and only in that way, can you be sure, in this “vale of tears,” that your hard-earned money will continue to be used as you intend, and had intended. If the leaders of the Mises Institute cannot single out a deserving professor for a one, two or three year possibly a renewable gift, then no one can. If you do this, you will be acting, roughly, in the manner of those who supported the careers in the United States of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek, none of whom could land suitable careers on their own, in American academia.

In the interests of full disclosure: I have long been associated with the Mises Institute. I have taught at the Mises University, off and on, for the last 30 years. I have regularly participated in its Austrian Economic Research Conferences, its Mises Circles, and sometimes its Rothbard Graduate Seminars. I spent the entire Katrina semester in Auburn, AL with them as an unpaid guest. And I have been awarded its Rothbard Medal of Freedom (2005) and its Schlarbaum Prize (2011).  There is no greater fan of the Mises Institute than me. I regard this institution as my intellectual home. But, I have never been employed by the Mises Institute.