The Corner

Education

A Tale of Two Campuses

Professor James Otteson is a scholar in the classical-liberal tradition. He now teaches at Wake Forest and heads the Center for the Study of Capitalism there.

He wanted to create a new center on campus devoted to the study of human happiness, one that would bring together philosophers, economists, political scientists, and anyone else who might have something to say about the kinds of institutions that are conducive to human flourishing. The planning for that was utterly uneventful — until Otteson landed a $3.7 million grant from the Koch Foundation. Then all hell broke loose, with leftists on the faculty going berserk over the prospect of some Koch money funding the Eudaimonia Institute, as it is called. An ugly spectacle indeed, with professors acting like petulant children.

Amid the furor at his home campus, Otteson was invited to speak at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh. Despite the fact that the Koch Foundation also funds the lecture series there, Otteson encountered no protests, no efforts to shout him down, no questions in the form of rants. His talk on the virtues of capitalism was quite well received by students and faculty members.

In this Martin Center article, Professor Kelly Markson of Wake Tech reflects on both the hostility shown to Otteson at Wake Forest and the fine reception he found at Wake Tech.

Especially interesting, I think, is her surmise that the reason why Otteson was not subjected to any protests or rants was that the students did not come in with any preconceived ideas. They were perfectly willing to listen and think, their minds not having been poisoned by “progressive” indoctrination. I suspect that if someone had raced into the lecture hall and shouted, “This speaker defends capitalism and gets money from the Koch brothers!” the audience would have told him to shut up and listen.

Markson concludes, “Wake Forest faculty, by undermining Otteson and the Eudaimonia Institute, also would be undermining their university’s academic mission and their students’ ability to listen to and learn from different points of view. They instead should support the free exchange of ideas, and thereby foster greater intellectual diversity. That kind of diversity was on display at my college when Otteson spoke, and it was truly gratifying to watch.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.