The Corner


Leftist Professors Throw a Tantrum at Wake Forest

Just mention the name “Koch” and many leftist academics fly into a rage. Years of Two Minute Hates directed against Charles and David Koch for their thoughtcrime of using some of their wealth to push back against “progressivism” have rendered them incapable of clear thinking.

For evidence, consider the furor at Wake Forest University over the Eudaimonia Institute.

Professor James Otteson, a classical liberal who has written books about Adam Smith and The End of Socialism, came up with the idea for an institute at Wake Forest that would study the concept of human flourishing. It would bring together scholars from a number of disciplines to discuss the conditions that lead to human flourishing, or what Aristotle termed “eudaimonia.” Sounds harmless enough and there was no controversy over the proposal until Otteson was awarded a grant of some $4 million from the Koch Foundation. At that point, leftists on the faculty erupted.

One of Otteson’s faculty colleagues, Professor Robert Whaples (an economist) writes about the battle in today’s Martin Center article.

Whaples writes, “Libertarians and conservatives are a rare species on campuses and it appears that although some college professors have apparently never actually met any of them, just reading about their goals is enough to make their hair stand on end. It seems that Koch’s big idea is to push something called ‘freedom.’” Therefore, the innocuous idea of exploring human flourishing was turned into a provocation against leftism by the addition of some Koch money.

Professor Whaples, who is on the Institute’s board, went into a meeting with the opponents, intending to quell the opposition with calm and reason. No luck with that. He continues:

I explained that EI’s mission is genuine. It has begun to and will continue to study human flourishing from a wide range of viewpoints. Some of these viewpoints (those to the left of center) have increasingly claimed a monopoly on wisdom, knowledge, and understanding and have actively moved to push other viewpoints off campuses all over the nation and increasingly at Wake Forest. In a boat that is listing badly to one side, it is possible that EI will add balance and help right the ship by bringing in new viewpoints.

For saying that, I was told that my comments somehow confirmed the ideologically-biased mission of EI. Imagine that! You’re an ideologue only if you are open to opinions that aren’t firmly to the left of center.

What this episode shows, I believe, is that “progressives” no longer care about ideas but are all about power. They’ve got it and will use it against everything they dislike.

Whaples concludes on a mildly optimistic note: “Perhaps the faculty enemies of the Eudaimonia Institute would drop their opposition to it if they looked at what it does, rather than where its funds come from.” Perhaps, but my guess is that the self-righteous opponents will never get past the Koch connection.

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