Professors from Princeton, Harvard, and other universities are advising a group of donors and potential donors interested in improving the teaching of capitalism on college campuses.
The professors and donors came together this week at event in New York City sponsored by the Manhattan Institute's Center for the American University. The Center's James Piereson reported that an affiliated organization, the Veritas Fund for Higher Education Reform, has allocated about $4 million over the past three years to programs on 27 different campuses.
The focus on capitalism is the initiative of Marilyn Fedak, the vice chair of AllianceBernstein, who told the group that she was motivated by the atmosphere surrounding the financial crisis and its aftermath: "You know, the greedy vultures of Wall Street had to be stopped. We needed massive government interventions…Your property right? Forget about it."
She realized, she said, "Capitalism in America is under attack."
Ms. Fedak said that capitalism had been good to her. Her grandfather had come to America from Russia at age 9 accompanied only by his 12 year old brother. He began by selling pencils and newspapers on a street corner on Manhattan's Lower East Side. She herself began working at age 14 as a clerk-typist, which helped her pay her way through Smith College, where, she said, in 1966 the tuition, room, and board was $2,850 a year.
In 1984 Ms. Fedak joined Sanford Bernstein when the firm had $2 billion under management and 200 employees. Today, she said, the firm has $460 billion under management and 4,500 employees.
A professor of economics at George Mason, Daniel Klein, said research on party affiliation and voting shows that among professors in social science and the humanities Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7 to 1 or 8 to 1.
"Instruction definitely has a left-leaning tilt," said a senior lecturer at Harvard, Jeffrey Miron.
The McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, Robert P. George, pushed back against the caricature of "businessmen as coldhearted exploiters" and the market as "vehicle for exploitation."
The market, he says, serves the cause of freedom by counterveiling the force of government. It also serves as a great engine of social mobility. "Together with the institution of marriage, the market is the greatest antipoverty program ever invented," he said.
He said donors or potential donors upset about the left-wing tilt on college campuses should engage with the institutions.
"You don't want to just curse the darkness, you've got to light a candle," Professor George said.
He said many universities are now having a hard time fundraising because of the economic downturn, and that administrators have incentives to meet fundraising goals. That he said, "puts those of you who are donors in a very strong bargaining position."
He said conservative donors shouldn't seek to fund programs that are a "catechism" but rather "genuinely first rate programs."
"I think Marxism is a really, really, really bad idea," he said, but nevertheless, "I want my students to read Marx."
Professor George says he teaches a seminar at Princeton along with the much more left-wing professor Cornel West.
"We don't need parity to transform the intellectual culture" of a university," he said. Of the 1,000 Princeton faculty, 500 don't need to be conservative. "I don't even need 50," he said. "I need 15. I can't do it by myself."
He advised donors not to underestimate the power of money, shame, or persistence, and to "find friendly faculty within institutions with whom to work."
He also advised them that, if their alma maters are not open to their ideas or approaches, to consider giving to other universities.
Professor George said courses should present not only debates between liberalism and conservatism but also discuss debates within or among conservatives, such as libertarianism versus traditionalism.
The openness to debate or conflicting perspectives was on full display at the "Capitalism on Campus" conference Wednesday, as some of the invited panelists seemed skeptical that there was a big problem
"I don't see any massive wave of antipathy to capitalism on most college campuses," said a professor of history at Catholic University, Jerry Muller. He pointed to a list of plans for graduating history majors in the Dartmouth College class of 2010. Three were going to law school and one was going to teach elementary school, while five were going into finance at Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Oppenheimer, and Bain Capital.
Professor Miron of Harvard spoke of millions of parents "who kill themselves" driving their children to soccer practice and not going on vacation in hopes of winning admission to these institutions for their children and of being able to pay for them.
"How do we know parents are wrong?" he asked. "What's the market failure?"
He was also skeptical of the ability of college instructors to influence the world views of their students. "Kids question, they think, they ask, they have a lot of influences other than what happens in the classroom," he said.
Herbert London, who is professor emeritus and the former John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University, and who served for 20 years as dean of its Gallatin School, anticipated Professor Miron's question and answers it in his new book Diary of a Dean.
Mr. London, now president of the Hudson Institute, writes, "To my surprise parents are starting to understand the problem as well. Fifty-thousand dollars a year spent on propaganda contending America is a fascist society and the middle class is comprised of bourgeois pigs seems patently absurd. Many moms and dads are telling Johnnie and Janie that they might be better off getting a job—if they can secure one—and going to college part time. It is hard, of course, to overcome the labeling effect of a college degree from an elite institution, and it is difficult to alter the rite of passage from high school to college. But there are signs that this is happening perhaps precipitated by the economic recession."
Even the anti-capitalist professors, in other words, may find themselves not entirely immune from the potentially positive effects of market forces.