TRUTH IN LABELING: THE SCALIA SCHOOL OF LAW AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
My employer has done it again! The public university at which I am privileged to teach (and I mean that quite seriously) has accepted a large sum of money from the Koch Foundation and another Far Right donor on terms that require its first-tier law school to be renamed the Antonin Scalia School of Law.
George Mason is currently the largest academic recipient in the country of Koch brothers’ funds, which are used to finance a free-market research and lobbying institute called the Mercatus Center, an equally Hayekian economics department, something called the Institute for Humane Studies, and various other scholars and projects dedicated to the worship of unregulated capitalist markets. Now, for a bargain price of $30 million, we will have a law school to immortalize Nino Scalia.
A petition drive has begun to protest this decision, but I have to say that objecting to a perfectly accurate label seems silly even if it is well intended. For decades prior to the current naming ruckus, the law school has been a nationally known haven for legal scholars who rank property rights above other human rights, have never met a government-sponsored social welfare program that they can stomach, consider Constitutional Law a metaphysical quest for the Framers’ “original intentions,” and believe that legal policy should be based on allocative efficiency, not distributive justice.
Why protest now that this factory producing legal doctrines designed to serve the One Percent is being named for a judge who devoted his life to the same service? Where were the protestors when the law school was being transformed into a “Law and Economics” school? Truth in labeling isn’t a bad thing. It is the product that requires criticism, not the brand.
Of course, private donors have the right to support academic programs that they agree with, and academics have the right to raise funds to support their programs. In my view, two issues that ARE worth investigating and, if necessary, protesting, are these:
First, to what extent should the resources of any university – especially a public university like George Mason – be dedicated to the pursuit of private interests like those of the Brothers Koch, whose apparently sincere dedication to the values of what might be called anarcho-capitalism is entirely consistent with their ownership of the second largest private corporation in the United States, a dominant force in the “manufacturing, refining, and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, energy, fiber, intermediates and polymers, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper, chemical technology equipment, ranching, finance, commodities trading, and other ventures and investments,” according to Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, the Kochs tend to fund academic programs (like climate denial “science”) that feather their own nests.
Second, and relatedly, to what extent should agreements between the university and donors like the Kochs be held in confidence, with their provisions and understandings kept secret rather than transparently revealed? The Kochs are famous for micro-managing the projects they fund, which in the university context may mean dictating curricula, research and action projects, academic appointments, and other matters far more important, in the long run, than the name of a law school or other department. A Faculty Senate task force at George Mason is investigating the problem of private donor agreements and will report on it shortly.
The Nino Scalia School of Law? Why not, if that reflects the school’s actual thought and practice? But the Koch Brothers University at George Mason? That’s another kettle of fish altogether.