These two organizations seem like mirror images of one another, so what explains their different approaches to debate?
Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University has a very highly cited faculty, showing that it has a relatively large impact on the world of legal ideas. It is ranked as the 21st, just after the University of Texas. This ranking is an extraordinary achievement, given that it was a young school with a small endowment, not at all comparable to long established schools like Texas. As is clear from objective data, Antonin Scalia Law School’s faculty is also unusual in having a faculty that it is right of center in a profession where every school with a higher citation count is left of center, sometimes far to the left of center. For instance, schools in the top twenty citations regularly have less than ten percent conservatives and frequently less than five percent.
This is the context of the large recent gifts to the law school, a context that makes nonsense of the idea in a recent New York Times article that conservatives are trying to buy influence over its hiring or anything else. The reporters have the causation exactly backwards. The gift is not designed to elicit conservative thought from the school. Instead the school’s thoughtful conservatism elicited the gift. Those who support liberty, as defined in classical liberalism, want to help an effective institution that does not currently follow the academic orthodoxy arrayed against it. What a surprise!
Anyone who is interested in more diversity of views in the legal academy should also applaud this gift. Indeed, anyone who wants more high impact scholarship should be happy. Given how well George Mason has done with little money, increasing its endowment is likely to do much more at the margin than giving to most other schools.
And the insinuations in the article that there is something wrong with an official of the Federalist Society trying to help land a gift is silly. Charitable donations often occur through networks. Nor is it shocking that someone at the Federalist Society recommends a candidate for a faculty position. Recommendations come in from many quarters. The notion that Antonin Scalia Law School faculty will not hire on the merits is refuted by its extensive track record. The scholars hired there have been far more productive than at all but elite schools with far more resources than George Mason.
It would be charitable to attribute the approach of this article to the reporters’ ignorance of the legal academy, its ideology, and its practices. But another possibility is that it reflects the mindset of the New York Times, composed almost entirely of left-liberals, to entrench left-liberal orthodoxy in realms other than the mainstream media. Indeed, the obsession with donations of the Koch Brothers or anonymous conservatives is reminiscent of the obsession of Victor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, with George Soros’ donations to liberal educational institutions there. Both reflect a fear of challenges to what is conventional in their worlds. Both affront the spirit of liberty that makes for a healthy democratic society.