The Right's Need for Alternative Institutions

The recent gift of 50 million dollars to the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University is great for that school, but is also great for the legal academy. It rewards a young school that is 21st in legal citations among law schools (right after the venerable University of Texas Law School) and has until very recently had very few resources to sustain its upward trajectory. And it is a school where many conservative scholars who face discrimination elsewhere have been able to find a place. Indeed, its success so far is a testament to discrimination. The legal academy is a very hierarchical business where top schools lure away the best scholars of lower-ranked schools. Yet very few of GMU’s predominantly conservative scholars have ever been hired away by higher ranking schools although many, if not most, would substantially improve the productivity of those schools.

But this gift also underscores the importance of building alternative institutions to those controlled by the left. The donors, Judge Allison Rouse and his wife Dorothy, did not attend George Mason or its law school. They instead had attended the University of San Francisco and the University of California at Berkeley. But they chose not to give to their alma maters or to some other elite school although such a gift could have gone to a more prestigious place and thus better enhanced the national reputation of their family.

They were right to eschew prestige in favor of a gift that would help advance their views of the world or at least not undermine them. It is almost impossible today to give to an elite university without advancing the cause of left-liberalism. To be sure, there are a few exceptions. Certain centers, like that of Robert George’s James Madison Program at Princeton, are now accepted by their universities and provide an important counterpoint to the general ideological atmosphere. It might also be possible to give donations to the hard sciences at universities without ideological fear.

But unrestricted donations to elite universities will inevitably support programs that are not substantially open to conservative and libertarian viewpoints and are likely to become even more closed in the near future. In particular, the centrality of what is called “diversity” to the elite university makes it very difficult for these institutions to accept or integrate conservatives, because almost all conservatives, whether of the social or classical liberal kind, have very great doubts about the identity politics that have become so central to the curriculum, research, and hiring in the humanities and social sciences.

The rise of Antonin Scalia Law School parallels the earlier rise of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has become the most important civic association started in the latter part of the 20th century by offering a self-conscious alternative to the left-leaning legal establishment, including the American Bar Association. If its founders had instead tried to change the ABA from within, we would never have heard of their initiative again. And if conservative alumni donate to elite universities, their hard-earned dollars will become resources to undermine the social principles that underlay their success.