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Buying the campus mind
Ideologues are paying big bucks to influence the college experience — but you won’t hear that from your school
Who Gives

Top conservative funders of colleges, with other sample grant recipients:

Walton Family Foundation $15,788,166

Charter schools nationwide, National Tax Limitation Foundation

Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation $6,635,384

Focus on the Family, Heritage, Right to Life of Michigan

John M. Olin Foundation $6,217,384

National Right to Work Legal Defense, Institute for Justice

Smith Richardson Foundation $5,232,959

American Enterprise Institute, Linda Chavez, Manhattan Institute

Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation $3,613,950

Cardinal Newman Society, US English, Manhattan Institute

Richard Lounsbery Foundation $2,252,917

Science & Environmental Policy Project, Independent Institute

Randolph Foundation $2,126,000

America’s Future Foundation, English-Speaking Union

Sarah Scaife Foundation $1,678,000

Accuracy in Media, Pacific Legal Foundation, Tax Foundation

Earhart Foundation $876,648

Frontiers of Freedom Institute, Ave Maria School of Law

Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation $870,759

National Review Institute, Heritage, Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Top liberal funders of colleges, with sample grant recipients:

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation $27,322,842

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Conservation Fund

Ford Foundation $26,542,242

ACLU, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Conservation Fund

Ahmanson Foundation $9,854,500

LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services, environmental groups

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation $6,915,177

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, World Wildlife Fund

Chicago Community Trust $6,747,532

NAACP, Nature Conservancy, Planned Parenthood

Open Society Institute $5,505,637

Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, Human Rights Watch

Tides Foundation $2,896,945

Abortion Access Project, Feminist Majority Foundation

Charles H. Revson Foundation $1,817,800

The American Prospect, Children’s Defense Fund, Tides Center

Otto Bremer Foundation $1,489,291

Outfront, Jobs Now Coalition, ACLU

Philadelphia Foundation $750,010

AIDS Fund, International Planned Parenthood, LAMDA

Source: Compiled by the Boston Phoenix from most foundations’ most-recent available annual reports to the Internal Revenue Service.


This April, the Smith College Center for the Study of Social and Political Change released a report claiming that college campuses are overrun with liberal faculty. Conservatives used the report to opine, as Cathy Young of the Reason Foundation did in her Boston Globe column, that this "lack of intellectual diversity endangers the very purpose of the academy." Then, during this spring’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Republicans used the study to argue for including an "academic bill of rights," which sought to withhold government grants from colleges whose professors push a "political" agenda in their classrooms. Similar state-level legislation pending in more than a dozen legislatures — including Massachusetts’s — was also bolstered by the study.

This is all rather ironic, given that the author of the study, Stanley Rothman, is an openly conservative ideologue whose center exists at Smith only because of funding provided by right-wing foundations paying him to pump out material for their political agenda. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, a wing of Richard Mellon Scaife’s conservative empire that also funds almost every right-wing think tank you’ve ever heard of, provides the center with $75,000 a year. The Earhart Foundation, a long-time funder of conservative economics thinkers — and more recently, of college anti-affirmative-action campaigns — chips in $25,000.

Those two foundations, in fact, pumped $2.5 million into college coffers in 2003, according to a Phoenix review of their most recent available tax records. But that’s just a drop in an increasingly large tub of money coming from private, ideologically driven foundations, in a deliberate effort to use colleges as their breeding grounds. And unlike years past, much of the money is going toward humanities and social-science programs.

Foundation funding for the humanities grew from $134.1 million in 1992 to $335 million in 2002, according to The Foundation Center, a nonpartisan, philanthropy-supported research group based in New York that tracks more than 1000 charitable foundations. Over this 10-year span, colleges and universities were facing a variety of increasing financial pressures, including tighter government funding, high campus infrastructure costs, and, starting in 2000, shrinking endowment investments.

The resulting need for money has not only made these schools more willing to seek out grants from potentially biased sources, it has made it easier for those sources to demand greater control over how their money is used. Two-fifths of humanities grant dollars to colleges — funding for language, literature, history, philosophy, religion, ethics, art criticism, and social sciences — went to fund specific projects in 2002.

But is it bias? Consider this: the Walton Family Foundation gave more than $15 million in contributions to US colleges and universities in 2003. The same family has spent millions supporting George W. Bush and the GOP, and the family’s namesake, Wal-Mart, consistently refuses to sell CDs, DVDs, magazines, and books that its in-store censors deem inappropriate.

University reliance on private grants in the hard sciences has drawn skepticism from, say, those concerned that research paid for by drug companies will inevitably skew toward the funders’ wishes. But the effect may be even greater in other, more politically charged fields of academia, where analysis is often partly subjective and funding comes more often from private sources: while the federal government pays for nearly two-thirds of all college-based research and development in the sciences, it pays for only 40 percent in the social sciences, education, and humanities, according to the National Science Foundation. Each year, the balance — a billion dollars — is paid for largely by various sources, with private foundations being a large and growing chunk of it. At Harvard, for example, foundations paid for $86 million of such funding in 2004, up from $57 million in 2000. But in contrast with the skepticism shown toward industry funding of the hard sciences, few question the motives behind foundation grants in the humanities and social sciences.

The arts and humanities side of many campuses is filling up with faculty, research, interdisciplinary centers, students, publications, and campus events sponsored by ideologically driven donors. Whether students know it or not — and most do not — it is changing their college experience.

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Issue Date: September 30 - October 6, 2005
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