There are only a few prestigious outposts of free-market thought in the world of higher education. The Hoover Institution at Stanford comes to mind, as does the University of Chicago School of Economics. Then there are two gems at George Mason University — the Mercatus Center and the George Mason School of Law.
Mercatus scholars opine on economic issues with an emphasis on fiscal conservatism and free-markets, while the School of Law is renowned as a center of the discipline of “law and economics,” which applies microeconomic theory to the analysis of the law.Mercatus has come under scrutiny for its support by free-market industrialist Charles Koch, the very mention of whose name sends progressives into paroxysms but until recently, the school of law had escaped vilification. But that’s all changed since $30 million in donations from the Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous donor would rename the law school in honor of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Various schools, centers and institutes in higher education across the country are named in honor of liberal, progressive and Democratic icons, but the thought that a single law school being named after a conservative paragon is too much for some to bear. Last week, GMU’s faculty senate passed a resolution expressing “deep concern” about the gifts and the renaming of the school in honor of Scalia.
Faculty members objected to memorializing a Supreme Court Justice who contributed to the “polarized climate in this country that runs counter to the values of a university that celebrates civil discourse” and worried about external branding of the university “as a conservative institution.”
Furthermore, the faculty senate said the administration had failed to disclose the terms of the gifts that would provide funding for 12 new faculty, additional staff and support for two new centers for a ten-year period, and wondered what long-term liability the university might incur from these new commitments.
The controversy has gotten considerable press in the Washington area. Some were quick to play the race card. Washingtonian magazine, for instance, gave prominent attention to the remarks of the president of GMU’s Black Law Student Association, who called Scalia “a borderline racist who’s made terrible comments” referring to affirmative action. Such an action, she said, would only contribute to a feeling of “isolation” in a student body that’s only four percent black.
But GMU President Angel Cabrera stood firm in a letter responding to the faculty:
Agreement with his views is, however, not the reason why we are renaming the law school for Justice Scalia. We are not endorsing his opinions on any specific issue. We are recognizing a man who served our country at the highest level of government for 30 years and who many experts of diverse ideological persuasions—from faculty colleagues in our law school, to his peers on the Supreme Court, to the president of the United States—consider to have been a great jurist who had a profound impact in the legal field.