"It's an exceptionally rich opportunity for the important role that donors can play," says Anne Neal, president of ACTA. "There are opportunities to fund courses that may not be available on campus, or a lecture series to bring voices that might not otherwise be heard."
A key role has also been played by two grant-making efforts, launched separately in 2007, that have partnered since 2009: the Veritas Fund, established by the Manhattan Institute, and the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America's Founding Principles and History.
Veritas, whose materials boast of underwriting "programs and courses in subjects which until now have been neglected on the campus or have been out of favor within the largely one-sided professoriate," raised and distributed $2.5 million in its first year, funding or creating programs at 10 campuses, including Boston College (one of five Veritas "flagship centers").
The Jack Miller Center got off the ground with an anonymous $1 million donation, and now gives out more than $3 million a year, with partner programs at more than 40 colleges, including Boston College, Brown, Holy Cross, Dartmouth, Harvard, and MIT. The center even plans to create a regional network of programs in the Boston area, copying what it has already done in its "Chicago Initiative."STRIDENT STRIDES
Once Veritas or the Jack Miller Center becomes associated with a program, word quickly spreads in conservative circles, prompting more funding from foundations, institutions, and private donors.
That's happened to MIT's Concourse Program, which tries to introduce freshman engineers to great thinking of Western Civilization. Concourse has been around for 40 years, but after the Jack Miller Center donated to it in 2007 others soon followed, including Charles Koch, and the Pennsylvania-based Apgar Foundation, which began funding college programs in 2008. (Apgar, created from an automotive-service magnate's fortune, describes Concourse's mission as such: "to ground students in the sources of Judeo-Christian and Western values," which might be a surprise to MIT's hundreds of Muslim and Hindu students.)
The faculty running these programs insist that the funders do not dictate what they do. "I have never felt under any ideological constraint," says Susan Shell, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Western Political Tradition at Boston College, which receives grants from Veritas and Jack Miller. "If I had felt such constraint, I would not have accepted the foundations' support."
John Tomasi, who heads the Political Theory Project at Brown, says the same. His program, in fact, has made a point of presenting two-sided debates on issues. "I could have brought conservative courses and conservative speakers to campus, because there aren't enough of them," Tomasi says. "But I decided not to become just a conservative group trying to address some imbalance that exists."
That approach has made it one of the most popular political groups on campus, with more than 700 student members — very different from those 1980s and '90s right-wing campus newspapers, which tended to isolate small cadres of sneering, combative conservatives.
That "preach to the choir" mood does exist at some of the other new (or newly funded) programs, however. At Amherst, Hadley Arkes has brought a string of reliable liberal-bashers to campus through the Colloquium on the American Founding, and headlined the 2009 event with his own speech titled "Obama and the Audacity of Deceit."