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How to Support Higher Education Without Promoting “Woke”

How to Support Higher Education Without Promoting “Woke”

This column first appeared in the February 15, 2024 Epoch Times.

Conservatives and moderates—individuals, businesses, and foundations—have been among the most stalwart donors to American colleges and universities. The receiving institutions often commemorate larger grants by naming classrooms, buildings, stadiums, and other facilities after their donors.

However, recent events have cast light on the ugliness that has been festering on campuses for decades: suppression of free speech, indoctrination in poisonous ideologies, racial and ethnic discrimination, and anti-Semitism.

So I agree with commentator Dennis Prager when he says we should cut off our donations. Why should we pay for the rope they’ll use to hang us?

Of course, some naive donors try to get around the problem by putting legal restrictions on their gifts. But as I pointed out in Part IV of my series “What’s Wrong With the Universities and How to Fix It,” university administrators are experts at evading such restrictions. They also know very well how to soft-soap us.

What’s the Alternative?

Fortunately, there is a way to support the transmission and advancement of human learning while still promoting “truth and tradition”—that is, in addition to subscribing to the Epoch Times. I’ve alluded to this subject in at least one previous column, but it is time to unfold it more fully.

Over the past fifty years, a network of policy centers—colloquially called “think tanks”—has grown up in the United States. (There also are Canadian counterparts, such as the Fraser Institute.) They perform many of the teaching, research, and service activities traditionally performed by colleges and universities, while promoting freedom and traditional values.

American policy centers, like American colleges and universities, usually are qualified as charitable or educational organizations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This means your donations usually are tax-deductible.

Also, like universities, they undertake research and publish their findings. Most provide educational experiences for student interns, and many engage in public service activities as well. These public service activities usually are a good deal more palatable than the bizarre causes supported by many college professors.

Unlike colleges and universities—even the smallest and most conservative ones—these policy centers commonly operate on a financial shoe string. That means they must be highly efficient. Most have almost no bureaucracy, so donors get maximum bang for their buck.

Choose the Package You Like

Like colleges and universities, policy centers vary in many ways.  The best known one—the Heritage Foundation—is a conservative institution with a national scope.  The smaller Cato Institute also has a national focus, but it is strictly libertarian. Some of its positions (such as favoring same-sex marriage) are in tension with traditional values.

A similar split appears among other policy centers, although usually in milder form. Some are more conservative, focusing on issues of family and culture. One example is Colorado’s Centennial Institute, which is affiliated with Colorado Christian University. Arizona’s Goldwater Institute (where I used to be a senior fellow) leans more libertarian. But most of these policy centers—including Centennial and Goldwater—combine freedom and tradition to varying degrees.

Centers also differ in scope. Some concentrate on a single subject area. For example, North Carolina’s James Martin Center for Academic Renewal addresses only higher education. Montana’s very well established Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) studies issues pertaining to land and land use. Within that compass, PERC’s reach is truly international.

The Heartland Institute (where I also used to be a senior fellow) is a blend. Based in Illinois, Heartland traditionally has emphasized issues common to state government. However, Heartland has branched out into climate science. It vigorously promotes facts to counter the left’s “climate change” hysteria. Moreover, it recently published a research analysis suggesting that President Donald Trump may have been the real winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Other think tanks, such as Montana’s vibrant new Frontier Institute, research policy for only a single state.

Still others combine single-state questions with those sprawling across state boundaries. Arizona’s Goldwater Institute studies Arizona policy, but also litigates constitutional law cases, both state and federal.

Now we come to my own policy center: I’ve been affiliated with Colorado’s Independence Institute for 30 years. It is the oldest of the state-based think tanks. We mix Colorado issues with work on the U.S. Constitution. Gun enthusiasts may be familiar with my colleague Dave Kopel, the country’s leading Second Amendment scholar.

Then there are differences in focus among state think tanks. The Independence Institute has been a leader in research into school choice, and it employs experts on state fiscal, energy, and health care issues. North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation similarly has education and energy centers, but it also operates the “Civitas Center for Public Integrity,” which focuses on ethics.

How Do I Know What to Support?

To a limited extent, “progressives” have imitated the conservative and free market network by setting up their own state-based policy shops. (Jon Caldara, the president of the Independence Institute, once quipped that its leftist Colorado counterpart should be called the “Dependence Institute.”)

In my experience, however, most of the “progressive” establishments are primarily fronts for political campaigns rather than lasting institutions. They are like balloons: pumped up with money and staff when Soros and his crowd launch a campaign—then deflated into little more than a name when the campaign is over. Adam Schrager’s and Rob Witwer’s book, “The Blueprint” offers some insight into this process.

If you are looking for a bona fide, permanent policy center that promotes free markets and traditional American ideals, check out the website of the State Policy Network (SPN). Most of these policy centers are SPN “Affiliates.”

The website features a U.S. map, and by clicking on a state, you can see which SPN affiliates are located in that state. Thus, if you click on the map of Pennsylvania, you’ll find the Commonwealth Foundation and the Freedom Foundation (Pennsylvania). Some states have more than two policy institutes. California, for example, has three, and Wisconsin has four. Examining the web site of an organization usually can give you an idea of what its focus is.

Of course, before donating money, you should carry your investigation beyond the organization’s website.

SPN lists other institutions as “Partners.” They include both newer think tanks,  political action groups, and organizations that arrange educational programs or engage purely in litigation.

Rob Natelson