Phillip Magness writes for the Martin Center about a recent claim involving an ideological shift in higher education.

One of the most peculiar claims to gain currency in higher education holds that academia has become captive to nefarious monied interests on the political right. Writings in this genre almost always hail from scholars on the left, and attribute a variety of problems in the academy—both real and imagined—to the ulterior-motived influence of conservative and libertarian donors.

Claims of this sort range from abstract allegations of a sweeping but ill-defined “neoliberal” takeover of the university system to elaborate conspiracy theorizing about specific disliked scholars and donors a la Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains.

Common to each telling, an external force of “right wing” ideas are surreptitiously implanted into an academy that previously operated without the taint of these corrupting influences and money. The solution to higher ed’s woes may thus be found in identifying and purging the philanthropic intrusion—in “UnKoching” the campus, in discrediting “neoliberal economics,” and in attributing the achievements of associated academics not to the quality of their scholarly insights but to the purported advantages that clandestine rightwing funding provided them.

This provides a convenient way of attacking and dismissing free market thought, conservatism, libertarianism, or any other disliked ideology without engaging their arguments.

The latest example of this genre comes in the form of a bizarre report by historian David A. Walsh for the Urban Institute, purporting to trace a rightward “transformation” in American intellectual life due to the influence of conservative and libertarian donors.

Using a series of case studies about conservative foundations and donors, Walsh alleges that funding from the right effected a sweeping shift toward free-market, deregulatory, and anti-government ideology within the university system. Conservative donors, he contends, “normalized right-wing politics in the academy to an extent conservatives could have barely imagined in the 1960s.”