Jan 26, 2010

President Lindsay's Ideological Imbalance

"As important as it is for voters to know what kind of financial capital a candidate is drawing from in a bid to serve the public, it is even more important that voters know what kind of moral capital a candidate is drawing from. Just as we don't want public officials who are dominated by their ties with special interests, we don't want officials dominated by their greed, lust or arrogance. In fact, knowing character is more important than knowing about contributions, because it is corruption inside a person that fuels corruption on the outside."
-Tom Lindsay on Bill Clinton (see full article here)

Thomas K. Lindsay is not the kind of radical conservative that many on Shimer's left would like him to be. He doesn't rave and his rants are well-spoken, politically measured and often - too often, some might say - reference Aristotle. He was, indeed, a W. Bush appointee to the NEH and, thus, a member of one of the most radically conservative presidential administrations in U.S. history, but the work he did - the Picturing America Project - was perhaps the most benign thing Bush could take credit for. He was an adjunct Heritage Foundation "scholar" - perhaps the best-funded conservative think tank in the history of the planet - and he likes to go to their meetings (like this one), but his available writings for them are a far cry from the scorched-earth narratives one can easily find in their archives. He wrote an essay endorsing Alan Keyes as a vice-presidential candidate and a movie review which placed responsibility for becoming pregnant solely on women, "by nature." He apparently also penned an article contesting affirmative action for the National Association of Scholars (see their defense of Lindsay under "Shimer in the News" in the sidebar), though, after it cost Lindsay a job at St. Joseph's in PA, he presumably had it taken off the NAS website as it appears to have vanished from their archives.

The most damning evidence of Lindsay's ideological agenda for Shimer, however, is found in an appeal he made to a director at the Cato Institute which he made the mistake of leaving out on the Shimer floor. Referencing the recent Reader article (see "Shimer in the News" in the sidebar), he brags about being labeled a "conservative menace" in the "left-wing media," claiming that it's because he is "restoring serious civic education to the curriculum - the core of which is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Federalist, etc. . ." This letter reveals not only the kinds special interests he's seeking to support Shimer - Cato is another leading ultra-conservative think tank - but his attitude toward the conflict he's creating at the College. Far from being concerned that he has upset the Shimer community so much by his actions that the story has made its way into the local news media for lack of internal recourse, Lindsay proudly uses it as proof that he is succeeding in his project of remaking Shimer in his particular ideological cast, a cast that will fit, he suggests, nicely with the interests of the Cato Institute. What's perhaps more remarkable is how he takes credit for these American foundational documents being a part of Shimer's core curriculum. Last time we checked, they've been in there since we adopted the Hutchins curriculum in 1950.

In addition to these troubling facts, in his short tenure as Shimer's president, Lindsay has brought sixteen new members onto the Board. Though expanding the Board is not in itself a bad thing, the fact that they all have such radically conservative credentials reveals Lindsay's own agenda. Recent Board members include: multiple W. Bush appointees, multiple Earhart Foundation grant recipients, multiple Olin foundation grant recipients, contributors to and the president of the Heartland Institute, contributors to the National Review, the President and CEO of Free to Choose Media, the founder of the Center for Individual Rights, and on and on . . . (see bios in the following post)

What unifies these Board members is a mix of conservative and libertarian platforms: free market "solutions" to public policy problems, small government, traditional cultural values, individual liberty as a U.S. national ideal, etc, etc. And, though the fact that these ideologies are represented on Shimer's Board is not itself a problem, the fact that they're all of this ilk is. President Lindsay claims to be committed to open dialogue, but on the Board he's not interested in hearing any viewpoints but these. And, apparently, neither are his Board allies: they recently tabled six new nominees, the first non-Lindsay motivated nominees since his presidency began and the final six needed to reach the 40 the ByLaws allow (see post above, "Why you should be concerned about Shimer, NOW").

In the end, President Lindsay's ideological imbalance disables him from listening to the Shimer community, rendering him an ineffective manager. He's willing to talk with you, but after a point, he won't hear you. At a school based on genuine dialogue, it's no wonder why he has failed as its leader.