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No Conservatives Need Apply

By Erik Root

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December 18, 2015

West Liberty University (WLU) is the oldest college in West Virginia’s state supported higher ed system. I have taught there since 2007 and was promoted to full professor last year. I also was chairman of Economic Philosophy in the Social and Behavioral Sciences department.

My career at WLU came to a screeching halt this fall, unfortunately. My department has been terminated and I’m looking for a new job. The reason why this occurred boils down to nothing more than political animosity toward the school’s former president. 

Until recently, the community (Wheeling, WV) often derided WLU as the “the high school on the hill.” It was a run-down college that lacked professors dedicated to academic excellence. Eight years ago, however, the college began to change all that when Robin Capehart was hired as president.

WLU began to flourish under Capehart. He encouraged productivity by instituting financial incentives for scholarly publication, and by encouraging professors to raise monies in the form of grants to increase the emphasis on liberal education.

He also guided the college to university status, although some professors were concerned that the higher profile might cause them to have to work harder.

Last academic year, the president came under fire in what one person told me was a “Democrat party hit” in the form of an “objective” state ethics investigation. The complaint included 14 charges related to alleged misuse of university funds.

At this point, the faculty engaged in a public campaign to condemn the president and anyone associated with him, both on social media and in the local press. As the Wheeling Intelligencer reported, after the 13-6 faculty senate vote to oust him, some senators took to the floor to set their sites on a “new target.” 

The result was the ouster of the Chief Financial Officer Jack Wright, who in the public fallout from the Capehart debacle, tried to balance the budget that the faculty in part caused by their public campaign to bring down the president. According to one public email sent by a faculty senator: “Mr. Wright has seriously overreached and has tried to dictate his will without academic consultation. This is unconscionable, indefensible, and must be called out. Like Fonzi, Mr. Wright has jumped the shark. His time at West Liberty University needs to come to a swift end.”

In the midst of this outburst, president Capehart was found not guilty, but had to pay a $5,000 fine for, according to the State Journal, “soliciting private business” from a part-time employee. Essentially, this employee worked, uncoerced, on WLU’s time for a movie in which the president’s daughter starred. The remaining 13 charges were dropped. The local paper reported that Capehart’s actions did not cost the university “a single penny.”

Tired of a whining faculty and administration, Capehart resigned the presidency. However, he signed a new contract as a consultant, remaining employed by WLU. The faculty senate went apoplectic and tried to have the contract declared null and void. At present, though, Capehart remains a consultant for the university until the end of the year. 

All of this acrimony plunged the university into an enrollment and budgetary shortfall. Enrollment is down approximately 16 percent, one of the greatest declines in the state.  

According to the internal enrollment report, the decreased freshmen enrollment alone will cost the university approximately $700,000. In addition, it is likely that some donors will withhold their contributions.

As the funds dried up, WLU has had to shutter one of its oldest buildings because it can’t afford to keep the lights on, while some classrooms remain in grave disrepair because the university can no longer afford the upkeep.

The ousting of president Capehart did not satisfy the faculty’s desire to be rid of conservatives. They wanted more retributive justice.

In September, I was informed by the Interim Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Interim Chair, speaking also for the provost, that the college was eliminating the entire political science major. As a result, my services would no longer be needed. When I inquired how they arrived at such a decision, they fumbled an answer that amounted to the lack of majors in the program. However, there are several programs on campus with fewer students.

When I offered to help offset some of the departmental costs from the grants I had secured, the administration balked. So, there must have been another reason why they wanted to terminate my contract. The reason, I believe, is that my teaching and philosophy did not fit their ideological biases. 

I taught one of the few classes on campus that was dedicated to the classical liberal arts, a course that exposed students to the ideas of free markets, liberty, and equality (rightly understood). It was, in part, funded by grants from the Koch Foundation, BB&T Foundation, and the Institute of Humane Studies at George Mason University. Those grants also funded grants and scholarships for promising students at the college so they could offset the cost of books and tuition. 

Even though the class included broad readings from Nietzsche and Marx, along with Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Catholic Social Teaching, and the American Founders, it was not good enough for the provost who said to another member of the faculty that he “wished there was different ideology represented on campus” than the one I offered. Another administrator advised students to switch majors from political science to “anything else.”

What made them so incensed? The mere consideration of ideas different from their beliefs. Even though the campus is riddled with professors who are left of center, many on the faculty and administration felt the need to keep students from any exposure to the philosophy of liberty.

So even though WLU is cash-strapped, it has turned up its nose at nearly $1 million in grants. University officials wouldn't come out and say it explicitly, but the reason couldn't be more obvious: the money came from classical liberal foundations.

Although political science had to go, there are many odd classes deemed acceptable by WLU. One such class, “Batman versus Superman,” is being advertised on campus as a serious offering connected to a comic books major (which has zero majors in the program), while another class, entitled “Rock and Roll Appreciation,” is offered and it even counts as a fulfillment of a student’s core required classes. 

With classes like these, just what kind of education are the students getting? Are they served well by eliminating an entire major dedicated to the understanding of our political system and the cultivation of good citizenship? 

In an effort to combat the poor image in the community, WLU instituted a “West Liberty Matters” marketing campaign. Yet, even that was banned so as not to “appear insensitive to the national movement involving the same terminology.”

Not that an empty slogan would have helped WLU’s self inflicted money woes, but it is representative that the safe space for free inquiry is rapidly being driven underground.

These are deeply unserious and vapid times in higher education. Unfortunately, the ideological intolerance at WLU is no different than what we see on many other campuses across the nation.

What is happening at WLU is a result of a politicized faculty and administration. Parents should question whether to send their sons and daughters to an institution that is long on indoctrination and short on the ideas of freedom and liberty—the true calling of higher education.

(Editor's nore: This article was adapted from an article previously published on The Federalist on December 1, 2015.)

 


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