Donors paying colleges to make “Atlas Shrugged” required reading

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Conservative darling Ayn Rand has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence lately, after being embraced by the Tea Party, and the release of last month's critically panned film Atlas Shrugged: Part 1. I can understand the fascination with such a bold, polarizing figure, despite her personal shortcomings. Espousing rational egotism, power worship, and anarcho-capitalism, Rand basically founded a cult with her own philosophy of Objectivism. And having a disciple like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would mean her ideas would later subtly influence monetary policy.

Rand and her brand of reverse-Marxism has, in recent years, found admirers in such individuals as Ron Paul, Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. It's interesting that a pro-choice, anti-war atheist like Rand could be welcomed into the conservative fold, a contradiction on the face of it.

Rand also has a fan in John Allison, former chairman of bank holding company BB&T Corp. Through the auspices of the BB&T Charitable Foundation, Allison gives schools grants of up to $2 million if they agree to play ball and create a tailor-made course on capitalism, with Rand's Atlas Shrugged as required reading. Now, you might think that our hallowed institutions of higher learning would be above selling the curriculum to the highest bidder, but no, at least sixty schools have eagerly snatched up the cash and begun teaching Atlas Shrugged. I have a feeling that Mein Kampf wouldn't have gone over as easily.

And yes, faculty are protesting. Meredith College in North Carolina, where Allison seems to have undue influence (he's currently a professor at Wake Forest University's Business School), rejected a seven-year, $420,000 grant from the BB&T Foundation after some teachers made their displeasure felt. (As well as, presumably, their views that academic freedom has its limits.) And Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor at North Carolina's Guilford College, lodged his protest in the pages of Academe magazine, after his school shook on a ten-year, $500,000 grant from Allison's foundation.

Rand, who wrote The Virtue of Selfishness, would be delighted at all this selling out, and the attendant dissemination of her philosophy. As an anti-statist, she would heartily approve of the growing influence that private donors with their strings-attached generosity seem to be enjoying on college campuses today.