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ARI, the Anthem Foundation, and the long arm of rationalization

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13, 2007:

It is not every day that a foundation offers to pour tens of thousands of dollars into a humanities department at a small regional institution. But this past spring, the philosophy department at the San Marcos campus of Texas State University received such an offer — and turned it down.

The invitation came from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship, a California-based organization that promotes the ideas of the late Ayn Rand, whose much-loved and much-loathed novel Atlas Shrugged will mark its 50th anniversary in October. The foundation offered Texas State a long-term grant to pay the salary of a visiting professor whose specialty would be objectivism, as Rand termed her philosophical system.

Since its creation in 2001, the Anthem Foundation has donated roughly $400,000 annually to support research, conferences, and lecture series.

[skipping a few paragraphs…]

Mr. Fulmer and some of his colleagues also had specific worries about the world of Rand scholarship, which has occasionally been marred by schisms and accusations of scholarly foul play. In particular, the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization with which the Anthem Foundation is closely associated, has sometimes been accused of enforcing rigid ideological conformity — and even of failing to acknowledge the work of scholars associated with rival organizations.

[skipping a few paragraphs]

The foundation also makes smaller-scale grants to support conferences and lecture series. One recipient is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose philosophy department contains no objectivists.[*] The department has also received grants of more than $500,000 from the BB&T Charitable Foundation to hire visiting instructors or postdoctoral fellows whose specialities are “Aristotle and theories of human nature, ethics and economics, social and political philosophy, or objectivity and values.”

Neither Anthem nor BB&T has meddled in the department’s curriculum, says Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, the department’s chairman. “They’ve been utterly nondirective,” he says. “They’ve both been wonderful.”

[skipping a few paragraphs…]

While researching the objectivist world online, Ms. Raphael began to fear that Anthem’s grants were given only to a narrow range of scholars associated with the Ayn Rand Institute. No Anthem grants appear to go to scholars associated with David Kelley, a former Vassar College philosophy professor who broke with the institute in 1990 amid a personal and ideological dispute that concerned, among other things, whether it is appropriate for objectivists to speak at events organized by libertarians. Mr. Kelley, who now directs the Atlas Society, an objectivist group in Washington, says he can understand that the institute might not want anything to do with him personally. But he believes it is absurd for the institute to demand that its associates “repudiate” any and all scholars who “tolerate” him — a formulation that often appears in objectivist blog posts.

Mr. McCaskey, the Anthem president, says that Ms. Raphael’s concern about narrowness is unfair and unfounded. Many of the Anthem Foundation’s grants, he points out, go to institutions like the University of North Carolina, where there are no objectivists on the faculty.[*] And Mr. Gotthelf noted that he himself has historically had an arm’s-length relationship with the institute. (David Glenn, “Advocates of Objectivism Make New Inroads, ” [requires subscription])

*Actually, that changed in 2008, when UNC-Chapel Hill hired Gregory Salmieri.

From a letter to me written by Yaron Brook, and co-signed by Leonard Peikoff and John McCaskey, dated Jan. 29, 2008:

Dear Mr. Khawaja,

I am writing in response to your recent emails to ARI and to Dr. Peikoff inquiring about ARI’s position on “Fact and Value” and whether agreement with it is a prerequisite for employment as a staff intellectual at ARI. Dr. Peikoff has shared with me your email. With his authorization, I am replying on behalf of both him and ARI.

I have also discussed your emails with John McCaskey, president of the Anthem Foundation and board member of ARI, since you indicated by email that he was one of the “representatives of the Ayn Rand Institute and the Anthem Foundation” with whom you spoke. I will in this letter speak for Dr. McCaskey as well. If there were other ARI or Anthem representatives with whom you spoke, I would appreciate knowing.

Although ARI encourages its board members and other associated with it to let job seekers know about our constant search for talented employees, only a hiring manager is of course in a position to offer someone a job at the Institute. No offer is made without an authorized signature. So to be clear: ARI has not extended to you an offer of employment and is not at this time considering doing so.

Now to address your specific inquiry. To be employed as an intellectual representative of ARI requires a demonstration that one understands and agrees with Ayn Rand’s philosophy and ARI’s mission. Since the philosophic claims made in “Fact and Value” are to be found in Ayn Rand’s philosophic work and form part of her philosophy, an inability to understand those claims is certainly relevant to employment as a staff intellectual at ARI. Outright rejection of those claims, which you state is your position, is incompatible with such employment.

There is no disagreement on this matter between ARI, Dr. Peikoff, or Dr. McCaskey. Thus I do not believe that I, Dr. Peikoff, Dr. McCaskey, or any authorized representative of ARI would say that someone’s current understanding and acceptance of “Fact and Value” are, as you put it, “irrelevant” to employment in an intellectual position at the Institute. No one I have spoken with about this matter believes he ever said or implied that.

Past misunderstanding or disagreement with “Fact and Value” (or with any of the other principles of Objectivism) does not, of course, necessarily preclude someone from employment in an intellectual position at ARI. So if your evaluation of “Fact and Value” changes fundamentally, feel free to let us know.

Finally, let me clear up a couple of misunderstandings you seem to have. You refer to “membership in ARI” and “participation in its activities.” ARI is not a club. It has no “members.” Anyone can participate in its activities by, for example, becoming a donor or attending one of our public lectures or summer conferences. Also, you refer to “activities sponsored by the Anthem Foundation.” Anthem makes grants to universities, and the grants support a wide range of scholarly activities. Someone “vehemently . . . rejecting” a tenet of Objectivism, as you say you do of “Fact and Value,” would not qualify for any direct and substantial grant from Anthem itself. But the criteria for participation in activities conducted by grant recipients — whether classes, workshops, lectures, colloquia, edited volumes, etc. — are left to the discretion of the grant recipient and his or her university. We hope this helps you understand the organizations.

Sincerely,

Yaron Brook
President & Executive Director

The Ayn Rand Institute
2121 Alton Parkway
Suite 250
Irvine, CA 92606

Here’s the correspondence with Brook in full.

I would be curious to know whether Geoffrey Sayre-McCord would be willing, in light of the preceding, to re-affirm the claim he made in the CHE article about UNC Chapel Hill’s not being directed by an external non-academic funding source. Whether he realized it or not, he was flat wrong, and his association with the Anthem Foundation compromised the academic integrity of UNC Chapel Hill’s Philosophy Program. That is a scandal, and it deserves to be more widely known than it is. Professor Raphael (quoted in the CHE article) turned out to be entirely correct about the consequences, intended or unintended, of UNC’s association with Anthem, and by implication, with the Ayn Rand Institute.

Anyway, feel free to draw your own conclusions and act accordingly.

Irfan

P.S. When I said that Peikoff and McCaskey had “co-signed” Brook’s letter, what I meant was that he spoke for them in the letter with their (apparent) authorization.  I didn’t mean that the letter literally bore their signatures.

P.P.S. By the way, I must apologize to Yaron Brook for keeping him in the dark all these years about who it was that told me that agreement with “Fact and Value” was irrelevant to employment in an intellectual position at the Ayn Rand Institute. It was Allan Gotthelf, in the late fall of 2007. I told him that I rejected “Fact and Value” and everything it implied. He told me that that didn’t much matter to being involved with ARI or Anthem; there were ways of being involved with ARI on the scholarly side without too loudly disclosing my thoughts on such taboo subjects. I told him I didn’t do things that way. We argued about it off and on for the next four years. I’m not done with the argument.

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