Billionaire-funded think tanks and interest groups have emerged in the recent decade as a large political force on college campuses. These organizations and their various student group arms have targeted faculty for discussing inequality, structural racism and expressing their opinions out of the classroom, in addition to manufacturing outrage toward college campuses.
On Oct. 10, a virtual event titled “Campus Culture Wars” will address this phenomenon and discuss ways college administrators can respond in a way that protects academic integrity and the free speech of professors.
The virtual event is organized by the Boise State Federation of Teachers, the local union associated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The speakers will be Jennifer Lunquist, professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Isaac Kamola, associate professor of political science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Kamola told The Arbiter that his part of the talk will focus on findings from his project called “Faculty First Responders,” which examines the right-wing media ecosystem that targets faculty and has led to the widespread targeted harassment of university faculty. The project also examines the large donors, “infrastructure behind the harassment” and the effects of said harassment on faculty.
Kamola said Lunquist will provide information about resources she’s developed to help administrators respond to these attacks in ways that don’t legitimize what is a political operation.
“The important part that I want to capture is that the target harassment of faculty appears to be spontaneous,” Kamola said. “This outrage is manufactured within a political apparatus that is directed at faculty for the purpose of delegitimizing higher education in general and legitimizing claims that there needs to be greater donor influence into higher education, [meaning] more centers funded by corporate conservative donors.“
The talk comes a year and seven months after Boise State temporarily suspended 52 UF 200: Foundations of Ethics courses after an unidentified legislator claimed a video existed of a student being forced to apologize in front of a class for being white.
Despite never seeing the video, Boise State President Dr. Marlene Tromp chose to temporarily suspend the class. An independent lawfirm’s investigation later found the claims were baseless. Tromp told the Inlander, a local newspaper in Spokane, Washington, that the university was forced to suspend the entire UF 200 department because they couldn’t identify the course in which the alleged incident took place.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation, a right-wing libertarian think tank, cited the suspension as the “tip of the iceberg” where they accuse Boise State of promoting “anti-white” and “anti-male” ideology through building a “social justice university.”
According to a ProPublica investigation co-published with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Boise State sociology professor Dora Ramirez found the move ironic, as she was teaching a UF 200 class on censorship at the time.
Another Boise State sociology professor named Michael Kreiter had his UF class on racism suspended. Kreiter told ProPublica he felt the university administrators “seem to want to placate the conservatives.”
One group that openly represents the presence of conservative donors is an organization found on virtually every college campus in the United States: Turning Point USA (TPUSA). Large TPUSA donors include the late Republican mega-donor and billionaire Foster Friess and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus.
TPUSA has a website called Professor Watchlist, where they monitor the opinions of college professors, digging up what teachers have written in op-eds or posted on social media. This has resulted in multiple professors receiving death threats.
The group is familiar with scandals and controversy. In 2018, Texas State University’s student body president stepped down 12 days after being confronted for his campaign secretly accepting $2,800 and 25 loaned iPads from TPUSA. In 2019, a Las Vegas chapter president was kicked out of the group after saying “white power” in a video that circulated online.
At a TPUSA event in Nampa, Idaho, last October, part of TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk’s “exposing critical racism” tour, a crowd member asked Kirk when they could start using their guns.
“At this point, we’re living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns?” the man asked, invoking cheers and applause from attendees. “That’s not a joke, I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”
Kirk tells the crowd to stop cheering, says he denounces the statement and tells the man he is “playing into their plans.” Despite these and other issues relating to the organization, it has raised $138 million in the last five years and continues to be a force on college campuses and in American politics.
Webinar registration for the Zoom discussion can be accessed here.