Richard Lowery: The War for American Universities — #17

Richard Lowery is a professor of finance at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin.

Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. My guest today is Richard Lowery, a professor of finance at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas Austin. Richard received a Ph.D. in economics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is an applied game theorist who works on banking, investment banking, real estate, and other topics.

Richard was recently involved in an effort to create an independent unit within the University of Texas called the Liberty Institute, which would be dedicated to the study and teaching of individual liberty, limited government, private enterprise, and free markets.

He and his team had received a $6 million allocation in the state budget to help fund this initiative and also had support from major donors to the university. However, the project did not reach fruition. And my understanding is Richard is no longer associated with the project. He has, in a sense, resigned under protest.

I invited Richard onto the podcast for two reasons. One to give us a general feeling about what is the situation on major university campuses across the country, such that the attempt to establish this kind of independent entity within the university is necessary today.

And secondly, to give people who are, for example, political leaders who control or influence university budgets or major donors to universities to give those people a sense of what is happening and how difficult it is to get the university to do, what they want it to do or what is right. So having said that, Richard, welcome to the podcast.

Richard Lowery: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Steve Hsu: It's my pleasure. Now, let's start with just a little bit about yourself. So, you're an economist at the business school.

Richard Lowery: Yes. in the finance department, within the business school.

Steve Hsu: Yes. And so, you're somebody who's, you know, although you're an academic, you think about the real world, you are the scientific analysis that you do is meant to actually represent how the real-world works.

Richard Lowery: That's the hope

Steve Hsu: Yes. And I just want to reassure our listeners. You know, some people might just want to discount your views. They might say, well, this guy was involved in some altercation with the university and in my experience, the universities are reasonable. So, he must be a right-wing crank. And so maybe you could just say a few words about your own political background and, you know, I'm guessing before this whole thing happened, you would've considered yourself kind of just like a mainstream professor.

Is that fair?

Richard Lowery: I would've considered myself mainstream within the country, but not mainstream within the faculty. So, I was definitely relatively conservative compared to your average faculty member by a lot. But, you know, I was, you know, certainly not out going to Trump rallies or anything like that. But

Steve Hsu: How about, how about within your sub-unit within the business school? Would you say you were pretty mainstream in your political beliefs?

I mean, we have a surprising number of socialists floating around in economics. So, I've always been a little more sort of skeptical of government intervention, a little less pro-regulation than the norm. So, I guess I'm kind of leaning in that direction more than most faculty. But I never actually did anything that involved politics in any way or cared enough to, you know, show up to vote until 2020, I don't think. So, I was definitely not politically active in any sense.

Steve Hsu: Got it. Okay. I think that's good enough. And, and for my listeners, I think my listeners may have heard this before, but for new listeners to the podcast, I've always considered myself actually somewhat center left, so somewhat progressive on social issues. Probably a little more sympathetic to business and free markets than most university professors, largely because I've been involved in technology startups for a long time. But I never considered myself a radical in any way. I considered myself pretty mainstream politically.

Richard Lowery: And like, I'm an economist on social issues. I hadn't given any thought for quite some time until all this happened. Like the whole, you know, I didn't have an opinion on things like abortion and things like that. Because it's, you know, it's not economics, so I don't care. So yeah, definitely social issues weren't even on my radar until I started finding out what was going on in other parts of the university.

Steve Hsu: Right. And so, I think a common experience for professors like ourselves is that as you, as you spend more time at the university and you broaden out away from your narrow research specialty, you start to see what other people are doing on campus. And that can lead to a kind of radicalization because you realize that the university, you know, perhaps you might say, I, I don't know if you'll agree with this. But large chunks of the university are involved in, to some extent, indoctrinating our students into a certain way of thinking, which may not even be representative at all of how the overall population of the country thinks.

Richard Lowery: I think large chunks might be an understatement. There's still, you know, a couple of engineering departments that haven't gone completely for the indoctrination, but like our astronomy department is now a social justice factory. So, you know, it's pretty extensive. And I, you know, to your point, if I just like one of the first things that got me, you know, we started thinking about what we would need to do to get our students a better education.

But one thing that really struck me was shortly after I got tenure, I got on the tenure appeals committee or the committee of council on academic freedom and response as some elaborate acronym. But its main purpose was to deal with tenure appeals cases. And one of the first ones I dealt with was, you know, there were these, you know, obviously very center left type academics and like linguistics and English who were, were dealing with this case and they had, they were like whispering about how the critical race theorists were driving everyone out of the departments and how the critical race theorists were, you know, purging all the white males from campus and from their departments.

And I'd know, I didn't really know what they were talking about. And then I started looking into what, you know, what was going on in the college of liberal arts and how they would just fire people for not regurgitating the same kind of weird nonsense that I'd never seen before. And I guess, yeah, that, that was kind of my first step along the radicalization path was seeing that kind of this particular tenure case where they just fired this guy because he didn't do critical race theory in the, you know, Mexican American, Latino, Latina studies department.

And so, I was like, who are these people and why do they have zero tolerance for any idea that isn't exactly theirs. And that's kind of what got me going on it.

Steve Hsu: And I'm guessing you were shocked to see that there could be places on campus, whole departments, maybe, or subunits where a kind of ideological litmus test could be applied like that.

Richard Lowery: Yeah. I mean, I would've always, you know, I'd always assumed that often the like hinterlands of liberal arts, that if you tried to be a Republican, it was going to be harder for you than if you weren't. But what I did not end what I had not realized was that you take a bunch of people that we would all consider in, like the one percentile, the most left in the country. And if they're not far, you know, if, if you're in that one first percentile and you're not, but you're not totally on board with the sort of social justice activism, if you're still trying to be an academic at all, as opposed to putting the interests of marginalized groups ahead of everything, doing all your research based on proving that racism operates all that. They're going to go after you, even if you're just a good, you know, Bernie Sanders voter, just like everyone else.

If you're not completely narrowly focused on their ideas, they're going to try to get rid of you. And that was kind of like, oh wow. These, you know, the people I thought of as being intolerant towards the other side are in fact being victimized because they're not intolerant enough of the other side. And that's where things started to look really bad.

Steve Hsu: Right. So, I, I think what I'll, maybe I'll put in the show notes, some links to, I believe these are surveys by an academic called Eric Kaufman in London, but among the people surveyed our American faculty. And, you know, maybe 30 years ago, already Republicans or people who were right of center were in the minority among university faculty.

But that discrepancy has become much, much stronger over time. So that instead of being sort of, oh, he's the conservative in the department, we just agree to disagree with him, but we're polite. And we still go to cocktail parties together, which, you know, was probably the situation when I was coming up as a young professor.

Now that person could be attacked by a kind of woke mob or people that we might call berserkers. People who are very, very strongly left and want to kind of re-engineer the whole university.

Richard Lowery: Yeah. Well, I mean, you could see what happened at Stanford when Scott Atlas and Jay Aria took contrary positions on some issues around COVID. The entire Stanford faculty Senate, I think there were maybe a handful of dissenting votes. The actual faculty bodies have gotten to the point where they're trying to suppress faculty speech.

So, you know, there are these berserkers around who sort of stir up trouble and go after people. But at the end of the day, it's really the full mass of the faculty that are going to go after and purge. Anything that would be considered sort of conservative thought. And I don't know if this is just because they're so scared of the ERs who also want to fire them if they don't toe the line, or if there's just really this, you know, is there really just this genuine hate for anyone who kind of, deviates from this, this new party line that's developed, but you know, it's, it is the, you know, it's tough because you do, you have these extremists and they lead the charge. But, you know, it's pretty much everyone who follows and sides with the extremists. So, it's pretty far gone.

Steve Hsu: So, let's, let's put a little bookmark on that because later in the podcast it would be great to return to this topic. Since you're a game theorist, we could think about what the incentives look like for average faculty members. You know, you definitely have a population of berserkers. And then in my experience, coming from STEM, coming from physics, you have a lot of people who are disturbed with what's happening, but there, they have to be quiet because their main goal being on campus is to conduct their own research and teach their students. And they don't want to get mixed up in other things. So even if they disagree a lot, they just have to be quiet.

Richard Lowery: Well, they choose to be quiet.

Steve Hsu: They choose to be quiet. Yes. And we,

Richard Lowery: I have research to do myself and I, this certainly speaking out, certainly hurts my career. But you know, it's a choice by a lot of people to stay quiet. And I can't quite figure out if it's just because they, you know, do they just hate the conservatives more than they hate the berserkers, or is it really just, they're scared. And I haven't figured out exactly where that line is drawn.

Steve Hsu: Let's come back to that because I would really like to flesh that out because obviously your, the population, you know, better is maybe business school, social science type people, and, and the physical science people are the ones that I know better. So, let's come back to that.

But what I'd like to do now is, you know, I'd like to have a section of the podcast, which is really useful for two specific populations of people. One is people who are political leaders, like a state Senator or lieutenant governor who really wants to understand what is going on at our state-funded, for example, state-funded universities and what can I do to push things back in a more sane direction?

So that's one population. And the other would-be major donors who potentially are going to give millions of dollars to universities and maybe want to make sure the university puts the money to good use rather than just taking it and then doing what they want with it. So, let's talk a little bit about the Liberty Institute and the specific things, more of the things that you saw on campus first that made you think this entity needs to be created. And then what you wanted to create.

Richard Lowery: Yeah, well, I, so I, I sort of hit one of the first things that, that got me thinking, we needed some pretty radical change was that that, you know, sitting on these tenure cases. But, you know, going back, starting, even before I got tenure, I would, you know, I would teach in a way that maybe I, I tried very hard not to bring political opinions into my class, but I think, you know, the sort of general tilt towards not excessive skepticism market suggested to me, suggested to some of the students that I might be a little less on the left and some of the other faculty. And so, people started confiding in me saying like, oh, I can't, you know, I wish we could have these conversations. And you know, this was like even four or five years ago, people were, conservative students were already sort of intimidated. There were some incidents where they were physically attacked. We had some smoke bombs that was later. And that just didn't seem like the environment we should have.

And then you know, after I got tenure and after my friend got promoted to full Carlos Carlo, we started thinking, you know, what do we do about this? How can we help the environment? And that sort of led us to become, you know, this led to a policy center. and that led to us kind of becoming a repository for information. And, you know, some things came to my attention through that, talking to people.

Richard Lowery: So, I mean, one anecdote that I think is, telling is, we have these things called flag requirements. So, they're extra requirements for classes that you have to collect eight flags for classes that can only be taken at UT. And they're things like cultural diversity in the U.S. So, some direct quotes, flags, ethics, writing, things like that. It was brought to my attention that someone had their ethics flag denied because they didn't have enough balance. And now this person had, you know, Adam Smith, but she also had, a little, a smattering of postmodern stuff. But apparently, the ethics flag committee said your class about the ethics of capitalism is too unbalanced and we need more anti-capitalist stuff. And so, I started looking into what counted as that and what did have an ethics flag.

And, you know, there are a lot of really awful classes with ethics flags. And one of them I saw was that the only requirement required text was something like some comic book called Bitch Planet, something or other, which struck me as slightly inappropriate. And the class is all about Angela Davis's thoughts and how great Angela Davis was. And Angela Davis, if you don't know, was a terrorist. Or I'm sure you know. But if your listeners don’t know, she was an American terrorist who ended up getting a job. Or a left-wing American terrorist who got a job at a university once she got out of jail. So, you know, you have to have balance if you want to have, you know, Adam Smith, the theory of moral sentiments. But if you're going to have a whole class about how great Angela Davis is, it doesn't have to be balanced with anything.

And so, I was a little annoyed by this. I got myself on the ethics flag committee and then I got myself expelled from the ethics flag committee because the women's and gender studies class was applying and it was, you know, they were very explicit. This is an intersectional feminist class, and no other ideas are allowed. I'm like, wait, aren't we supposed to have balance. And so, I got kicked off the committee.

Richard Lowery: So, you know, and this is a faculty committee, this, you know, this was supposed to be monitoring these things. So, we had that. We tried to offer some freshmen. We tried to offer a freshman seminar. So, every student has to take one freshman seminar and we came up with this idea: let's have basic econ and stats. Like how can you think about the world through economics and stats? And so, we started going through all the syllabuses for these freshman seminars and it was striking. It was, you know like the Angela Davis class was not an outlier. It was all, you know, oppression, all that. And we started looking at requirements and the way you can get out of the math requirement at the university, you can take one of these oppression classes.

I started talking to people, a handful of other faculty [members], and finding out, oh, 15 years ago, someone tried to offer some, you know, set up a college that would offer competing classes that weren't all about race, class, and gender and the university shut him down and all of these things happen. So, it was getting increasingly clear that you cannot offer sort of reasonable, balanced, thoughtful classes at the university and expect to have them count for requirements or do anything like that.

And it just got, you know, the more we dug, the more syllabuses I looked at, the more I was shocked at what our students were learning and it all sort of clicked because the students coming in and finance, they're juniors and seniors, and it was over time it was increasingly clear they didn't have any of the normal foundations you would expect.

Richard Lowery: You know, if you want to understand how American society works, they didn't have that. They had, you know, one of my colleagues, he joked about this, but it wasn't a joke. His students describe one of their classes as for one of these cultural diversity things is, you know, you, all you had to know was Beyonce is good and Taylor swift is bad and you could get a, an A. And then it turns out, we have all these classes, you know, we have all these civics requirements and they're all being ignored. And the classes are all taught from the critical race theory perspective, or you test out of your civics requirement by answering C to all your questions.

So, these sorts of things, it's just like the more I look, the more it was clear that the university was just not providing what the state thought it was getting as far as an education.

Steve Hsu: Let me drill down a little bit further because again, I want people who have not been on campus for 10 or 20 years to get a sense of what it's really like. And, you know, obviously, it could be the case that, oh, some radical conservatives are exaggerating about what's happening on campus.

But let's be very specific. So, these flag requirements, it sounds like these are required for every student in order to graduate. Is that correct?

Richard Lowery: Yes.

Steve Hsu: And it sounds like they're reviewing the actual courses that the student submits to satisfy the requirement have to be reviewed by, I guess, is it a faculty committee or some administrative committee?

Richard Lowery: It's a faculty committee, but there's a couple of administrators who manage the program and they're on the committees, and they kind of run the meetings. So, it's, you know, there's a, what should be a low-level administrator who basically seems to set herself up to, to guide the conversation. And you're not, we don't, we don't get to vote.

We reach a consensus in these committees and the consensus is pretty much whatever that administrator ultimately decides, I think. So, there's a faculty committee and the faculty aren't great. But then ultimately there are these administrators who seem to be making the final calls.

Steve Hsu: Got it. And is, is your claim that. Right now, at this moment. So, some freshman comes into the University of Texas and the University of Texas Austin here. And let's suppose they're like a typical Republican kid from rural Texas. You're saying that to satisfy this flag requirement, they're going to end up being forced to take some classes. You can tell me exactly how many credit hours we're talking about here, but those classes are going to be inevitably slanted very far left of center.

Richard Lowery: Oh, yes. Well, two of the flag requirements are explicit, pretty explicit, critical race theory requirements. There's cultural diversity in the U.S. And cultural diversity in the world or something like that. One of the ways your class can qualify for a cultural diversity in the U.S. flag is by having an activism component to the project.

So, if you're not required to have an activism project, but it counts [toward your degree], it makes it more likely you'll get your flag. If you assign your students to go out and engage in activism …

Steve Hsu: And, sorry to interrupt, but, and to almost a hundred percent accuracy none of these allowed activism kind of requirements would be things that are pro the interests of say the right?

Richard Lowery: Oh

Steve Hsu: So, they would always be pro the interest of the left. Is that correct? I just want to be very explicit here.

Richard Lowery: No one would. I mean, maybe like I haven't audited every single syllabus, so maybe some cheeky conservative professor somewhere on campus somehow managed to slide through one of these, but I've never seen it. And I know pretty much every cheeky conservative on campus. So, I'd be surprised if there was any that wasn't straight up.

I mean, you can't get an English class that's not chock-full of critical race theory at this point. So, I'm almost certain you can't get a cultural diversity in the United States flag. And, and my experience was even the ethics flag, which should be pretty neutral. Was it, you know, the committee was pushing hard to only give the ethics flags to, you know, left-wing activist classes.

You could probably get away with a neutral class on ethics, but I think, but you know, you certainly weren't going to get a conservative class without having to fight for it. So at least two and probably far more of the flags require you to basically take an activism class. And that's almost always from my discussions with students; that's almost always going to mean you have to go along with what they're saying. You can't just study critical race theory. You have to believe critical race theory to get these credits as far as I can tell.

Steve Hsu: Okay. Let me take this hypothetical young lady who comes from Odessa, Texas, and her father and mother are Republicans, and maybe she's a Christian. And she ends up in this class, which she has to take. She has to pass this class at UT more than one class, I guess, at UT Austin, in order to get her degree, maybe her degree is in accounting, but she has to take these classes.

And if she makes a kind of principled argument in these classes about the things she believes in, like maybe she's a Christian, maybe she's a Republican. Maybe she believes in free markets. What is going to happen to her? Is she, is she going to be, subject to abuse or social ostracism or at least made uncomfortable by the professor? What is the experience of the students who come to you about this?

Richard Lowery: I would say at least ostracism and abuse and probably a pretty low grade. You know, it's hard to get the hard data on this stuff, but you know, from what we hear. Yeah, you, you, you can't go into a critical race theorist class or a feminist's class and argue that, hey, maybe the patriarchy isn't actually responsible for all the problems in the world and things like that.

It is just not, I mean, it's just not feasible and it may be hard for people who haven't been in the environment recently to realize that. But like even in the business school, we have an ethics requirement in the business school. And it's taught by someone who just is so [extreme], like you, you wouldn't believe someone like this could be in the business school, but it's required that all the undergrads have to take it.

And I had a student who told me that even in this business school ethics class, he was assigned to debate about the Liberty Institute, the thing that we tried to build, and he was supposed to defend the Liberty Institute and he was told by the professor, you know, he couldn't use any articles that I had written because they were too biased.

So, he had to find other sources. And the only articles that are positive were ones that I wrote or got interviewed for. So, he was not allowed to use me in this class. And then he started, he told me he started his presentation by saying, well, I think we can all agree that the faculty at the University of Texas lean left, and the professor stopped him and said, he wasn't allowed to say that cause it wasn't true. Or it didn't seem to be true. So, you know, this is what's happening in an ethics class in the business school when we should be the most reasonable of the social science department. So, I can only imagine what it's like to try to sit through this stuff in liberal arts. But yeah, apparently even to get a, even to get your business degree, not only do you have to toe the line in your liberal arts core classes, but you’ve also got to toe the line in the business school classes, too.

I mean, our dean took down all the pictures from her office when she took over because there were too many white men. So, you know, that's the sort of environment we live in now.

Steve Hsu: Would you say, would this be a fair statement, a significant fraction, you know, maybe at least 30% of the students entering UT Austin have to deliberately hide some of their core beliefs as they pass through these flag courses.

Richard Lowery: Oh yes. I think that that would definitely be a fair statement. And if you're a student leader of a conservative group, you have to hide your email address and where you live because we tried to coordinate a couple of events with some of the conservative student organizations. And it was really hard because you can't just find the person who runs a conservative student organization on campus because they've been doxed so badly that they have to keep everything so locked down.

So yeah, like if, if you want to be an outspoken conservative, you're going to be attacked. I mean, we had actual physical attacks on people who were out supporting Kavanaugh. They grabbed their hats, and they ripped their signs. I witnessed somebody, you know, at one of these small conservative organizations, some guy just came by and grabbed one of their phones while they were talking and threw it in the bushes and said, ha ha ha.

And was like you, and they got upset. He's like, oh, it's just a political, you know, there's sort of constant, at least low-grade abuse. There were smoke bombs thrown into an anti-abortion event. I mean, we have to have armed security at a certain [number] of our talks.

You know, we’re basically it. Our policy center is pretty much it for bringing anything remotely outside of orthodoxy to campus. And we've got, you know, I've had very pleasant conversations with UT PD as they've watched to make sure no one did anything to our speakers. But you know, that is the environment. It, you know,

Steve Hsu: Just, just to clarify, when you said orthodoxy again, for people who are off campus.

Richard Lowery: Oh, right. That might actually. Yeah.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. What you, what you mean by orthodoxy is very strongly left

Richard Lowery: Yes.

Steve Hsu: An ideological view.

Richard Lowery: I started using the term extremist orthodoxy because it's these views that are so far out of the mainstream of America but that are absolutely required on campus. Like, you know, if you believe, you know, no white men should ever be hired as faculty at the University of Texas would be a fairly extreme position, but it is in effect what many departments use as their policy. In fact, I mean, we have one person, we have a six-person tenure committee, At the university level that reviews every tenure case. I think it was five. I believe it was expanded to six. Two of the six people on that committee are critical race theorists. One of them said in a semi-public forum at one point that he thought it was horrifying that there were any Republicans teaching at the University of Texas and that was totally inappropriate.

So, we have a guy who reviews every single tenure case now who doesn't think conservative opinions should be allowed on campus and thinks everyone who has them should be fired. And this is like, I doubt he's even talking about the 50th percentile of America. This is probably, you know, what counts as a conservative professor. So, you know, if you don't think that affirmative action should be used for admissions or hiring, that puts solidly in the mainstream of the U.S., that's solidly in the mainstream of California. But that's something that people who have very powerful positions at the University of Texas think you should get fired over. So, it's pretty extreme.

Steve Hsu: Yes, that's just for the listeners. That's a good example because both California and the state I live in Michigan have passed through public referenda laws against discrimination. Well not, I don't want to use the word discrimination. But [laws against the] use of race in hiring and university admissions. So, it's clearly the majority belief among average Californians and Michiganders that affirmative action as it's practiced by most U.S. universities should not be practiced. It's actually technically illegal in California and Michigan.

However, if you are a university professor on almost any campus in the United States, and you say, oh, I agree with the outcome of that referendum in California or that referendum in Michigan, then that makes you a pariah as a faculty member on your own campus.

Is that fair?

Richard Lowery: Oh, yeah. Oh, I mean, in fact, we have, it turns out, you know, somebody leaked the diversity equity and inclusion policy before it was finalized. And as a result, there was a bit of an uproar, and we don't have a mandatory diversity equity and inclusion statement yet. Although most colleges do have it. But a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has to be considered for all hiring and promotion at the University of Texas. And if you look through the policies, what this basically means is if you oppose affirmative action, if you oppose taking steps to increase the number of people from so-called marginalized groups in hiring and admissions, by policy you are supposed to get, be less likely to get promoted or less likely to get a job. If you do not teach in an inclusive manner, which means putting the interest of marginalized groups over the truth, you are supposed to be less likely to get promoted and less likely to get hired. So, every single job at the university has a political test where you have to affirm beliefs that put you in the extreme of the country.

So, if you support the California proposition, which I think it was like 57% of Californians supported, you are supposed to, by the official policy approved by the president of the university and the chairman of the board of regents, you're supposed to be less likely to get a job at UT.

And that's just, you know, and it's illegal too. So, you're if you think they should follow the law. You're less likely to get a job. And that's where we've gone.

When we discuss things like this, I'm always thinking to myself, if you know, the state legislators in Texas or in Michigan knew, I mean, deeply understood the things that you're saying right now, they would probably try to pass laws that demand balance at their state universities.

Richard Lowery: So, there was an expression in the Soviet Union that people used, I think initially seriously. And then sarcastically, if only Stalin knew.

Steve Hsu: Yes.

Richard Lowery: If, if only Stalin knew that [unclear] was out executing everyone, he'd put a stop to it. Now it turns out you open up the archives and Stalin was enthusiastically encouraging the murder of anyone who was remotely threatening to him. And I think we have a little bit of that problem here because state legislators, they, they, you know, in Texas, you have to look conservative. You have to look like you care about this stuff. But I now know there are a lot of people who know what's going on, and there's very little interest in changing it.

And I think there's an awful lot of conservative politicians who don't think people care enough about these issues or higher education for it to matter. And so, they'd rather just go along and get treated better at the cocktail parties and all of that. And even the ones who come off against the university, you know, trip over their words to say, oh no, but it's only a few radical professors. Nobody wants to really come after the university. And I think they know what's going on. I think the issue is they don't think people know what's going on and they don't think people are going to be holding them accountable. And they really like their friends who are sitting on the board of regents, running things, and they know it's their friends ultimately, it's the University of Texas board of regents decided we're going to have a policy that the University of Texas is not going to hire conservatives.

So, these are people appointed by a Republican governor who decide you can't hire conservatives at UT Austin. And I don't think that there is no way that these guys don't know what's happening. It's just that they don't care. And that's what I've sort of learned from dealing with them over a few years, which is you. I think people don't know what's going on and people don't know that when the Republican legislature votes billions of dollars to the University of Texas, that they're going to turn around and use that money to, for example, develop videos to train four-year-olds in critical race theory. I know that the Texas politicians are aware that the university was giving grants to the education school to develop critical race theory training materials for four-year-olds. The Lieutenant governor even mentioned that in a press conference.

But then they just keep writing the checks so that they know it's happening, but they just keep funding everything they don't ask for any oversight. They, you know, they love the president, even though he appoints critical race theorists to every position of power. So, I, I don't think it's ignorance of the politicians as much as they just don't care.

Steve Hsu: Okay. Let's, let's come back to this particular point a little bit later in the podcast, because I, I think this is really interesting what you're saying, but, but let, I want, I want to actually go back to the narrative part of it, where we go back to what happened, at Texas with the Liberty Institute. So maybe we could, could start there.

So, you and your colleague, Carlos Carvalho, see this problem. Students are coming to you maybe who have a slightly conservative background. They're complaining to you about what's going on campus. And, and you see that, for example, with the exception of yourselves, nobody's inviting speakers with more diverse, ideological views to campus.

Steve Hsu: And so, you decide that the university needs some kind of somewhat independent entity within the university, which has, more of a pro-free markets, pro-freedom of ideas orientation. So may, maybe just start, start there.

Richard Lowery: Yeah. I mean, so we were doing what we could with this little policy center, but it's just a small, you know, this, so this is something important for donors and any politicians that happen to actually care, to understand. What'll happen is people, you know, universities will get bad press about how hostile they are to conservatives. And they'll set up little centers and the centers will look like potentially useful things, but they won't have the authority to hire tenure track faculty. They won't have the authority to offer classes. So, all we could do was bring in speakers. And this was obviously not enough, but we didn't have any tools.

So, we, we were, we existed at the pleasure of the president of the university because we were useful to him as something to point out when conservative donors complained. Oh no, no. Look we had uh, Alex Epstein, the fossil fuel guys. Oh, look, we have all sorts of interesting, you know, all these conservatives, but all we could do was one-off talks.

Richard Lowery: When we were able to beg and plead with the finance department, maybe here and there and the central administration to offer a class or two through a department, but we couldn't really do anything. And this was a little frustrating.

And then.

Steve Hsu: Let me just interrupt to just emphasize your point to the listeners, power at the university is either in the central administration, where they control the resources, or it's in tenure lines. That means positions, which are permanent faculty that ostensibly can't be fired. Although, you know, they can be attacked and fired, we've discovered, if you look at what happened at Princeton recently.

Richard Lowery: And they can be driven to suicide if you look at what happened to Mike Adams, but anyway. That's the other way to get rid of tenured faculty.

Steve Hsu: But in general, in general, tenured full-time positions at the university are the coin of the realm. And so, if a university president wants to appease conservative legislators or donors, they can have a little Institute that occasionally does invite some diverse points of view on campus but doesn't have the power to create professorships for people who hold those more diverse views.

And so that was the situation that they were attempting to persist in, in, in, in having at the, at UT. Is that fair?

Richard Lowery: Yeah. And, what's weird and I think hard for outsiders to understand is it can be a pretty good gig to be the fake conservative on campus because you can get a lot of resources for your own fun for your own dinners. You can have your friends out, you can have a whole center, you can get promoted and, and they'll just, they'll throw money at you. And they'll put you in front of rich conservatives and they'll give you a bunch of money and then you can go and make a name for yourself as long as you agree to just kind of go along with the university.

You'll, you'll notice these people, you know, at these centers when, when the chips are really down, they're always going to side with the university president. They're always going to end up siding with the left when it really matters. They'll be the dissenters when it doesn't matter. They'll bring in the speakers when it doesn't matter. But when, you know, when it comes down to Josh Katz getting fired at Princeton, well, yeah, that was mostly okay. Maybe they've broken the rules a little bit, but you know, the professional, you know, conservative beards at Princeton, they're not going to fight the president of Princeton. They're going to provide him cover.

And that's how most of this, most of these things work. And that was why we had what we had. That was what we were supposed to be doing.

Steve Hsu: And in, in another context, people might refer to this as fake or controlled opposition.

Richard Lowery: Yeah, I mean, I, I, if you look up the, I, I never remember the name, but there was a party in East Germany. That was its whole role was to pretend to be an opposition party. So that's pretty much what you have. I'd say probably 90% of what I see on campuses as far as conservative stuff fits into that category.

And so, the thing that the university sort of made a mistake on is, well, they knew, you know, first they, they didn't know that Carlos was going to loop me in quite as much as he did on this stuff. And so, they also didn't anticipate that Carlos was not actually interested in playing the get bribe to be oh, opposition game. He was much more committed to actually making a difference.

Richard Lowery: And so, but we couldn't figure out how to do this. And then we happened to have a meeting coming up. Uh, I wasn't supposed to be at the meeting or anything because I was sort of always kind of kept in the background on all this stuff. But there was going to be a meeting between Carlos and some of the donors. And we had recently passed the university had recently adopted a recommended land acknowledgment that we're supposed to start all public events on the first day of class. They would've loved to have required it, but we're in the fifth circuit. And that would've been slapped down as a violation of free speech at a public university. But we were recommended to start everything with this land acknowledgment about how we're truly on turtle island and, uh, which is the native American, you know, somebody claims that's the Native American term for North America. And to make these obsequious statements about all the tribes, including the Comanche who, if you know anything about the Comanche were basically the American equivalent of step raiders. They didn't really have a permanent settlement. But anyway, we were supposed to do this land acknowledgment about how really implying that the U.S. government and the state of Texas were illegitimate.

And so, I kind of talked Carlos into starting his meeting with our donors, for our dissenting policy center, with the new university land acknowledgment. And then it turned out the president showed up for that meeting just after the land acknowledgment was read. So, he got an ear full of very upset alumni trying to figure out what on earth was going on? Why are we starting meetings with these sorts of far-left statements? And that kind of led to some pressure on us to do more, which was great because that's what we wanted to do all along.

And this sort of started snowballing and that's where we're like, okay, as soon as anyone's like, oh guys, you need to do more. We're like, okay, we know exactly what we need. We need an independent unit with tenure track faculty that can offer classes that can offer a degree. They can provide options for that conservative student who may be a Christian, neither of us are particularly religious, but you know, that that typical student from Odessa you talked about, who can come in and say, take a good class instead of a terrible class, but we need a faculty that will be answerable to themselves. A high-quality faculty answerable themselves, but who don't have to follow, who don't have to go along with the woke, as they say, these days, faculty, which was basically we, we needed either a college or a department with the ability to offer degrees and to make those crucial tenure track hiring decisions.

And so, we wrote up a proposal. I think the president was very unhappy that we wrote this proposal, and we got it to some people who got really excited about it and passed it onto the state and we're like, oh, we should really do this. And a lot of people got increasingly excited, and the president had to pretend like he was excited about it. And the president and the chairman of the board of regents worked with the lieutenant governor to hammer out the details. And it was just, it went, you know, went really quickly because it was such a good idea. It was exactly what the university needed.

And then the budget, they ended up adding the money for it to the budget. They wouldn't put it in a separate bill because that would've been, you know, there would've been hearings, and nobody wanted all that trouble. And all along the president and the board of regents were playing along, acting like they were supportive. There was a document outlining what this would look like, that there would be an independent faculty unit with tenure track hiring. We were going to offer a degree. The state wanted us to do a bunch of outreach to high school students, which is great and important. We didn't know how we were going to do it, but fine. If you want us to, we'll do our best.

So, the state was adding things. The university was acting all excited. It got in the budget; it passed and then radio silence. We didn't hear a thing for months. We sent, you know, here's Carlos, because I, I have to, again, I have to kind of hide in the shadows, for reasons that may be becoming clearer and clearer. Carlos sends a proposal for, you know, eight to 10 faculty who could help put this together. We don't hear anything back from that. It turns out for like four or five, six months, the president of the university has a critical race theorist Richard Flores coming up with an alternative plan that wouldn't allow independent faculty hiring. And then somebody planted an article in the Texas Tribune about how these, you know, oil guys from west Texas were trying to take over to the University of Texas. We weren't even mentioned as, you know, we, we were just kind of cogs. But it was, you know, this was some idea being imposed by the evil Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, and his oil friends.

And then as soon as that article hit, that was what the president used to come back to Carlos and to the donors and say, nope, look how upset everyone is about this. You can't have independent hiring. You can just take this money and give it to existing departments to hire people they want to hire anyway.

But of course, you'll get to decide whether they get that money, but, for that particular hire, but you don't get to do any hiring. You don't get to offer any degrees. Nothing that was agreed to at the state.

And this was all lined up. You know, they were just waiting with this alternative plan that the critical race theorist had come up with for when that article dropped. And it was, you know, it's remarkable that the process of bringing intellectual diversity and dissenting ideas to the University of Texas was put in the hands of a critical race theorist, who is opposed to the idea of having any of those ideas on campus.

Richard Lowery: And this is one of these cases where, you know, the fact that people don't get how universities operate somehow the president was able to smooth this over with some of the outsiders and with the state and everyone, you know, this was obviously there was a complete default. This was going to be completely useless. It was just going to be another controlled opposition thing in ways that were very obvious to us. People who were clearly hostile to this were put in charge of developing it. But the outcome was the president said, okay. And if in order for this to work, the people who were involved from the beginning have to be completely excluded.

So, we were banned from being involved at all. Not only the president got the board of the chairman of the board of regents to ban us from involvement and told the donors that nothing would happen if we were involved at all. And so, it turned out most of the donors were sort of struggling like, oh, okay, well I guess Carlos isn't that important. And I don't even barely know who Richard is, so sure, we'll trust Richard Flores, the critical race theorist, to help set this up. And these sort of outside controlled opposition guys that get brought in from Ivy league schools to cheerlead the president's plan. And then, you know, we were sitting there like, no, you don't understand, this is nothing. They just could not understand that it was a complete default and a complete failure. And so, we got, you know, completely kicked out. And then the state decided not to do anything. It was obvious they had defaulted on what they had promised the state, but I guess the state has good relationships with the regents. So, they're like, all right, well, we'll just let them do it their way.

And then turns out we, you know, we have this controlled opposition on campus already. And one of the people who runs a fake conservative center at UT, he had a friend who ran a fake conservative center at the University of Missouri. And so, they went, and they found this guy and the president basically convinced the government department to give this guy tenure in exchange for him coming in and running it in the way that the critical race theorist wants it run, where he's just going to take the money and give it to existing departments.

Richard Lowery: And that's, you know, and so what we've basically done is we got $6 million extra dollars from taxpayers to be spent however the sociology department or the anthropology department want to spend it on whatever faculty they can convince, this guy to, to pay for. So, we've inadvertently participated in defrauding the state of Texas, the taxpayers of Texas out of $6 million.

And if they're not, you know, if the state decides to keep going along with it, it's going to be even more over the years. And it's, you know, it really kind of bothers me. I didn't want to be any part of anything like that.

Steve Hsu: Now, this is, uh, getting into the weeds a little bit, but. In the way that it's finally turned out, does this director, I know you don't like this director that they brought in from Missouri, but if he were a standup guy, does he have veto power over let's suppose the sociologist wanted to use these funds to hire some guy and you didn't think this person actually did represent a diversification of thought on campus.

You could just say, no, I veto that guy. I'm not supplying the funds for that position. Is that still within the remit of the director? Yeah.

Richard Lowery: sort of, that's what he would say. But that's not written down as far as I know. So, you know, nothing's been, you know, nothing's been formalized, they've just sort of brought him in, and you know, he did come in with the agreement to play along. So, I can't imagine he is going to take a stand. The legislative language was here's $6 million for the Liberty Institute and they've changed name. And so really, everything is totally at the discretion of the president because that's how, I mean, the university is set up. People think of the university as kind of, you know, oh, there's the faculty senate, there's bodies, but really, it's a dictatorship.

And the university, you know, if, if the money goes to the university, the money goes to the president. And so, the president can do whatever he wants with this money. There are no strings attached because it wasn't, it was legislative as part of a budget and that's entirely at his discretion.

So maybe he'll let this guy decide whether or not to fund this stuff, but ultimately there's no protection at all because it's just the president's money. But the president can go around and pretend that it isn't.

You know, that's another, like the president could hire people with the money directly without going through the department, but he's promised the faculty not to and he can say to the outsiders, oh, no, we can't hire that guy because the faculty don't want it. But if he wants to hire some DEI guy, he could do that. And the faculty won't care. And he could, you know, he has every ability to set up departments. He has every ability to set up colleges. If he wanted to spend the money in the right way, he could do it, but there's nothing that's holding him to do that.

Steve Hsu: And is, is the $6 million that was appropriated, is that recurring money or is that a one-time slug of $6 million?

Richard Lowery: The way it works in Texas is that everything is two years. So, it's $3 million per year for each budget because the legislature only meets every two years. So, the idea was this would become recurring money. So, but there's no such thing as recurring money, pretty much anywhere in the Texas budget, everything gets re-upped after two years.

So, if people wanted to stand up and say, no, you can't. You can't default on us like this. They could end it in the next legislative session and just take out the line item. And, you know, if the university wants to fund fake conservative opposition, it can do that out of the general budget. You know, it can take money away from sociology. It doesn't need extra money.

But the plan was, this would be like, and, and when it got in the budget, it got in the budget as part of the stuff that's sort of implicitly recurring and that's the money you can use for tenure track lines. There's another way that donors screw up is they'll write a check to the university saying, hey, we need more intellectual diversity. Here's a check for $5 million, produce some intellectual diversity. And then the president can say, oh, well, I can't hire, that's not recurring money. So, I can't hire tenure track faculty with that. So, here are a couple of lecturers who look really great to you, even though you don't, even though they won't have any influence whatsoever, but that's one of the excuses they use not to hire, you know, faculty with donor money.

Richard Lowery: So that was really the key, was this sort of quasi recurring money from the state is what allows you to fund tenure lines. That's why it's so bad that that money was appropriated by the president for his own purposes.

Steve Hsu: Right. I think maybe we could start segueing in this direction. I think it's quite hard for donors. Let's suppose you were a billionaire and you wanted to give, you know, a substantial amount of money to your alma mater. But you wanted it to say you wanted to create a professorship that studies free enterprise or is, you know, pro-business or something. It's very tough for you to ensure that, you know, say you even give it in the form of endowment or something. It's very tough for you to ensure that the university will actually use the funds in the way that you want them to. You end up having to write a legal contract with them, and then you have to depend on your heirs or your estate to try to enforce that contract. And it's quite difficult.

Richard Lowery: And they, and, and nobody AC you know, they want the money, but they don't want to actually hire anyone who disagrees. I think, you know, I don't know if you're, there was a, I think it was a $20 million gift to Yale along the sort of free enterprise American institutions thing.

And so, the president took the $20 million and then immediately turned around and hired a left-wing activist to run it and she started using the money to fund classes for promoting left-wing activism. And the people, the person who gave the money got upset. And then it was immediately like, how dare you interfere with the academic freedom of Yale. How dare you taint us by saying we shouldn't be using our money in this way.

And it's not like they had hired some neutral person. They took the money and hired an activist who was using the money for the exact opposite. And you know, part of it is it's really hard to write these contracts. I think there was one at Mizzou that was written cleanly enough that he was able to claw back half of it and send it off to Hillsdale.

And that's actually the only trick you can do. Like the only people who will actually fight. If, if, if you say, if you don't follow through on this contract, this money goes to Hillsdale. Hillsdale will actually go after the university. That's the only thing I've seen that works otherwise. you're out of luck. You write this check and you're trusting the president of the university. And the problem is the president of the university is always a bad guy. Because there's no way in the current environment to get to a position where you look like a reasonable candidate for a presidency of a university without being well known as someone who gives everything to the activist left, you'll never get to be department chair. You'll never get to be dean. You'll never get to be a provost. Because all those searches have DEI components, and all the search firms filter out anyone who doesn't toe the line on DEI and all of that. So, every single president of every university with the possible exception of Mitch Daniels is someone who has gotten where he is by always doing what the activist left wants.

So, every time you write a $20 million check to an Ivy League school, you are handing money to somebody who's going to use it to appease the far left.

Steve Hsu: And, so Richard, just to reinforce what you're saying as somebody who did have a pretty senior level position at a Big Ten university, I would say your characterization is accurate at the 95% level. So, in other words, there are a few people in there who still have some integrity.

Richard Lowery: Yeah, I'm trying to make a list. It's pretty short so far.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, it's, it's quite short. And, and, and the other thing is that people who secretly have integrity have to hide it. Otherwise, they're going to be a target of the, you know, the woke mobs. So, I just want to say descriptively that I think what you're saying is correct. So, for people who are potential donors or people who have governmental authority over institutions of higher education, this is an accurate picture of how dynamics work at these institutions.

Richard Lowery: And even if the president goes to your country club and says all the right things at the country club, and even if he sends the kids to all the right schools, and even if he plays tennis with you, at the end of the day, he got where he was by being good at giving the campus left everything they want while looking to outsiders like a reasonable person.

Steve Hsu: Yes. I mean, a very shorthand way to say this is that, at that level, these people are all politicians. They may present themselves as scholar leaders of institutions that pursue truth. But in fact, in order to reach that level, they are indeed simply politicians.

Richard Lowery: And crucially, they understand that the faculty pay more attention and the faculty understand how the university works. The politicians, the donors, and the alumni don't pay that much attention and don't understand how it works. So even though they're sort of purely self-interested calculation, they're always going to do symbolic things for the outsiders, the alumni, the donors, the politicians, and they're going to do stuff that really matters for the faculty.

So, for example, our president saved the school song because they accused, you know, there was a movement accusing the school song of being racist, because it might have been sung at something where somebody else did something. It was completely ridiculous. But the president made a big deal about saving that, that song. But then he turns around and appoints critical race theorists to every possible position where he can find them, except maybe the provost is an engineer, but she's definitely going along with this stuff. But, you know, as an alumni I'll think it's really important that he didn't get rid of the school song, and they have no idea what it means that two out of five members of the tenure committee at the university are critical race theorists. They have no idea. That's what really matters. And that's why the faculty tolerate him because oh, sure. He had to, he couldn't cancel the school song because the alumni would've gotten too upset, but at least he lets us, you know, decide who gets promoted.

So, it's always going to be the symbolic stuff to the outside and the stuff that really matters to the kind of extremist orthodoxy. And I can't think of any school again, except maybe Purdue and then obviously Hillsdale, but that's a whole different thing. I can't think of anywhere where that pattern doesn't take place.

Steve Hsu: Well, I would, I would say I, I personally know, you know, having been at a, you know, in a senior leadership position, I know a lot of university presidents around the country, and there are some who are secretly on your side, Richard, but they have to do it in secret.

Richard Lowery: Yeah, well, that's part of the problem is, you know, how, how do you find out that the people who look like the people you're going to pick, like our president is the guy who goes around and. hob knobs at the right country clubs. I mean, this is literally true. I think this is how he got the job. But he's not sort of secretly working against the system.

He's obviously working for the system. Well, be, I don't know how you track down the guy who's secretly undermining DEI and critical race theory on campus. I, I don't even know.

Steve Hsu: Well, let me, so this is, maybe we can take up one of the bookmarks from earlier in the conversation. So let me give you the STEM guy's view on all this.

Okay, so if you're a STEM guy and, and you're there on campus and you think, well, the most important thing actually is that I actually figure out how to build a working quantum computer because you know, the payoff to society, to human civilization from that just outweighs all this internecine squabbling on campus.

So, I want to just focus on what's happening in the lab, right. Or maybe I'm an administrator. I have a background in engineering or physical science, and now I'm a dean or a vice president for. And my main goal is to protect the real scientific technical medical research that's happening on campus. And in order to do that, I have to nod my head when the DEI guy or the VP for diversity makes his or her speech at the top leadership meeting. So, I have to kind of go along with it. I may have some qualms about it, but I'm kind of going to go along with it because the number one thing I need to make sure is that we get the money in there to hire the top scientists and keep the labs working and pay the graduate fellowship.

So, there's a whole population of STEM people that are kind of like that. They're not very comfortable with what has happened in the last 20 years in the university, but they've basically made a kind of pact where they're going to go along with this and fight the battles that they can fight. But mainly their goal is just to keep this scientific research enterprise going on the campus because, in the United States of America, almost all cutting-edge research is done at universities. That's just how our system is set up. And so, there are a bunch of people who just want to protect that investment in the future. And they don't feel like they can fight and win these battles with the woke movement. And they just content themselves with trying to protect the scientific enterprise.

Richard Lowery: I think they're making a terrible mistake because what is happening is every student that's going to go through that science process and every student that's going to end up mattering in any way is now going to be selected through a DEI process. So, we use our universities for two things. One is the science component you were talking about and the other is this coordination device to decide who gets to run society.

And the way when these stem people have decided to narrowly focus, only on let's keep that science engine running and let's not worry about what's going on over here, what's ending up happening is you've handed control to the craziest like half a percent of the American population gets to decide who gets to be in the elite.

So now, I end up having to fight to keep the SAT used, and oh yeah. And that's the one where the computer scientist will jump in, but you know, they're like, oh yeah, yeah, they can have all those. We don't care about those humanities. Anyway, we can do all the critical race theory they want.

And then all of a sudden, what do you do? What are you going to be doing with this quantum computer that your STEM people are building? Well, you're going to be using that to keep the social credit score, to make sure that the right set of people get jobs they want.

You know, if you look at what's happening in AI, there's this like fairness, AI, where all this intelligence is being used in order to figure out how to twist algorithms, to give the correct political outcome. So, I don't want a quantum computer in the hands of an elite trained by the woke crazies on campus, any more than I would want the atomic bomb in the hands of the Germans in the 1930s and 40s.

So, you know, narrow, like you can't neglect the rest of the university and just say, oh, great we'll get medical advances. But then the [unclear] says, we should make sure we have medical equity. So, we are going to discriminate against patients on the basis of race for treatments. I mean, they, if you read the stuff that's coming out of these scientific organizations now, especially the medical ones, it's crazy.

And you know, no, it's not enough just to keep the technology going. We need to make sure the people who decide what to do with that technology aren't part of an insane cult. And right now, the other half of the university is just making sure that the only people who can get certified are people who go along with the insane cult.

So, I think it's time for the STEM people to step up and be like, no, no, you know, we are the only sensible ones left on campus. Everyone else has been purged and they need to fight for the rest of the university, not just STEM.

Astronomy has fallen at the University of Texas. An astronomy professor wrote a paper and a book about how you could predict future career success and astronomy based on the initial few years of your career, as a way of figuring out where resources maybe should flow. What's a, what's a fairer way to figure out where grant money should go compared to just like, I like that guy.

And he had to withdraw his paper and he had to withdraw his book because his algorithm. They didn't even see what his algorithm would say, but there was a possibility that the algorithm wouldn't say we need to spend more money promoting the interests of marginalized people within astronomy.

So, astronomy has fallen at UT and it's coming for the rest of you. And you don't have much time. And there are a few of us trying to hold the line to protect you, but you know, you're not helping by just ignoring everything else that's going on at the university and letting it get taken over by the worst elements.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. So, I agree with you. It's reached a tipping point now where I, I really feel like the STEM faculty, but unfortunately, it might be too late. So, I think the situation now is that the, you know, a pretty big, I don't know if it's a silent majority, but it's definitely a large silent population of older STEM people really are very uncomfortable with what's happened at the university.

I'm afraid that a lot of the younger ones are actually woke because they've been filtered in such a way that, uh,

Richard Lowery: I mean the universities have been, you know, it's like, I mean, the way I think about it is if you want the training to be good at STEM in the United States, then one of the costs of that training is you have to spend four years in a residential cult where you learn the craziest things imaginable.

So, if you want to get through MIT now, you have to regurgitate this nonsense and it's way easier to just believe the nonsense and get back to work than it is to have that internal conflict of [unclear].

And, you know, and these STEM guys, they went along with everything. They went along with bringing in unqualified people so that they could have departments that looked more appealing to leftists. Because most of the STEM guys are kind of, they don't think much about politics, but when they do, they view themselves as sort of center-left good, you know, good liberals. And they went along with bringing in unqualified people. And that's a lot of what happened with astronomy. And if you look at epidemiology, my goodness, they were totally okay bringing in people who had no idea what they were doing there. And it is too late.

I mean, I think it's too late for STEM to fix itself. It's going to have to be a much more extreme outside intervention. But I don't know that it's even possible now. I don't know that the personnel exists because you know, everybody went along with the purging of everyone who had sensible ideas either because they really didn't like those ideas or because they didn't want to get distracted from their work.

So, I think we're pretty much, you know, I think we pretty much ruined everything.

Steve Hsu: So, what, let's switch gears and, and maybe talk about what is possible in the future. So, you know, it could be that in this coming midterm election, or maybe the next presidential election. You know, the right becomes ascendant in American politics, you know, at least temporarily. Is there anything realistic that they can do to help fix the universities in that scenario?

Richard Lowery: So, I think, and I have, you know, friends who don't particularly like this assessment, but I think private universities are lost. I don't think there's any hope of recovering private universities in any way that will actually be, you know, they'll continue to exist. They'll continue to certify things, but they're always, I, I don't think any private university will ever again produce net social value.

For a little bit longer, you'll get some science and some engineering out of them. But as far as the effect on society, they're, they're just gone because there's no mechanism to force trustees of private universities to kind of fix anything. And the faculty are almost all terrible. I mean, they're, I mean, you, you probably have more sympathy for some of these people than I do, but you know, I'd say there are literally eight people at Princeton worth anything. Because when Josh Katz got destroyed, only eight people would publicly stand up.

So, we're talking about Princeton, one of the most elite universities in the country. There are eight faculty who are worth even talking to at this point, about, you know, social issues and all of that.

So, I don't think there's anything that can be done.

On the margin, what should you do? Well, you should stop giving these, you know, if you have a history of violating civil rights laws and engaging in illegal discrimination, which all of these universities have, you know, if a Republican is president, nobody at any of those universities should ever get an NSF grant again. So that's one thing you could do.

Richard Lowery: And what does that mean? That means there's a lot of NSF money sloshing around for potential startups. So that's the only thing I can think of about private universities. Just don't give them any more money from the government. No student loans, no NSF grants. Those stem faculty who still have some ability to be productive but didn't stand up and do the right thing, well they're going to have to go and scramble and build institutions to get their NSF grants.

But in the long run, that could be better because 50% of NSF grants are taken for overhead, which is just money spent by the university on, you know, at best waste and at worst, you know, subsidizing the critical studies departments.

State universities are different. State universities can turn on a dime if the political will is there. So, if the department of education is not actively opposing reform, which is what they would do now. But if the right got control of the department of education, they could say, all right, we're not going to require accreditation for student loans anymore.

What does that mean? That means that state universities can start changing the way they do things. Because right now, if you have any reform at a state university, the accreditation bodies are going to try to take away your accreditation.

They don't even bother coming up with good stories. They're just going to do that. But if the department of education said, we're not listening, we're not delegating our authority to these private accreditation bodies that have been captured by political enemies. We're just going to make our own judgments. And then any state that wanted to could solve the problem of their state university in one fell swoop and all that matters is leadership.

Because the way state universities are set up is they're basically dictatorships. The president has almost total control over everything. And so, the moment a state university puts a good president in, he can fix everything.

Now you can't go back to the well and find some person who's been a provost or something. You have to get creative, find someone new, bring them in and support them. Because what happens every time you get a reformer at a state university, the faculty go crazy and scream. And then the board of regents of that state, whose only interest is sort of keeping things quiet, fires the president.

That's more or less what happened in Oklahoma. And that's the story our president keeps telling. It's like, oh no, I can't do anything against the extremist takeover of the university, or I'll get a vote of no confidence from the faculty council. He literally said that which means nothing.

So, if you were to replace the presidents and you were to give them a mission, clear out this stuff, close all these departments. You know, redo requirements from the ground up. All this can happen with a small number of personnel changes. That's really all it takes because of the sort of hierarchical nature of state universities. But I just haven't seen anyone willing to do that.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I have to say, I'm not as, I'm not optimistic that that will happen. Even in states like Florida and maybe, you know, I would've said Texas, there's a shot there because you know, it's a, it's a red state. But it just seems unlikely that someone with that much willpower and that much focus on universities as being a high priority,

Richard Lowery: No, I'll say I don't, I don't think it will happen. I think all the state universities are doomed too. It's just that it could happen.

There's nothing stopping that except a lack of political will.

Steve Hsu: Yes. I agree that yes, much more is possible than, you know, I, I think people can imagine. But I, I just don't think it's going to happen.

Richard Lowery: I mean for, you know, an exam, a little anecdote, in the entire time I've been in Texas there's been one good member of the board of regents. And this was Wallace Hall. And he was looking into all sorts of things, but he was looking into admissions corruption, which turned out to be, there was a lot of admissions corruption. You'd basically get someone to write a letter and you'd automatically get into UT if you had the right political connections.

And he started looking into this and the result was he was impeached from his job on the board of regents and indicted by the county attorney of the county, that the University of Texas, lays in and the, you know, the conservative establishment of Texas did absolutely nothing to back him up.

So, the one real reformer we ever had just was completely abandoned by the state.

Steve Hsu: By the way, if you're looking for a good university president, if someone could find Wallace Hall, he'd be ideal. Yeah, I hope the county didn't lock him up.

Richard Lowery: No, he, they, they were not able to convict him of the nonsense charge of, I can't remember what it was like. I can't even remember what they called it, because it was just all he did was put in public information requests for information about admissions. He was a member of the board of regents, and he used the Texas state law that makes things public information. And not only did they impeach him, but they also managed to indict him over [that]. Like, there's literally a website. You go in and say, I want Richard Lowry's emails from June 15th to a, to July 15th, 2020, about the Liberty Institute. And they have to give it to you.

And that's all he did. He put in some public information requests, and they indicted him.

Steve Hsu: It's insane.

Richard Lowery: And then the, you know, and then they, when they didn't reappoint him, you know, he was considered a troublemaker. So, he didn't get reappointed to the board by our current governor, and the people they do have there now, they go along with the DEI, they go along with the critical race theory stuff. They're just playing along.

But you could find six serious Texans to run the board of Regents, but we just, we just don't.

And Florida. I mean, if you look at what happened to Charles Negy at the University of Central Florida, even in Florida, the university presidents are really out there. Far, far left activists, driving conservatives off of campus, and even, you know, [Ron] DeSantis can't do anything about it.

Or won't. I'm not sure why.

Steve Hsu: So, I hate to end our discussion on a pessimistic note, but it would you say it's fair, as a characterization of the present and maybe the immediate future of that in a culture war that the United States is locked into the institutions of higher learning are more or less captured by one side entirely?

Richard Lowery: Entirely. Yes.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, so that's my view. That's my view as well. And then sadly, my own people, the STEM researchers, just happen to be innocent hostages stuck in, you know, stuck in these institutions that have been so captured.

Richard Lowery: Yeah. And I know, I think, you know, we, maybe we don't want to end on a pessimistic note, but you know, the most optimistic scenario I can think of is something like a V-shaped dark age. Like things are going to get, you know, it, it took a long time to recover the knowledge of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, because it was very hard to get in, you know, information transmitted, but maybe the internet will survive and we'll be able to sort of pull ourselves out of this after only a few decades of, you know, societal collapse.

But you know that that's about as optimistic as I can get.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, on, on that, I'm a little more optimistic maybe than what you just described because, despite what's going on in the U.S. and other parts of the west, Asia is actually storming ahead in science and engineering. So, it's not like that knowledge is going to be lost to the human species. It's just, the, you know, the innovation future for maybe the United States is not so great, but, but other places are going to keep the torch of scientific research alive for sure.

Richard Lowery: I hope you're right.

Creators and Guests

Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.
© Steve Hsu - All Rights Reserved