Program is billed as nonpartisan but stats show otherwise
None of the nearly 60 recipients of a prestigious $30,000 federal scholarship granted in 2018 reported that they had ever worked for a Republican political candidate or conservative organization, according to an analysis by The College Fix.
The lucrative Truman Scholar awards are given to college juniors, who receive $30,000 to attend graduate school and pledge to serve three of their first seven years after graduation in public service.
The federal scholarship is supposed to be nonpartisan and given simply to “persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service.”
But the slate of 2018 recipients lean heavily left in both their political work history and the issues which they pledge to address.
The list of 2019 awardees is expected to be announced later this week, and the political makeup of that group is yet to be determined. But at least over the past four years the vast majority of Truman awardees support liberal candidates and causes.
As in years past, The College Fix analyzed each of the 59 award recipients for 2018 using their official biographies and self-reported work histories on LinkedIn.
The research found that 21 of the scholars – or 36 percent – had worked for Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, etc.) or Democratic-aligned organizations (Tom Steyer’s NextGen America, Planned Parenthood, etc.)
Another 17 scholars – or 29 percent – listed their primary interest as solidly progressive (intersectionality, climate change, expanded government-provided health insurance, LGBT issues, food insecurity, minimizing “rape culture.”)
Another eight scholars – or 14 percent – said they were primarily interested in issues moderately associated with the left, such as environmental “sustainability” and rights for immigrants and refugees.
Only 13 of the scholars’ political leanings were indistinguishable by their public work profiles. Of these, three award recipients were students at military academies. Of the students with unknown political leanings, none publicly reported ever having worked for either a Republican politician or conservative think tank or political organization.
The numbers in 2018 were even more slanted toward liberal students than in recent years past.
In a prior analysis The College Fix found that 40 of the 112 scholars in 2015 and 2016 — or 35 percent — had ties to Democratic politicians or liberal groups. In those years, only four scholars were found to have worked for Republicans or conservative organizations.
The Fix also found that for the 2017 class, 27 of the 62 scholars — 43 percent — “worked for Democratic politicians, campaigns, liberal organizations or held leadership positions with left-of-center campus groups.” That year only three scholars were found to have worked for Republican politicians or conservative organizations.
But in 2018, if there are any conservatives in the group, they are keeping it a closely guarded secret.
Acting Truman Foundation Executive Secretary Tara Yglesias told The College Fix she did not believe the selection process was biased. “Many of our Scholars are interested in issues – such as education, the environment or healthcare – that I would not label as solely partisan issues,” Yglesias told The Fix in an e-mail.
Yet several sources familiar with the selection process told The Fix the ideological imbalance persists largely because of the type of students universities forward to the committee as finalists.
In order to become a Truman scholar, an applicant must undergo a rigorous application process, which includes submitting a nomination letter, three letters of recommendation and a transcript, plus completing a questionnaire and providing a written policy proposal.
Yet which students are forwarded to the Truman committee is up to the individual universities that participate in the program.
Typically, campuses have a dedicated faculty representative that works with the Truman program to forward nominations for the award. Some schools now have full offices dedicated to promoting their students for prestigious Truman, Fulbright and Marshall awards. Each university may recommend up to four students for the Truman scholarship.
It is no surprise, then, that heavily progressive college campuses may be sending forward predominantly liberal students for an allegedly nonpartisan award. As one source noted, the Truman committee can only pick from the finalists they are delivered by the schools.
“The Scholars we select are representative of the pool of applicants that are sent to us,” Yglesias said.
Further, when defining student “activism,” schools may already have an implicit bias toward students who can identify a specific issue and government policy to change it. According to the Truman Foundation website, successful candidates must hope to be a “change agent,” in time, “improving the ways that government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or educational institutions serve the public.”
According to the guidelines, a Truman scholar must say to him or herself, “There are conditions in our society or the environment which trouble me” and “I want to work in government, education, the nonprofit sector, or the public interest/advocacy sector to improve these conditions.”
Consequently, conservative students advocating less government intervention and more individual freedom are less likely to be seen as “activists” in the progressive sense. As one source noted, the Truman board has determined there is “no difference between activism and public service.”
Some sources noted how this bias can seep into the administration of the program. While the law enacting the Truman Foundation mandates that the boards that select the winners be nonpartisan, there is no such requirement for the faculty boards that select the finalists.
For instance, in 2017, 199 finalists were selected from 768 total nominations. That winnowing was conducted by separate panels made up of university faculty members who have the power to eliminate conservative nominations from consideration. One source was concerned that these faculty boards were stocked with progressive faculty members heavily involved in or sympathetic to social justice disciplines.
Others are worried recent changes in the Truman Foundation administrative staff are set to drive the organization even further to the left. Former Executive Secretary Andrew Rich, who recently left his position, was seen as an evenhanded administrator; some sources suggest his permanent replacement might not be as bipartisan.
One person who talked to The Fix noted the inherent difference between conservative and liberal college students. Conservative students are “buckling down and doing the academics while liberal students are reinventing the world.”
The young people being picked as winners “are about as woke as they can possibly be.”
The Truman Scholarship Foundation, created by Congress in 1975 as a memorial to former President Harry Truman, granted its first awards in 1977. More than 3,000 people have been named Truman scholars, including current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.