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‘It’s making a difference’: CU Boulder ‘conservative thought’ program enjoys decade of success

Model is also spreading to states like Ohio, Florida

A conservative thought program launched a little over 10 years ago within the left-leaning enclave of the University of Colorado at Boulder continues to successfully bring in a parade of right-minded scholars to allow intellectual debate to take place in what is sometimes referred to as the People’s Republic of Boulder.

The Visiting Scholars in Conservative Thought and Policy program hosts a scholar from another university who teaches classes for a semester or year-long stint at CU Boulder, and that professor also helps facilitate a variety of guest speakers to flesh out liberty-minded or contrarian discussions and debates among students, faculty and the community.

“It’s making a difference on campus,” Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University who served as the program’s visiting scholar last fall, said in a recent telephone interview with The College Fix. “It exposes students to speakers who they probably otherwise wouldn’t hear on campus.”

Zywicki taught a class on the history and theory of the rule of law as well as one on F.A. Hayek, the famous free market economist.

During his time there, he also helped host economist Vernon Smith, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, and Jennifer Sey, author of “Levi’s Unbuttoned: The Woke Mob Took My Job but Gave Me My Voice.”

He also brought in Dr. Scott Atlas, a health policy expert at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University who was openly critical of onerous and unsubstantiated COVID measures, for a talk titled “Restoring the Trust after COVID.”

The overall conservative thought program and guest lectures are housed within the Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization. The center also now runs a Sabbatical Fellows program that allows conservative professors to conduct their sabbatical research while also being involved in the center’s activities.

“One of the things that was striking to me was the extent to which community members who are not students are engaged in the Benson Center — probably beleaguered conservatives in Boulder,” Zywicki told The Fix.

He added that top administrators, including retiring Chancellor Philip DiStefano, are “unbelievably supportive of the program.”

“They understand, unlike most university leaders, that universities have a tendency, especially at a place like Boulder, to be ideologically homogeneous,” Zywicki said. “Rather than allow that to be the case, they allow the Benson Center to bring different perspectives on campus.”

This semester’s guests include conservative firebrand Christopher Rufo and Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony. The spring semester professor is philosopher Brandon Warmke, who is teaching a class on socialism, liberalism and conservativism.

The best part about the program, Zywicki said, is “the model is spreading.”

He cited efforts in Florida, where a law passed last year will require the retooling of three already established academic centers at Florida State, University of Florida and Florida International University with an emphasis on nurturing patriotism and western-democratic thought through active instruction.

For example, UF’s Hamilton Center will “educate university students in core texts and great debates of Western civilization and the great books. The center is responsible for developing curriculum and courses to satisfy the requirement for the competency in civil discourse,” the law states.

Zywicki also flagged a budget item approved in Ohio last year that funds the creation of five “intellectual diversity” centers at public universities in the Buckeye State.

“It does seem to be a model that I think, in many ways, Boulder pioneered doing this on state universities,” he said. 

The program launched in 2013-14 with conservative scholar Steven Hayward. Videos of the center’s guest lectures are posted on its active YouTube page.

MORE: Program embedding conservative profs at CU Boulder doubles in size after early successes

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.