Hussman, Hussman, Hussman


I do wonder if Walter Hussman was aware of what his $25 million donation to UNC would do to his reputation. He’s standing out as a central villain in the denial of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenure.

But as news stories revealed the extent of pressure from conservatives, including Arkansas media magnate and UNC mega-donor Walter Hussman, Hannah-Jones said returning to her alma mater to teach seemed less logical.

“Once the news broke and I started to see the extent of the political interference, particularly the reporting on Walter Hussman, it became really clear to me that I just could not work at a school named after Walter Hussman,” Hannah-Jones said. “To be a person who has stood for what I stand for and have any integrity whatsoever, I just couldn’t see how I could do that.”

The journalism school was renamed for Hussman after receiving a $25 million donation from him in 2019. The school also committed to etching what Hussman calls his “core values” into stone on the building. No one, including the school’s dean Susan King, said they foresaw that Hussman would assume the gift granted him far more than naming rights.

When King told Hussman she was pursuing Hannah-Jones for the school’s new Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, he objected. When King stood firm, Hussman peppered Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Vice Chancellor David Routh, who oversees charitable giving at the school, with emails detailing his opposition. They included complaints about “The 1619 Project,” the award-winning, long-form journalism project originally published in The New York Times and conceived of by Hannah-Jones — she won a Pulitzer in commentary for her opening essay — that’s been the target of criticism from many conservatives. Hussman also personally objected to her views on reparations to Black Americans for slavery. Hussman shared his emails critical of Hannah-Jones’s work with at least one member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The board subsequently decided not to consider her tenure application.

So here’s this rich old fart who smugly assumes that he could buy the curriculum and faculty of a university, and that his one-time major donation made him a permanent consultant in hiring decisions. If anyone wants to donate millions of dollars to my university, we will be grateful and deeply appreciate it, but not if you think it gives you the right to meddle.

It actually makes me think we need to tax the rich more to remove their temptation to think they’ve got the right to own everything.

Comments

  1. snarkrates says

    PZ: “So here’s this rich old fart who smugly assumes that he could buy the curriculum and faculty of a university, and that his one-time major donation made him a permanent consultant in hiring decisions.”

    I think it’s even worse than that. I think that rich people in this country insulate themselves in such a thick a protective layer of sycophants that it would never occur to them that any reasonable person could disagree with them.

    And I agree that they need to pay a helluvalot more in taxes. Money will always drive policy. If individuals control the cash, those individuals–not the majority–will control policy. They will be free to dictate whatever vain, stupid, shortsighted policies they want with zero accountability–after all, it’s their money.

    And while governments may also pursue vain, stupid and shortsighted policies, there is at least a snowball’s chance in hell that voters may hold them accountable. Let’s start the reparation fund by confiscating Hussman’s private fortune.

  2. says

    Large donors have always driven what happens at Universities. This is one of the few times the interference has been made public. The classic example is donors forcing a school to fire one of the school sports coaches – happens a lot.

    These “titans” of industry want to see a return on their investment.

  3. says

    “So here’s this rich old fart who smugly assumes that he could buy the curriculum and faculty of a university, and that his one-time major donation made him a permanent consultant in hiring decisions.”

    Well, turns out he was right.

  4. says

    I’d say it’s ironic that the Right is always screaming about their free speech being suppressed while at the same time they
    pull stunts like this, but I think we all know by now that “free speech” isn’t actually a principle they care about — to them it’s just a verbal weapon, something that makes them sound progressive-minded or makes progressives feel guilty or in some other way advances their cause. They can say the words, but they don’t know what the words mean.

    They actually don’t want free speech; they want all speech to be too expensive for anyone but the rich to afford.

    We can’t have this vast level of power-inequality and have a free society; the two are mutually incompatible. There needs to be a maximum acceptable level of disparity.

  5. raven says

    So here’s this rich old fart who smugly assumes that he could buy the curriculum and faculty of a university, and that his one-time major donation made him a permanent consultant in hiring decisions.

    Why shouldn’t he assume this?
    It turns out that he was right and it worked.

    (I see that Cerventes at #3 said it already.)

    If Walter Hussman has a spare $25 million to give to UNC, I don’t think he cares what people think about his reputation.

  6. says

    This kind of guy always brings to mind the end of The Great Gatsby. He will face no real or lasting consequences and this will all be forgotten within the year.

  7. says

    The of the book is when Nick the narrator meets Daisy’s husband Tom on the street by accident and realizes that nothing will happen to Tom and Daisy, they are too rich for anything to really affect them. Have you not read the book?

  8. unclefrogy says

    the upper class (the rich) has always been by definition are the ones who run things, they rule.
    Is that incompatible with democracy? We already understand the reality is not a political issue in that it is not decided by referendum or in a courtroom debate it is determined by the evidence and our understanding of it is subject to change as or perception of it changes we are forced to follow the evidence.
    The evidence seems to be showing that the long term results of following the dictates of some of the upper-class leadership and it’s influences are not good for our very survival let alone any prosperity for the vast majority of all of we the people.

  9. garnetstar says

    But, buying a university is supposed to remain secret, like when companies buy politicians.

    Who would really want to work for UNC now? When they make offers to new faculty, if the faculty have offers from other places, those other unversities will look more attractive.

    That happened when former gov. Scott Walker (remember him? A Koch operative) gutted the U. of Wisconsin. All the tenured faculty demanded a lot more money for the favor of staying and not taking jobs elsewhere. My own department picked up one of their professors, who brought a lot of grant money with her.

    That’s why you can’t expect to lean on a university you’ve bought and demand that they follow your policies. Word gets out.

  10. canadiansteve says

    an intentional feature of the American tax system – instead of direct taxation to support public services, give credit to these kinds of so-called philanthropic donations. It allows the wealthy to preen in their generosity, and demand that these organizations bend to the priorities of their donors.

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