I enrolled at George Mason University School of Law aware of its conservative reputation. Despite my political inclinations, it is not the school’s general reputation that concerns me. After all, I signed up for it. However, I did not sign up to attend a public school that allows itself to become a pawn in a game to advance the political interests of any one person or entity – regardless of politics. This is what is happening at George Mason. In a recent All Opinions Are Local blog post, Thomas Wheatley gleefully bought it hook, line and sinker. Dean Henry Butler’s decision to sell the name of a law school named after a Founding Father for quick cash from an anonymous donor compromises the credibility of the curriculum and delegitimizes the integrity of the institution itself. As correctly pointed out by Virginia lawmakers in a letter to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, George Mason University is a public institution and this is not how state universities are expected to function.
In his piece, Mr. Wheatley decried the supposed politicization of the name change because members of the George Mason community had the audacity to make their own opinions known. While vigorously defending the name change, he equated those with contrary views with “fanatical witch-hunts” that “threaten free speech on college campuses.” This concocted post-hoc victimization is echoed elsewhere but is remarkably easy to deconstruct. The argument amounts to saying that the root of the problem is not with the secretive and self-interested deal-making being done by Dean Butler behind closed doors, but rather with anyone who dares challenge it. In other words, your efforts at achieving greater transparency amount to persecution and if you do not quietly go along with this unilateral and covert multi-million dollar arrangement with an anonymous donor, then you are what is wrong with public education, not us.
The fact is that the law school is a subset of George Mason University and decisions made in Arlington will affect the reputation and legitimacy of the institution writ large. This is an “externality,” a term that any George Mason law student should be familiar with. Students, faculty and alumni at George Mason who will be directly affected by what takes place at the law school have every right to make their opinion known, even though Dean Butler has endeavored mightily to extinguish any outside input.
However, this issue goes far deeper than the obvious concerns about diversity and reputation; it goes to the very heart of public education itself. If the name change is permitted to proceed, it will set a dangerous precedent that sanctions the sort of secretive, closed-door deal-making we have seen here. Such behavior affords private individuals and entities with the opportunity to stand in the shadows and quietly manipulate the curriculum and faculty of public institutions in Virginia and perhaps across the nation. This cannot be tolerated.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wheatley’s piece perfectly encapsulated the frightening transformation that is presently unfolding at George Mason University School of Law. The law school I went to is becoming more unrecognizable each day and is mutating into nothing more than a plaything for Dean Butler and his wealthy benefactor friends. We all have an obligation to defend George Mason from this threat to freedom and transparency within public education.
The writer is an alumnus of George Mason University School of Law.