Last month law professor Todd Zywicki spoke at the Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference, an annual gathering of conservative pundits and professionals that has veered further right in recent years. David O. Williams previewed the event for the Colorado Times Recorder.
Before launching into his speech criticizing America’s higher education system as overly woke, Zywicki listed two universities for which his critiques did not apply, both of which pay him. The first is George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School where he typically teaches. The other, CU Boulder, is where he is currently employed by the Benson Center as its Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought & Policy, a position best known for previously being held by indicted Trump attorney John Eastman, aka “co-conspirator #2.”
“I only can talk about for 20 minutes and in that time I’m going to diagnose and solve all the problems of higher education,” said Zywicki. “So I’m going to oversimplify and paint with a broad brush to point out the general trajectories. I want to specifically make two exceptions: first my home institution: the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason. I’ve dedicated my career to them because they don’t fit a lot of the trends that I’m going to talk about here.
“I also want to talk about the reception up at CU, how gracious that has been, in particular the support that the chancellor of the university has shown for the Benson Center, and his enthusiasm for when I met with him.”
On July 11, just a month after taking the Benson Center job, Zywicki defended Eastman’s “alternate elector” plan for Georgia as “reasonable, proper and lawful” in an “expert declaration” that lawyers presented to prosecutor Fani Willis on behalf of one such Georgia “elector” and co-conspirator, David Shafer.
“[Eastman’s] continued advocacy of conspiracy theories is repugnant, and he will bear the shame of his role in undermining confidence in the rule of law,” DiStefano wrote. “He has embarrassed our institution. CU Boulder is committed to the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of knowledge, and Professor Eastman has contributed nothing of value to support the ideals of either the Benson Center or CU Boulder.”
After praising DiStefeno, Zywicki invited Hillsdale College professor Matthew Spalding, who, like Eastman, is also a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, to the stage for a discussion of higher education.
Spalding began by bragging about his efforts undertaken under another new title: Trustee of the New College of Florida, where he is a member of the all-conservative board appointed by Governor DeSantis. Since Spalding and the other conservatives took charge, the U.S. Department of Education has opened two investigations in response to civil rights complaints filed against the institution.
“It’s an experiment to see if we can reverse a state university… and restore it as a liberal arts college, said Spalding. “So we came in and we dismissed the president and provost, we got rid of their DEI programs, and this last week we abolished gender studies!”
Zywicki joined the audience in applauding Spalding’s list of accomplishments.
Spalding agreed with Zywicki that the problem is “wokeism,” which both see as coming from a postmodernist philosophy. Spalding considers the concept so dangerous it must be eliminated from academia. “Wokeism is a term of art we use today that really is various manifestations coming out of post-modernism which is alive and well in various places — in certain departments especially — which is why we abolished gender studies.”
Zywicki also believes wokism is a threat, saying, “I think the woke attack on the universities is real, serious and potentially existential,” but he blames its influence on administrators more than faculty.
“A lot of what makes universities so bad these days are these bureaucrats,” says Zywicki. “The administrators do have a lot of power but they’re basically being populated by woke activists up and down. A lot of the senior administrators of universities are basically failed academics who go into university administration and bring a lot of those ideas with them.”
Prof. Zywicki responded to an email request for comment after publication, offering the following statement.
“To clarify, what I said about my home law school and CU is that I appreciated their institutional commitment to free speech and support for academic freedom,” said Zywicki. “I think that Chancellor DiStefano has been very clear in his commitment to academic freedom. I interviewed with him and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are part of the application process of being considered for the position, which I understand to be standard procedure.
There is nothing inconsistent between supporting the traditional liberal arts and believing that departments should be organized around traditional disciplinary and methodological boundaries. More to the point, I don’t believe that every institution of higher learning needs to always follow exactly the same script in terms of educating their students and as I made very clear, I support innovation and experimentation. Based on what I know about New College (and I am not an expert on all their proposals) I do not agree with everything they are considering. I do support their willingness to experiment and innovate in an effort to try improve education for the benefit of students and society and I expect they will assess their efforts as they go forward to see what is and is not working. And I especially applaud their commitment to academic freedom, free speech, and a rigorous liberal arts education for students.”
Chancellor DiStefano did not respond to emailed questions as to the nature of his meeting with Zywicki, whether he has any concerns about Zywicki’s defense of Eastman’s Georgia elector argument, and whether he has any response to Zywicki’s characterization of university administrators as “woke activists” who are “failed academics.” This article will be updated with any response received.