Connoisseurs of academic fatuousness will remember the debacle of Lee Bass’s twenty-million-dollar grant to Yale University. In 1991, Mr. Bass, a 1979 Yale alumnus, made this extraordinary gift to his alma mater in order to strengthen Yale’s offerings in Western civilization and to provide an alternative to the radical multiculturalism that has had such a disfiguring influence on the humanities in American colleges and universities. The inspiration for Mr. Bass’s gift came partly from the eminent Yale classics professor Donald Kagan, a former dean of Yale College and an avid supporter of what is best in the traditional liberal arts curriculum.

Naturally, this educational initiative, emphasizing the importance of Western culture and its intellectual, moral, and political achievements met with fierce resistance from entrenched radical elements at Yale. Years went by, and nothing was done to implement the integrated course of studies or make the faculty appointments that Mr. Bass’s grant had stipulated. Mr. Bass made inquiries and was met by equivocations. Finally, in 1995, he asked to be given a voice in making faculty appointments to the program he was paying for. Yale refused, and returned his grant.

Radical faculty members at Yale barked about Mr. Bass’s efforts to interfere with their academic freedom, and The New York Times—“Old Reliable”—weighed in with an editorial supporting Yale and, by implication, attacking Lee Bass for being meddlesome. “Universities,” the Times said, “must … resist the temptation to solicit and accept gifts from donors with a strong political agenda.” (What they meant, of course, was a conservative agenda: strong liberal agendas are OK. Readers interested in the details of this saga should see our Notes & Comments for April 1995.)

But it turns out that the story wasn’t over when Yale returned Mr. Bass’s check. The affair was widely publicized in the press, and concerned alumni and members of the Yale Corporation naturally pressed the administration for an explanation of what had happened. The official answer, mouthed by Yale president Richard Levin, was that the program to be funded by the Bass grant hadn’t worked out for the “practical, logistical, and nonpolitical reason that it made inefficient use of our faculty resources.” Dubious, the Yale Corporation authorized an investigation of the whole affair by Federal Judge José A. Cabranes and Henry B. Schacht, CEO of the Lucent Corporation—and then kept the results secret, even from the Basses.

There was obviously something fishy happening. And, as The Wall Street Journal reported in an editorial on November 10, alumni from the class of 1937 have conducted their own investigation and have circulated a report that challenges Yale’s assurances about its commitment to teaching Western civilization: “The university continues to reject endowments and Bass-like programs that would support such teaching—while at the same time it has expanded its multiculturalist offerings. The report further notes that with the suppression of the Cabranes-Schacht study, university officials ‘continue to obscure the truth about a breach of a basic fiduciary responsibility.’” Indeed. It is said that Perry Bass, the family patriarch, has been contemplating a gift to Yale in the neighborhood of $500 million. Perhaps the administration’s lack of candor about the spread of trendy multiculturalism at Yale will make him change his plans. Who could blame him?

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 16 Number 4, on page 3
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