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James Buchanan Rightly Opposed UCLA’s Hiring of Angela Davis

A one-time frequent commenter at this blog has written a new paper attempting, in the shabby style of Nancy MacLean, to falsely portray George Mason University’s late Nobel-laureate economist James Buchanan as a bigoted ideologue. (HT David Henderson) As with Ms. MacLean, the author of this new paper offers a tendentious argument the main conclusion of which is unsupportable – and laughable to those of us who knew Jim Buchanan personally. The author of this new paper wants his readers to believe that evidence that Buchanan was a racist ideologue comes in the form of Buchanan’s opposition to UCLA’s hiring of Angela Davis. (Buchanan spent the 1968-69 academic year on the Econ faculty at UCLA.) Phil Magness offered by e-mail this assessment (which I share with Phil’s kind permission) of Davis’s hiring and firing and of Buchanan’s justified support for her firing:

Re. Davis’s firing from UCLA:

She was hired into a faculty position as a grad student only a few months after finishing her qualifying exams. She had no publications of any note at the time, and a thin teaching CV that included roughly a semester as a TA. There does not appear to have been a competitive search for her position, and instead she was given the job because of nepotistic connections between the philosophy department chair and her adviser Herbert Marcuse. The philosophy department chair even tried to give her a course release (even though it was a TEACHING position) in order to write her dissertation while she was on the faculty (the admin said no because that was a bridge too far). The whole thing was an indefensible and rigged search to place a fundamentally unqualified candidate on the fast track to a permanent professorship, all because the philosophy department chair liked her politics.

Buchanan and the Board of Regents were both correct in calling for her dismissal, because she didn’t meet the minimum criteria for a faculty position.

DBx: I agree with Phil that Buchanan and the Board of Regents acted correctly. But even if you believe that Buchanan should not have opposed Davis and that UCLA should not have fired her, the flimsiness of her academic record was a plausible reason for Buchanan – and other serious scholars – to oppose her hiring and to support her firing. The sorry fact that someone reads more into Buchanan’s actions testifies only that that person does not here do serious research; instead, that person set out to tell a tale that supports a conclusion to which he was already committed.