Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Introducing Glenn Beck University

Glenn Beck, the controversial broadcaster, has decided to introduce his own education service: Beck University.

"Beck University is a unique academic experience bringing together experts in the fields of religion, American history and economics," says the announcement on the Beck Web site. "Through captivating lectures and interactive online discussions, these experts will explore the concepts of Faith, Hope and Charity and show you how they influence America’s past, her present and most importantly her future."

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Courses are not for credit, so the use of the term "university" appears to be largely symbolic (although that got Donald Trump in trouble for his Trump University, which has since been renamed).

There is no tuition for Beck University, but to enroll, you must be an "Insider Extreme" subscriber to a variety of Beck products (for at least $6.26 a month).

Two of the three original faculty members (all called professors) are not traditional academics, but one is: James. R. Stoner Jr., a professor of political science at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. In the syllabus posted for the new program, Stoner is slated to give lectures on the principle of charity, but he said in a brief interview that the lectures are all focused on general issues related to the Constitution and the development of American traditions. His first talk will be about federalism, his second on the separation of powers, and the third on individual rights.

Stoner said he is "someone who wants to teach" so he was delighted to accept Beck's offer to develop the lectures.

While Stoner said he didn't know how he came to Beck's attention, the LSU scholar has strong scholarly and conservative credentials. He is the author of Common-Law Liberty: Rethinking American Constitutionalism and Common Law and Liberal Theory: Coke, Hobbes, and the Origins of American Constitutionalism, and he is currently working on a book tentatively called "Resisting Judicial Supremacy." During the last Bush administration, he served on the National Council on the Humanities.

The circles in which Beck is popular tend to regularly criticize academe as dominated by the left. Stoner, while not disagreeing, suggested that the ability of the Beck team to identify one of its first scholars from within academe suggested that scholars don't all think alike. "There are a huge number of people who teach, and certain opinions that tend to be dominant in the academy, but there is diversity in the academy," he said. "Obviously somebody was interested in what I had to say."

The arrival of Beck University has not gone unnoticed by his critics. Keith Olbermann did a segment comparing Beck unfavorably to Ezra Cornell, the founder of Olbermann's alma mater. And Mother Jones has come out with suggestions for additional courses Beck U. might offer, including "Semiotics of Tricornered Hats," "Wilde, Proust, and Other Homosexual Europeans," "Middle Eastern and Arab Cultures: What's Up With That?" and "Underwater Conspiracy Weaving."


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