Broward News

FAU's Stadium Debacle: Professor Moderating Talks Is Linked to Right-wing Foundation, Conservative Causes (UPDATED)

After Florida Atlantic University students flooded her office and staged a sit-in, university president Mary Jane Saunders agreed under pressure to hold a forum to discuss the planned sale of stadium naming rights to private prison operator GEO Group. 

But Saunders cherry-picked the moderator -- and the political science professor she chose is deeply involved with a rightwing foundation which promotes conservative thought on college campuses.

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On his CV, Professor Kevin Wagner describes himself as "College Republicans Advisor, Florida Atlantic University (2007-Current).

Prominently featured on Wagner's web page is his position with the Jack Miller Forum, of which he is associate director. The forum is affiliated with the Jack Miller Center, a Chicago-based organization whose academic council is chaired by James Ceaser, a major conservative intellectual.

In its 2011 annual report, the Jack Miller Center said that Wagner participated in a meeting of the center's Strategic Planning Group, along with Ceaser and others.

In 2008, in a New York Times article headlined "Conservatives Try New Tack on Campus," the center was described as part of an effort to "restore what conservative and other critics see as leading casualties of the campus culture wars of the 1980s and '90s: the teaching of Western culture and a triumphal interpretation of American history."

According to the Times, the center was established "after first collaborating with the 55-year-old Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which promotes conservative thought on campus."

Wagner was chosen by Saunders despite the president's Monday statement to protestors from the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition that they propose a moderator.

In an email exchange with the coalition, Saunders's advisor Dr. Kevin Lanning said he pre-empted the group because they failed to act in a timely manner.

Among other points of contention, the coalition objects to Wagner's being empowered to cut off follow-up questions to Saunders at Friday's forum. As Lanning put it, Wagner will "make a judgement concerning whether and when follow-up questions are appropriate."

In announcing the Wagner selection to the Stop Owlcatraz Coalition, Dr. Lanning stated "I understand that [Wagner} may not be your first choice, but I give you my word that he will be an impartial moderator of the discussion...Thank you in advance for your flexibility on this."

Wagner did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

UPDATE: Replying by email, Dr. Lanning said:

I know that Professor Wagner was at one time advisor to the College Republicans. I did not know, and do not believe, that he has 'strong right-wing beliefs' [Note: Those are not New Times's words.] that will prevent him from being a neutral moderator.

For what its worth, last Fall, when FAU was approached about supporting a voter-registration drive with the group TurboVote, Wagner was one of the key players in supporting my successful efforts (with the Weppner Center for Student Engagement) in getting the drive underway on our campus. This occurred at a time in which voter registration drives were under threat statewide.

More recently, he served on a gun violence roundtable organized by Lois Frankel.

It's my impression that Wagner's beliefs, like that of many academic political scientists, defy easy categorization.

Wagner's civic engagement is unusually deep and broad and he deserves to be commended for this. More to the point, if we expect honesty and integrity from each other tomorrow, the likelihood of having a positive impact on our university and community will be greater.

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