Zell Miller – Young Harris College Controversy

WaPo reports today that retiring Georgia Senator Zell Miller is Bound for K Street:

Sen. Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who turned on colleague John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and campaigned for President Bush, will be trying his hand at government relations in the private sector when he retires from the Senate next month. Miller is joining McKenna Long & Aldridge, a law firm of 350 lawyers and policy advisers, with offices in Atlanta, the District and elsewhere. He will be a “senior policy adviser” in the law firm’s government affairs practice.

Even when the year-long restriction on lobbying senators is over, it does not sound as if Miller will be actually buttonholing lawmakers. He said he will be advising clients on how they can get their legislative way and come up with “practical solutions.” “I certainly don’t plan on walking any halls of Congress,” he said in an interview yesterday. But his work for McKenna is “something I can do and still live in my home” in Young Harris, Ga. He talked about “a certain expertise” he has in national security and military matters but said he has not been able to talk to the law firm about the specifics of what he will be doing, because he is still in the Senate.

Winfield Myers tells us the rest of the story: Miller’s desire to return to his alma mater, Young Harris College, to resume his teaching duties was thwarted by a faculty outcry.

But so politicized has higher education become that even the smallest academic communities now employ teachers who’re only too happy to lash out at a native son who professes traditional conservative beliefs — even if he also happens to be the school’s most distinguished alumnus. That’s a pity, especially for the students who could have learned about American politics from a former governor and Senator who spent decades in the public arena.

Can there be any doubt that, had Miller spoken out against the Bush administration, his place in academe would have been assured? After all, Max Cleland, Georgia’s embittered ex-Senator, found his liberal credentials far more useful in landing an academic post than in maintaining his Senate seat in a Red State. Viewed from that perspective, Miller’s ostracism from his alma mater is a badge of honor. But for Young Harris College, it remains a shameful stain.

It’s understandable that many faculty members would object to Miller’s return, given the leftism that dominates the academy. But Myers is right: the students could certainly learn a lot from Miller’s lifetime of public service–as will Cleland’s. It’s a shame they won’t be able to.

Update (1314): Oops. I should have done more research into this one. I got an e-mail “tip” on the story and just presumed that it was a new development. In fact, as commenter kappiy notes, the Young Harris story dates from May. While Myers’ account of the controversy is correct, it omits a rather important detail reported at the time:

Zell Miller, miffed at alma mater, won’t teach there (Macon News – AP)
May 22, 2004

Both Young Harris and UGA said they would welcome him back.

But Miller wrote that he will not work at Young Harris because of Franklin’s letter. “I have long put up with this kind of vitriol in the political world but I am not going to at my alma mater,” he wrote.

Franklin, who also criticized Miller’s creation of a state lottery as “legalized gambling,” said his disagreement with Miller was philosophical, not personal. Franklin’s wife, Louisa, is the college’s academic dean.

If Franklin’s letter were part of a generalized faculty movement at YHC, Miller’s position would be understandable. But Miller is a controversial figure–more so now than in May, since his RNC address has come since–and he has to expect that some will vehemently disagree with him. Especially on a college campus.

(Post title modified to reflect this update)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    Zell Millers rant at the RNC left me with the impression he is unbalanced emotionally and a bit off mentally. Looking back at his track record it looks like he lost all semblance of sanity after 9/11/01. Another victim of terror.

  2. kappiy says:

    umm..James, did you actually read the story cited by Myers? To say “Miller’s desire to return to his alma mater, Young Harris College, to resume his teaching duties was thwarted by a faculty outcry” is just false. ONE faculty member wrote Miller a vitriolic letter–hardly evidence of a widespread outcry–and it was MILLER’S DECISION not to take the Young Harris gig.

    If this is evidence of anything, it is evidence of Miller’s general crankiness and his own perceived inability to engage with people of different views in the workplace. If Miller is going to be intimidated by one obscure professor of British history, it shows just how pathetic Miller has become.

    Franklin’s letter expressed outrage at Miller’s failure to take allegations of torture by the US military seriously–which is a serious breach of ethics and a derilection of duty for someone in his position. Miller was just plain wrong to equate criticism of torture to: “Rushing to give aid and comfort to the enemy.” These are clearly the words of someone with a clear deficit in the area of rational thinking.

    Now, to portray Miller as a victim of “leftist academics”–whose only unfortunate avenue left open to him now is to exploit his connections for personal gain–is absolutely absurd.

    The story on Miller’s “victimization”: http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/8730066.htm

    For an example of what garbage students could learn from this wise “public servant”:

  3. kappiy says:

    James, thanks for the update.

    I think that the aggregate evidence for leftist “dominance of academia” is specious. There are always some ideologues in isolated departments–but if you look at the largest number of majors and the most well financed schools within universities, Business programs and technical/engineering programs get the lions share of funding.

    I haven’t seen a comprehensive study, but there is no paucity of conservative voices or opportunities for ex-politicans (from both parties) to set up “policy institutes” or think tanks. Universities are basically businesses now and–in an age of decreasing federal financing–Universities are not shy about placating to corporate donors and ex-pols who can fund their own centers. Here’s a few more prominent ones:
    Rice Univ. James Baker Institute http://bakerinstitute.org/

    Univ. Lousiville McConnell Center

    Heck, even obscure and undistingusihed ex-Congressmen like Lou Frey can get their own isntitutes:

  4. James, Yes indeed, the story regarding Franklin’s problems with Miller that I linked to dates from May. But that in no way negates its impact on Miller’s decision. For over two decades now, Miller has expressed the desire to return home and teach, and for years the college made a big deal of his connections with it. A key point here is just how much things have changed at YHC, and, for that matter, how much David Franklin himself has changed. Miller’s decision not to return there to teach is, within the small world of YHC graduates, huge news. The story of his new job on K Street drives home just how great this change has been; it’s also most unwelcome by no small number of alumni.
    As for any lack of left-wing bias on campus, it’s remarkable that anyone could make such a charge. The centers linked to above are just that — small, privately funded centers within universities. They’re hardly representative of departmental politics, nor do they have a great impact on the universities at which they operate.

  5. kappiy says:

    In response to Winfield, I would stand by the claim that left wing “bias” is way overblown. Of course, it is important to pinpoint what we mean by “bias.” I would suggest that one of the important decisions students make–and one which suggests market demand–is the choosing of majors. I am assuming that when people claim that there is a “left wing bias,” they perceive it as a problem; alleged bias results in minimizing the choices and outlets for students to pursue their intellectual interests.

    There is no systematic nationwide data on majors, but lets look at two public universities in left leaning states; California & New York.

    SUNY Stony Brook’s top declared majors are: Psychology, Computer Science, Business Management, Biology & Economics.

    At UC-Riverside, the top majors are: Pre-Business, Business Admin, Computer Science, Psychology, & Biology.

    The point being, is there is a clear institutional shift to more professional & technical degrees where politiczation is rare. You will not find many Marxists in Buisness Departments. Psych departments may have a Freudian on staff, but the overwhelming literature you will learn is behavioral. I’ll admit, if you are a Biology major, it is probably essential that you understand evolution–a position that may be considered “political” by the more medievalist elements of the “Chirstian” Right.

    Basically, this whole “left wing bias” business is the product of scaremongering which relies on unsubstantiated claims and a real failure to define what is meant by “bias.”

  6. I’ve posted an update for my blog that will, I hope, further explain the Miller story. Let me note, too, that I mentioned that the original story occurred in May in the text of my original post; I hardly excluded or hid it, nor would I engage in such sloppy writing.
    As for Kappiy’s most recent comments, I agree that more students are majoring in non-humanities areas. This is a decades-long trend that began about 1970. But the volumes by Roger Kimball, Martin Anderson, Dinesh D’Souza, Peter Wood, Alan Kors & Harvey Silverglate, John Ellis, Alan Bloom, and many others that explore the liberal bias on campus aren’t based upon scaremongering. If you naven’t spent much time in the faculty lounge lately, I recommend those readings.

  7. kappiy says:

    I wouldn’t doubt that there are higher than average proportions of academics who are leftists. But I am not exacty sure how this is a problem–which is why it is important to identify just what is meant by “bias.” If someone is teaching me Organic Chemistry or microbiology, or IT Networking, it doesn’t matter if that person is a proponent of gay marriage, social security privatization, or any candidate. They just have to teach the material.

    It actually makes sense that you find few political conservatives in the academy since people who are drawn to academics and the intellectual life tend to be motivated by ideas and curiousity about the way the world works. If Bush’s success is a measure of contemporary conservative sentiment, then he is a prime example of this characterization. Curiousity is not his strong suit. Academics, scientists, and other cultural innovators are motivated by change and improvement, not by “staying the course.”