Conservative College Sues Mizzou, Alleging Breach With Donor’s Ideological Terms

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July 16, 2019 5:21 p.m.
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It’s the free market at work.

Right-wing liberal arts college Hillsdale College is suing the University of Missouri for $5 million, alleging that Mizzou has failed to stick to the ideological terms set for a gift from one of its alumni.

Wall Street donor and Mizzou alum Sherlock Hibbs pledged $5 million to the university, endowing six separate positions at its business school. Hibbs mandated that the positions be filled by “dedicated and articulate disciples of the free and open market economy.” If the university failed to comply, Hibbs stipulated, it would fall to the conservative Hillsdale College to take back the money.

After Hibbs’ death in 2002, Mizzou established the six positions, which have free market themes ranging from a “chair of entrepreneurship” to a “chair of money,¬†credit and banking.”

Yet, Hillsdale is now accusing Mizzou of neglecting its duty to hire “disciples” of Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises, a father of the libertarian economic movement in the U.S. along with his fellow traveler Friedrich Hayek.

The lawsuit claims that Mizzou is reaping the consequences of failing to comply with an elaborate, free market-oriented structure meant to ensure that Hibbs’ will is fulfilled.

“Consistent with his Austrian School orientation, Mr. Hibbs relied on a mechanism of private enforcement by Hillsdale, an entity with an incentive to police compliance because MU would forfeit the funds to Hillsdale if MU did not comply with the condition,” a filing in the case reads.

Mizzou spokesman Christian Basi vehemently denied Hillsdale’s claims in a phone call with TPM.

“We are very adamant about fulfilling the explicit wishes of every donor whenever we accept a gift,” Basi said.

Basi sent TPM a certificate signed by six professors whose positions were funded by the gift in which they attest to “believ[ing] we are ‘a dedicated and articulate disciple of the free and open market economy (the Ludwig von Mises Austrian School of Economics).'”

“We further attest that through our individual and collective activities, we have demonstrated a commitment to – and have promoted – numerous principles associated with the Austrian School of Economics, such as innovation, creativity, change, entrepreneurship, private property, competition, pricing through open markets, individual choice, and market processes,” the document reads.

Hillsdale claimed in a Missouri supreme court filing that after the gift was presented to Mizzou, school administrators began to worry about the strings attached to the money.

It quotes one university official as saying that the school “didn’t want to wade into” the controversy around Austrian economics.

Basi told TPM that the official in question had departed Mizzou, and that he could not comment.

Nixon did not return requests for comment.

The case was first filed in 2017, but progressed at a snail’s pace until a July 2019 decision from the Missouri Supreme Court that allowed it to proceed.

Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) is representing Hillsdale in the case, which seeks to recover the $5 million endowment given to the school.

The Hillsdale College, located in Michigan, has made its name over the years as a beacon for the conservative movement.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the college’s graduation ceremony last year, while Hillsdale takes money from a range of donors that include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak.

The lawsuit was first reported on by Missouri Live.

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