Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Obvious Parallels

The principals at the controversial new Founders College have been at considerable pains to deny any ongoing Objectivist connection to, and influence at, the College. Gary Hull, the long time Ayn Rand Institute speaker who founded the College, claimed the original plan of an Objectivist College "fell by the wayside." Founders CEO Tamara Fuller said the Ayn Rand connection "distracted" people and claimed that the college "never intended to teach Objectivism." Most recently, Founders Professor of Philosophy Robert Garmong wrote to this blog calling such criticisms "bizarre and irrelevant" and "based on nothing but...bias against Ayn Rand's ideas." He also recommended that those who raised such issues - presumably us included - "study the fallacy of the Argument from Ignorance."

We at ARCHNblog have already highlighted over the last few weeks the many connections between Founders and Objectivism, and also, less formally, the Ayn Rand Institute. The Ayn Rand Institute, run by Rand's appointed intellectual heir Leonard Peikoff, is the seat of Objectivist orthodoxy, and encourages Rand's thought to be followed to the letter. Any deviation from Rand's views or personal criticism of Rand is strongly discouraged - an oft-noted irony for these apparent advocates of individualism. Is ARCHNblog's pursuit of these connections as bogus as Garmong claims? While many of the specifics of Founders curriculum are still vague, the outline of their Novels 1&2 curriculum is on-line, along with an outline of their Drama curriculum. We ran a detailed comparison between these two curriculums and Ayn Rand's own highly distinctive and well-recorded views on literature and drama from sources such as The Objectivist Reference Centre combined our own research. The result was an almost perfect match: (apologies for formatting in some browsers)

Founders College "What Ayn Rand Read"
Novels 1&2 Curriculum Objectivist Reference Centre
Victor Hugo Victor Hugo
Fyodor Dostoevsky Fyodor Dostoevsky
Nathaniel Hawthorne Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter The Scarlet Letter
Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis Sienkiewicz Quo Vadis
Tolstoy Anna Karenina Tolstoy Anna Karenina
Thomas Wolfe Thomas Wolfe
Walter Scott Ivanhoe Walter Scott Ivanhoe
Alexander Dumas Alexandre Dumas
H.G. Wells H.G. Wells
Jules Verne Jules Verne
Calumet K Merwin&Webster Calumet 'K'
Mickey Spillane Mickey Spillane
Theodore Dreiser Theodore Dreiser
Sinclair Lewis Sinclair Lewis
Thomas Mann Thomas Mann
Margaret Mitchell, Margaret Mitchell,
Gone With the Wind Gone With The Wind

Novels 1&2 cont. Other References:
O. Henry O. Henry, (The Ayn Rand Column)
One of Rand's favourite writers
Donald Hamilton Donald Hamilton (Ayn Rand Column)
Balzac Balzac, (Romantic Manifesto)
John O’Hara John O’Hara,
Frederic Brown Frederic Brown, (Romantic Manifesto)
Kafka Kafka (Peikoff, Ominous Parallels)
The Scarlet Pimpernel "A...fiction hero loved by Rand"

We do not consider our above references are complete, and welcome any additional connections readers might note. However, what is astonishing is the sheer slavishness with which Ayn Rand's personal and often eccentric literary tastes have been followed by a College publicly purporting to offer a broad, objective (as opposed to Objectivist), liberal curriculum to its students.

However, remarkable as this is, it seems Founders College's Drama curriculum even manages to outdo the Novels course in intellectual forelock tugging. A comparison here shows that Founders Drama course has been lifted bodily from Ayn Rand Institute head Leonard Peikoff's "Eight Great Plays," along with a couple of firmly Ayn Rand-approved extras and of course a couple of Rand's own plays.

Founders College "Eight Great Plays"
Drama Curriculum Leonard Peikoff course
Antigone Antigone
Othello Othello
Le Cid Le Cid
Don Carlos Don Carlos
An Enemy of the People An Enemy of the People
Saint Joan (G.B. Shaw) Saint Joan, G. B. Shaw
Monna Vanna Monna Vanna
Cyrano de Bergerac Cyrano de Bergerac

Founders Drama cont. "What Ayn Rand Read"
The Browning Version The Browning Version
The Winslow Boy The Winslow Boy

Founders Drama cont. Other ref.
The Miracle Worker "the only epistemological play
ever written."- Ayn Rand
Night of January 16th Ayn Rand
Ideal (unproduced) Ayn Rand

Once again we have an almost perfect match, with the only exception being Aristophanes "The Clouds" from Founders list (Aristophanes is however lectured on by the Ayn Rand Institute's Robert Mayhew, so presumably he is approved). One also notes that Ayn Rand, a minor playwright even by the most generous standards, gets no less than two plays in Founders drama curriculum - one of which, "Ideal" was never even produced. Shakespeare, or George Bernard Shaw, by comparison, only get one.

So despite the strong claims of the college's principals, it seems that once again the parallels between Founders, Objectivism, and the Ayn Rand Institute are all too obvious. So far I have emailed Professor Garmong inviting him to answer some direct questions about his claims, but he has not responded. I have also emailed Founders College's PR company seeking further contact information. They have also yet to respond. Certainly as far as Professor Garmong is concerned, it seems it is he himself who is either "ignorant" of his own College's stated curriculum, or is misrepresenting it. We also note that Bryan Niblett, Dean of the Faculty and teaching Writing and Literature is one of the staff who does not appear to have any overt connection to Objectivism or the ARI to date. We would be most interested in Professor Niblett's comments on the subject.


Anonymous said...


As Greg Nyquist pointed out, Rand's reading list is the Great Books modified by her quirky tastes. And since Rand said almost everything post 1950 is "trash," you don't have to worry about FC teaching the collected works of Alice Walker or Maya Angelou.

But to include Rand's plays means you don't have time to read Eugene O'Neil or Chehkov.

And "observe" that authors Rand didn't mention such as Dickens, Twain, Chaucer, E. O'Neil & Chekhov are not taught.

Anonymous said...

I think also that I can predict quite accurately what they'll teach for example about Thomas Wolfe and Mickey Spillane. How is that possible?

Michael Prescott said...

If there was any doubt that Randism is a cult, or at least has a strongly cultish flavor, it should be resolved once and for all by these reading lists. It's as if the Peikoff-approved Randists are afraid to deal with any works of literature not specifically endorsed, or at least discussed, by Rand herself (or by Peikoff as her proxy). After all, if they were to discuss a book she hadn't analyzed, how could they be sure they would hold the "correct" opinion about it?

And you're right - two Ayn Rand plays, vs. only one of Shakespeare's! That's not a Great Books list. It's more like a literature course for people who don't really care for literature.

Anonymous said...


And these are the Randians who claim they are NOT running an Objectivist school. Can you imagine the Randians who concede they are, such as the ARI's Objectivist Academic Center?

When it comes to the authors on FC's list, such as Thomas Mann, is there any doubt that The Magic Mountain will be taught (because it is on Peikoff's official enemies list) rather than, say, Buddenbrooks or Joseph and his Brothers?

Anonymous said...

I should correct myself. I said that Chaucer isn't taught. I was wrong. This is the list for the Epic and Poetry course:

"Homer, Ovid, Vergil, Dante, Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt, Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Donne, Ben Johnson, Milton, Marvell, Dryden, Pope, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Frost, Kipling, Badger Clark, Ogden Nash."

This list seems fairly conventional. Interestingly, Rand apparently had little interest in poetry. (It is mentioned only once in RM, according to the index.)

Peikoff did a course on poetry, but unfortunately the title doesn't say whom he mentions. Wonder if there is any overlap . . . .

Michael Prescott said...

Note the inclusion of Badger Clark in the Epic & Poetry list. Who is Badger Clark? A minor poet who wrote a poem that Ayn Rand liked. The poem was "The Westerner" - basically a paean to rugged individualism. (Quoted in full here, one-quarter down the page.) Rand quoted it in The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 4 November 22, 1971, in the essay "Don't Let It Go." (According to this source.) As I recall, the full poem was later printed in the newsletter that circulated after The Ayn Rand Letter ceased publication.

Michael Prescott said...

Oh, and Rand also liked Kipling's poems. She singled out "When Earth's Last Picture is Painted" as one of her favorites in the Q & A session of one of Peikoff's taped lectures.

Anonymous said...

And the "Objectivese" in the curriculum is easy to find. Take description of FC's Grammar and Writing Course:

"Nonfiction writing is a form of communicating one’s ideas clearly. Contrary to popular myth, good writing is neither 'inspirational' nor 'mystical.'”

Go to Rand's The Art of Fiction on page 2:

"What is colloqually called 'inspiration' . . . is actually the subconscious summing up of the premises and intentions you have set for yourself. . . . Most writers today . . . take the attitude of the worst medieval mystics."

Anonymous said...

Founders College is a lame attempt to save the world. Compare this cheesy project to another educational project (also by an objectivist). I am refering to Wikipedia. Which one will do more good to spread reason? (Which one already has?)

One project was created by a person with a passionate desire to create something good (Jimbo Wales) and the other is the product of nobodies copying ideas from peikoff's playbook on how to save the world.

That's just my opinion. I could be wrong. :-)

Ken Stauffer

Anonymous said...

not that anybody will care especially, but... I'd bet that the curriculum, reading list(s), syllabi - such as they probably are - were created by Gary Hull, and remain his legacy & contribution to the project. So any ARI connexions go through that gate. Future mods to the program might not necessarily meet with his approval (dare I say sanction?)...

Daniel Barnes said...

Hard to say, anon. The College, and the good Professor Garmong, seem reluctant to answer any straight questions, so your guess is as good as ours. My feeling is that if there's not an ARI influenced Objectivist curriculum in place, what do you need all those ARI influenced Objectivists as staff for? Plus isn't Dr Niblett in charge of his own curriculum? Is he going to merrily teach this frankly rather embarrassing legacy of Hull's for the foreseeable? We will see.

No doubt there are the land deals etc underneath this, as other commenters have speculated, which may or may not offset the Founders financial costs. But obviously whoever's got the chequebook can afford the odd folly such as this.

Anonymous said...

Actually, The school cannot afford to run itself. Ask Dr Niblett.

Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities was taught in Novels I.

The school has Objectivist leanings, but is not able to provide an explicitly Randian education, so there is some discrepancy.