- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

When College Republicans at Stetson University griped about the lack of conservative thought on campus, Martha Apgar was listening.

In a first-of-its kind gift, the philanthropist donated $1 million to establish a conservative speakers’ forum, the John N. Apgar Jr. Lecture Series, at the private university in DeLand, Fla.

The series, named after Mrs. Apgar’s late husband, kicked off in the fall with legendary conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. in one of his last campus appearances. The college is scheduled to host Princeton University professor Robert George later this year.

Mr. Buckley’s speech was seen as a major regional event, organizers said. Students from neighboring Florida universities drove to DeLand to see him, and members of the College Democrats helped serve as ushers.

“Even the liberal students were honored that we got such a big speaker to come,” said Danny Infield, a junior who served last year as College Republicans chairman. “Mrs. Apgar, the lady who donated the money, was so great. This was a big windfall for us.”

The idea for the series grew out of an appearance by conservative activist David Horowitz, who has led the charge for greater academic diversity. He spoke at Stetson in October 2005 at the invitation of the College Republicans.

Erik Detlefsen, a past chairman of the College Republicans, said the group invited Mr. Horowitz to bring a rare conservative perspective to the predominantly liberal campus.

“We hosted David Horowitz on campus, and one of the people in the audience was Martha Apgar,” said Mr. Detlefsen, who was graduated last week. “We expressed some frustration to her that there was never a conservative voice on campus, so she decided in her generosity to start this lecture series.”

Mrs. Apgar was no stranger to college giving. In 2004, she donated $1 million to Stetson to start the Lawson Lecture Series, named after her childhood priest, Father Leroy Lawson. That series, which focuses on the “synthesis of reason and faith” in Western civilization, hosted prominent Catholic theologian Michael Novak in February.

While some faculty members grumbled about the need for conservative speakers on campus, there was no real opposition to hosting the series, organizers said.

“If you know a lot about faculty, you know you can never make statements about everyone being uniformly happy,” said dean Grady Ballenger. “It’s been an interesting conversation for us. There’s been widespread support for having a conservative lecture series.”

What’s more, the Buckley speech drew no protesters, which isn’t always the case at his college appearances.

“We’re a campus that’s very serious, very committed to vigorous debate, but not a campus where you have the protesters you see at other campuses,” Mr. Ballenger said. “Maybe it’s the Southern thing.”

The dean predicted other colleges would follow suit, saying “I think there are other colleges eager to increase diversity of thought that characterizes college and university life.”

Plenty of conservatives would disagree, including Mr. Horowitz, who noted that a few prominent universities have actually turned down donor efforts to sponsor conservatives on campus.

“These people are so political that they’re resisted gifts,” he said. “Money doesn’t always talk that way. But most universities are sensitive to donor pressure, fortunately.”

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