- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The George Mason University basketball team’s improbable run to the Final Four has trained a national spotlight on the suburban Washington college — and is focusing attention on the school’s other accomplishments, as well.

“We like to think the basketball team caught up with the rest of the university,” said George Mason Provost Peter N. Stearns. “It’s given us prominence that we think we deserved already.”

Established first as a University of Virginia offshoot in 1957 and then as an independent university in 1972, George Mason boomed with the population of Northern Virginia and now is the largest university in the state with an enrollment of nearly 30,000.

The school — named the most diverse in the country by the Princeton Review this year — has campuses in Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties.

Next fall, officials will open a permanent site in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Stearns said the UAE school won’t initially have a basketball team, but students could perhaps participate in other sports.

“There is a camel racing track fairly near,” Mr. Stearns said. “If the NCAA ever establishes camel racing, we think we’ll be in there.”

The university also is known as a haven for libertarian political thought, with a number of professors — mainly in the economics and law departments — who stress the principles of libertarianism, which champions individual freedom.

“George Mason is classified as a school where there are some libertarian professors, and that makes it somewhat unusual,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute in the District. “There are a lot of colleges not welcoming to libertarians and conservatives.”

George Mason boasts two Nobel Prize laureates as professors, James Buchanan and Vernon Smith, who both won their awards in the field of economic sciences.

However, the school’s namesake is still the original source of Patriot pride.

George Mason, one of America’s Founding Fathers, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Thomas Jefferson used as a model for the Bill of Rights.

“He was very much on the scene with Washington and all those guys,” university spokesman Daniel Walsch said.

The “Father of the Bill of Rights” also refused to sign the Constitution because it contained a pro-slavery compromise.

A 7-foot bronze statue of George Mason sits in the middle of the school’s Fairfax campus. Legend has it that rubbing the statue’s toe before an exam will bring a student good luck.

Students yesterday stood in a line that snaked past the statue, which was recently adorned with a cape and other articles of clothing to celebrate the Patriots’ first Final Four appearance.

As they waited for hours to purchase new tournament T-shirts, some students saw long-term advantages to their basketball team’s success.

“No one knows of George Mason except for Northern Virginia,” said Ann Lunger, a senior majoring in communications. “My degree’s value is going up with each game.”

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