Icon of right snubbed

August 16, 2002

Montreal's McGill University has rejected a substantial amount of money from a donor keen to establish a chair in the name of late libertarian icon Ayn Rand.

McGill dismissed the idea of setting up a C$2 million (£810,000) chair to study just one philosopher in perpetuity as a risk that the university would be caught in too narrow an area of study. It has asked the donor, Gilles Tremblay, 81, that he helps instead to set up a chair in the wider area of contemporary philosophy.

But Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, believes the university rejected the offer because of widespread antipathy among academics to the rightwing philosopher.

One McGill professor did indeed react scornfully. "Imagine the department of political science considering an offer to endow the Adolf Hitler chair in international politics?" he wrote in a local paper.

Mr Brook said the suggested compromise of including Rand's work in a chair of contemporary philosophy would dilute the teachings of the Russian-born American, who died in 1982.

"Instead of continuing to shut Ayn Rand out, the university could have suggested a chair such as 'Ayn Rand and pro-capitalist thinkers'."

But Mr Brook believes the tide is turning in Rand's favour - 400,000 copies of her books were sold last year in the US.

McGill principal Bernard Shapiro said he admired some of the writer's work, but that McGill did not, for example, have a chair in the study of Karl Marx nor would it endow a chair on the work of T. S. Eliot. Chairs, he argued, needed to have a long-term meaning.

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