Even before Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand Was Subject of an Academic Boom

Article excerpt

RALEIGH, N.C. - Even before GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney picked U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a certain selfish, dead and enduringly controversial novelist already was enjoying an unusual boom in university classes, thanks to tens of millions of dollars in grants from a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based bank.

Now Ayn Rand, heartless arch-villain to some, triumphant free- market oracle to others, is under an even larger national spotlight, thanks to her role as economic muse to Ryan. Dozens of stories, blog items and columns on the Rand-Ryan connection have popped up in the past few days, and Twitter has been awash in Rand tweets.

Her work is a unique stew of fiction, economics and her own brand of philosophy - Objectivism - that includes the belief that the driving moral force in life should be the pursuit of "rational self- interest."

An outspoken atheist, supporter of abortion rights and adulteress, she can seem an unlikely hero for conservatives, at least those most concerned with social issues. Her views on unfettered free markets, limited government and personal responsibility, though - and the way she expressed them - have always been powerful stuff.

Rand has long inspired a dedicated cadre of fans, including John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T. Like Ryan, Allison was known for handing out copies of her popular 1957 polemic novel, "Atlas Shrugged," to his staff and others.

In recent years BB&T's charitable foundation awarded grants to dozens of colleges and universities to support teaching about capitalism, in many cases the moral aspects of free-market economics. The requirements often include teaching "Atlas Shrugged."

In 2008, a spokesman for the bank said it had made 37 grants worth a total of $38 million, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. A spokeswoman for BB&T declined to update the totals or name the institutions that have received grants.

According to published reports, interviews and news releases from the institutions, they include: Appalachian State University; Winston-Salem State University; UNC-Wilmington; Western Carolina University; UNC-Charlotte; Guilford College; Queens University of Charlotte; Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte; Wake Forest University and N.C. State University.

At least one grant originated with conversations between Allison and a university administrator. In other cases, institutions simply applied. Typically the gifts range from $400,000 to $2 million.

The terms vary, and universities don't always disclose them. …