Truman Scholars Lean Left: Liberal Bias in a Taxpayer-Funded Program

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently released a report revealing that the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, a taxpayer-funded program that supports promising young individuals with aspirations to serve in government and the like, has overwhelmingly favored candidates with leftist views in recent years. According to the report, the Foundation has selected a significantly higher number of individuals with a leftist focus, with a ratio of 20-to-1. Selected scholars, for example, emphasized issues such as immigrant rights, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI), and racial justice, while only a few mentioned religious liberty or pro-life matters.

Since its inception in 1975, the Foundation has chosen 3,564 Truman Scholars. While the Truman Scholarship Foundation claims a nonpartisan mission of identifying and supporting undergraduates with potential for leadership and public service, the AEI report uncovers a pattern in the Foundation’s choices that contradicts this neutrality. An organization is best judged by its actions, not declarations.

I scanned the 2024 scholars and came across the following individuals:

  • a staffer for Congressman Adam Schiff;
  • an advocate for “Black and Asian solidarity;”
  • someone “spearheading an initiative to bring emergency contraceptive vending machines to her campus;”
  • a student at the University of Washington “researching Black women’s erasure” from history;
  • a delegate to the Georgia Democratic Convention;
  • a Villanova student “advocating for diversity in K-12 curriculum;”
  • the “vice president for equity and outreach” in Duke University’s student government;
  • a local coordinator for Amnesty International;
  • a Washington University undergraduate “working to support and protect queer students;”
  • a “2023 Changemaker with the Alliance for LGBTQ+;”
  • a Columbia University student who is “program coordinator for the Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative;”
  • and a University of Vermont student who aims to advance “public interest law to protect the interests of queer communities.”

There are many more recipients with similar profiles. One would expect an organization with public funding to reflect, with some approximation, the general population—relative to its political outlook. The Truman Scholar program doesn’t come close.

After AEI’s report came out, Representative Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, asked the Foundation to address issues raised by Hess and Pitts. Executive Secretary Terry Babcock-Lumish composed a three-page reply, exemplifying the phony indignation of leftist elites when their ideological bias is revealed. The entire letter is an exercise in evasion and prevarication.

Babcock-Lumish calls the AEI report “severely misleading.” The primary charge that nearly all the winners of the Truman Scholarship have leftist concerns and goals remains unanswered. Instead, Babcock-Lumish turns to the selection process and the innocence of the judges, insisting that during the screening, “we have no knowledge of applicants’ ideological orientation”—a laughable excuse. Does she really think that an applicant’s declaration about defending the rights of queer youth does not signal the student’s ideological orientation? Apparently, yes. Babcock-Lumish goes on to say that an interest in a leftist issue doesn’t prevent one from taking a conservative approach to it. Given the list of recent winners, one’s only response to that possibility in Truman settings is, “Gimme a break.”

The Executive Secretary assures Representative Foxx and others that no discrimination occurs in the selection committee’s deliberations, citing that in 1987 the Foundation chose a young man named Neil Gorsuch for an award. Case closed.

The letter explains that the Foundation doesn’t get many applicants interested in the issues AEI labels conservative. That’s not the Foundation’s fault. It can only play the hand that it’s dealt. Of course, we might reply that if the 20-to-1 ratio of selected scholars were not of conservatives-to-progressives but of males-to-females, the Foundation would send hustling emissaries into the field with an urgent message for women, “Apply, apply!” That’s a natural step for a public award-giver, but not here.

Indeed, we are told that something about young conservatives themselves may lead them to avoid the Foundation. If conservatives don’t apply, Babcock-Lumish suggests, that’s because they don’t want to. “Students who are interested in the private sector,” she writes, “will likely be dissuaded from our program because of our public service requirement post graduate school.”

Clearly, Babcock-Lumish and the Truman Foundation have no interest in changing their ways.

The mindset of the liberal bureaucrat is secure. We don’t discriminate, we’re not political, it’s conservatives’ fault. After Babcock-Lumish sent her letter, AEI’s Rick Hess and Joe Pitts, who wrote the original report, tracked down a few conservatives who’d won awards in the past and asked them about their experience. Each confirmed the bias in the organization and identified a trend that almost justified Babcock-Lumish’s final point: Yes, few conservatives apply because the Truman Foundation so obviously skews progressive—when people in the right aren’t in the applicant pool, active discrimination against them is unnecessary.

The sad fact about their comments is that dozens of like organizations operate precisely this way. Leftist beliefs have penetrated so deeply into their mission that conservatives don’t bother competing for prizes. The list of scholars makes clear where the judges stand. And yet, those judges insist on their impartiality and blame conservatives for failing to participate.

Their smug idiom wouldn’t be so irritating if they didn’t do their anti-conservative work using taxes paid by conservative citizens.

Photo by spiritofamerica — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 94898273


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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One thought on “Truman Scholars Lean Left: Liberal Bias in a Taxpayer-Funded Program”

  1. “The letter explains that the Foundation doesn’t get many applicants interested in the issues AEI labels conservative.”

    Let’s start with the fact that “[c]andidates must secure the nomination of their undergraduate institution.” See:

    That decision is probably made at the dean level, and with the exception of maybe a dozen institutions, how many have a dean to the political right of Vladimir Lenin? And let’s be fair here — candidates who are not nominated do not exist. Yes, Columbia nominated Gorsuch in 1987 — would it today?

    As to Neil Gorsuch, he apparently used his fellowship to go to law school — I didn’t even know that was permitted. Conservatives need to do a better job of mentoring…

    “…if the 20-to-1 ratio of selected scholars were not of conservatives-to-progressives but of males-to-females… “

    But if it were 20-to-1 females to males, they wouldn’t say a word — nor would ED OCR.
    No more than anyone says anything about education (teacher training) programs that actually have similar ratios.

    “Students who are interested in the private sector,” she writes, “will likely be dissuaded from our program because of our public service requirement post graduate school.”

    OR they are legitimately concerned about their opportunities in “public service” post graduate school. I openly counsel undergraduates to be cautious about “public service” loan forgiveness because they have to first be hired in a “public service” job and those are largely places where people like them (and who look like them) are unwelcome.

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