Guest lecturer Thomas Woods academically challenged by Washburn department professor

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Thomas Woods defends himself after being interrupted by speculations. The guest lecturer was speaking on the 2008 financial crisis before being interrupted.  

Patrick Barry, [email protected], is a senior anthropology major.

The student group Young Americans for Liberty hosted guest lecturer Thomas Woods, Jr. March 5 to present his lecture “Capitalism and the Financial Crisis: Not Guilty as Charged.” 

Woods has degrees in history ,including a bachelor’s from Harvard and a doctorate from Columbia University. He identifies politically as a libertarian, and is a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics that claims to follow the economist Ludwig Von Mises. His presentation was aimed at analyzing the financial crisis of 2008.

“I think a lot of people have been misled to think that we got into the crisis because we had unrestricted capitalism and we had the free market run amuck and all these financial institutions made bad bets because that’s the nature of capitalism,” said Woods. “What I was trying to show was that to the contrary we didn’t have enough capitalism.” 

Woods completed his presentation, but during the question and answer session he was interrupted by one of the members of the Young Americans for Liberty. The student informed Woods that a professor had been passing out papers that criticized Woods and questioned his affiliation with the neo-confederate group the League of the South. Woods was stunned and the crowd became vocal. 

Before Woods could respond to the concerns a voice from the back of the lecture hall interrupted. A man in the back shouted that he was in favor of “the old South” and that he applauded Woods for his alleged ties to the neo-confederate group. Woods fell silent for a moment. He responded by urging everyone to view his official response to the accusations on his website. 

The criticisms of Woods are not isolated to his appearance at Washburn. He has been accused by groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center as being a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-confederate group with white supremacist ideology. Woods’s 2004 book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History” has also been the target of criticism. 

“It makes an elaborate argument that the 14th Amendment was ‘never constitutionally ratified’ because of irregularities in how it was adopted,” said Adam Cohen, attorney and editor for The New York Education and many other rulings barring discrimination based on race, religion and sex.”

Chris Hamilton of Washburn University’s political science department passed out the pages of criticism during the lecture. The incident overshadowed the lecture, and the Young Americans for Liberty were notably upset by the incident, as was Woods. 

“Professor Chris Hamilton who does not have one-twentieth of my scholarly publications, and I’d like you [Patrick Barry] to say that is, I think, a bitter and envious person who has dredged up things of mine from 20 years ago that obviously I don’t agree with today,” said Woods. “He didn’t dare to confront me, he didn’t dare to ask me a question. He lists criticisms of me that I have replied to in spades.”

Hamilton specializes in the study of extremist groups and has been teaching and researching in that area for 30 years. Hamilton passed out information after the lecture, during the question and answer segment, because Woods’ popular economics and ultra right writings have not been peer reviewed, which is an essential requisite for legitimacy in academia. Hamilton points out that Woods actually holds no degrees in economics.

“I think as free as he should be on the campus to say what he thinks because he’s a guest speaker, I should be free to pass out and disseminate information that comes from serious scholarship,” said Hamilton. “That’s not agitation; that’s contributing to the dialogue.”

Woods had a counter argument for the majority of sources in Hamilton’s papers. Woods argued that most of his articles were unobjectionable. He did state that he regretted one article he had written about the abolitionists. In the article, he was critical of the abolitionists, but has since cited abolitionists in his book “We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now.” Woods was adamant that he had no connections to the League of the South. 

“In grad school I went to a meeting that was not billed as a ‘Southern meeting.’ It was billed as a meeting for political decentralization. I support that,” said Woods. “And then they made a Southern group out of it, which I wasn’t in favor of because I was from Massachusetts; I have no ties to the South whatsoever.”

Some of Hamilton’s criticisms of Woods were not restricted to accusations of being affiliated with the League of the South, but to his support of decentralization in general. Hamilton raised concerns over the economic ideology Woods supported. Hamilton’s concern was that decentralized economic or social policies would unleash those in power and lead to inequality. 

“There’s a great deal of worry that decentralized economics will unleash some decentralized politics that are not regulated. He talks about not having any government regulation over any form of society, and that’s very worrisome,” said Hamilton. “I think bringing out the questions of legitimacy of his work in different fields because other experts have said it’s illegitimate is not engaging in some personal vendetta. I don’t have an agenda other than what is true here.”

Woods did not perceive Hamilton’s actions as being motivated by academics alone. Woods accused Hamilton of trying to vilify him. He was offended that Hamilton did not criticize him directly and considered confronting Hamilton about the incident later. Woods criticized Hamilton as a left-wing professor with a personal agenda.

“He is an emotional hypochondriac who likes to smear people with the usual left-wing smears,” said Woods. “I think the main motivation is that it drives him crazy that somebody like me who holds allegedly unrespectable opinions has 20 times the academic credentials and publication record that he has.”

Hamilton is a two-time Fulbright Scholar with many academic publications. Hamilton encourages students to be critical of a popular speaker like Woods. Woods has degrees in history but presents on economics for a broad audience. Hamilton stresses that peer review is essential to economics, like any academic field. He argues that his goal was to raise critical questions about what was legitimate from an academic basis. Hamilton stressed that he would not respond to Woods with ad hominem arguments. 

“I will not do the personal trash talk and confrontations he likes so much. But I will state a fact: Woods always claims ‘I only went to one meeting of the League of the South, and cut all ties with them ever since,’” said Hamilton. “This is simply not true because he wrote at least 17 pieces plus recorded talks for the neo-confederate League of the South newsletter and journals for seven years from 1996 – 2003, half of them explicitly Confederate-sympathetic and ultra right extremist.”