In recent weeks, conservative pundits have set their sights on an old, familiar target: the college campus.
Fifty years ago, a 25-year-old William F. Buckley sparked the right-wing crusade against universities with his 1951 polemic God and Man at Yale, decrying professors who attempted to convert the student populace into “atheistic socialists.” In the wake of a November 17 New York Times report on a national survey showing that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans 7 to 1 in the humanities and social sciences, conservative outrage was rekindled.
“Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations,” the Washington Post‘s George Will wrote. The Boston Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby declared, “Today campus leftism is not merely prevalent. It is radical, aggressive, and deeply intolerant.”
Yet commentators like Will and Jacoby conveniently ignore the aggressive efforts of conservative message machines to promote their own ideological agenda on American campuses.
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute–whose first president was Buckley himself–spends $9 million publishing periodicals and $1 million supporting right-wing student newspapers annually. Alums of the ISI’s Collegiate Network include National Review‘s Rich Lowry, the Hoover Institution’s Dinesh D’Souza, and the ever-vitriolic Ann Coulter. Another organization, the Leadership Institute, has trained over 40,000 young conservatives since 1979.
Young America’s Foundation subsidizes hundreds of campus lectures with speakers ranging from Mike Wilson, director of Michael Moore Hates America, to David Horowitz, who speaks frequently on such subjects as “The Racism of the Left.” Club 100, a branch of YAF, encourages students to spread conservative dogma with a points-based incentive program. Forty points are awarded to any student who “Organize[s] a Young America’s Foundation speaking event”; twenty points are given for “Recruit[ing] five or more students” to a YAF conference. The payoff? Score 100 points and win a free weekend retreat to Ronald Reagan’s ranch.
In total, a dozen right-wing message machines spend roughly $38 million annually on college campuses. So it’s no surprise that the College Republican National Committee has more than tripled its membership since 1999, now boasting more than 1,300 chapters nationwide. Yet even though the number of young voters who went for Bush increased 18.7 percent from 2000, the 18-29-year-old vote was the only demographic to go for Kerry in the 2004 election.
Is the longstanding tradition of progressivism on campuses under siege? David Halperin, director of the fledgling Campus Progress Network (CPN), thinks the conservative outreach on campuses calls for action. Halperin, a former speechwriter for President Clinton and Howard Dean, wrote in a September Boston Globe op-ed, “Instead of relaxing under the myth that liberal values rule our campuses, progressive students should assert themselves, communicating what they stand for with a compelling message…. A national effort to work with students on the substance, intellectual foundation, and communication of progressive ideas is needed.”