America's Campuses: Crisis and Opportunity

Report Education

America's Campuses: Crisis and Opportunity

March 9, 1992 15 min read Download Report
Honerable Louis
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society

(Archived document, may contain errors)

America's Campuses: Crisis and Opportunity

By Ron Robinson Since the beginning of the Republic the United States has benefited from young leaders. Thomas Jefferson was thirty-three when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Alexander Hamilton was thirty-two when he attended the Constitutional C onvention. Ben Franklin noted in his Autobiography that, "It is in youth that we plant our chief habits and prejudices ... in youth the education even of the next generation is given; in youth the private and public character is deter- minecV In our own d a y the education and character of young Americans is largely shaped in our colleges and universities. If we are to prodqce leaders to carry on the work of our Founding Fa- thers we must look to the health of American higher education. And this is why we sh o uld be alarmed by recent reports of the crisis on our college campuses. John Le Boutillier's Harvard Hates America, Ben Hart's Poisoned Ivy, Las Csorba's Academic License, Charles Sykes'Hollow Men and ProiScam, Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals, and Dinesh D'Souza's smash hit Illiberal Education have exposed the terrible problems students face in trying to get a decent college education. These important works capture a tragedy that began much earlier. William F. Buckley warned of the impending crisis in 195 1. In his God and Man at Yale Buckley raised the question of whether Yale fortified. or shattered "the average student's respect for Christianity." He found Yale neither pro-Christian nor neutral towards religion. But the conservative community was either slow to respond to calls for reform or simply chose not to do so. Conservatives continued to pour generous donations into unreformed universities. They entrusted their sons and daughters to the same deans and professors Buckley criticized. The theories of Samuelson, Galbraith, and Marx all gained influence in the 1950s and 60s. A little more than a decade later conservatives were alarmed by the radicalism of the anti-Viet- nam suklent movement. But our universities still were able to increase taxpayer and p rivate donor support. Ift, universities never paid a price for their acquiescence or support of radicalism. I often wonder how this could be. How could financially generous conservatives support insti- tutions that are undermining our freedoms and traditi o ns? How can we still send our children to these campuses? The Disguised Campus. The answer, at least in part, is that our colleges and universities pass themselves off as more conservative than they are. After all, alumni publications constantly re- mind u s of their institutions' fine traditions. We see reassuring photos of ivy-covered campus buildings, distinguished-looking faculty and responsible administrators. We are encouraged to re- call our fondest college memories. College is like Congress: we know something is wrong, but we believe the problem is not in my college or with my congressman.- An objective analysis, however, tells us there is a great imbalance in campus life. Nearly every carnpus has a liberal or leftist campus newspaper, a leftist-domi nated lecture se- ries, a corps of Marxist professors, an active affirmative action program, courses increasingly organized according to race, sexual preference and gender categories, and a black studies depart-

Ron Robinson is President of Young America' s Foundation. He spdw at Mw Heritage Foundation on Septanber 25,1991, in the Resource Bank series of lectures featuring leaders of conservative education and public policy organizations. ISSN 0272-1155 01992 byMm Heritage Foundation.

ment. Now restricti ve speech codes, sensitivity training and gender studies are becoming the norm. These programs are not only highly politicized and biased; the problems they create are ex- acerbated by the absence of conservative influences in the university that could pr o vide balance. No campus is safe. Last week we received a phone call from an 18-year old student at South- western University, a college of twelve hundred students in Texas. The student had placed on a literature table a Young America's Foundation poster w h ich -called for an end to campus affirma- tive action programs. The poster-which supports a color-blind society-was too much for the Dean of Students. He denounced it as "racist." The next day he sent a memo to faculty members and leftist campus groups wh i ch said Young America's Foundation held views that "smack of white supremacy." The Dean did -not want to debate affirmative action, but the decision the stu- dent made to display the poster! Remember, this was Georgetown, Texas, not Berkeley, Califomia or Cambridge, Massachusetts. So what appeared to be a conservative institution was, in fact, a Leftist bastion. And with the faculty tenure system it is designed to stay that way. N our colleges and universities were balanced by other educational or informat i on sources the damage might be minimal. But they are not. Other major influences on young Americans only re- inforce these tendencies. A student is unlikely to become conservative by reading Time, Newsweek or U.S. News. Nor do many young Americans come to conservatism via Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jen- nings. Bruce Springsteen offered some hope when he sang, "We loomed more from a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school." But Springsteen, Madonna, 2 Live Crew, U-2, Jackson Browne, N . W.A. and Guns n' Roses and most of die powerful record industry fail to impart conservative ideas. MTV, Hollywood films, and TV sitcoms seldom, if ever, promote conservative themes. The sad truth is that if a young person passively accepts what is today's conventional wisdom he will not become a conservative. In contrast, a young person can become a liberal by picking up ideas; in our popular culture with little thought. This should alarm every conservative, indeed every citizen, concerned about the future of our society. If conservatives make no effort to persuade young people when they are most receptive to new ideas, then we reduce our ability to win later battles. What conserva- tive candidate, lobbying campaign, legal group or think-tank can overcome t h e damage inflicted upon almost every collego-educated American who has - spent four years studying a curriculum dominated by Leftist arguments and ideas? While die conservative movement was enormously successful in gaining adherents to Ronald Reagan's pol i tical campaigns-especially among student-age voters-it failed to dislodge the Left's hold over our educational institutions. Even Ronald Reagan's eight years as Governor of California and eight years as President failed to slow the radicals' momentum. The Left built scores of groups and instituted countless programs to make sure that conservatives could not dis- lodge them from their positions. Evidence of the extent of Leftist dominance is readily available. In a 1991 survey of faculty members in the Chro n icle offfigher Education Ahnanac an astounding 56.2% of private univer- sity faculty identified themselves as "Far Left"or "Liberal." Only 13 percent claimed to be "Far Righe'or "Conservative." When one considers how reluctant most Americans are to embrac e the discredited "liberal" label, these numbers become even more frightening. Almost every con- servative has a catalogue of campus horror stories. The stories are humorous, but they are serious too. Very Strange Ideas. At Princeton, for instance, feminis ts organized a protest against the school cafeteria because it served the Italian pasta manicotti. Ile feminists claimed the name was sexist and wanted it renamed "womanicotti." Consider also Carol Adams, who teaches at South-

em Methodist University and who is the author of The Sexual Politics ofMeat: A Feminist-Vege- mdan Cridcal Theory. She tells her students how she spends her time: "I have struggled to develop a theory that explains the feminist meaning of vegetarianism and to research a history of f eminist-vegetarian connections which have remained largely uninterpreted ... People have al- ways eaten meat. The aristocracy of Europe consumed large courses filled with every kind of meat ... Women, second-class citizens, are more likely to eat what are considered to be second- class foods ... vegetables, fruits and grains." Ms. Adams notes that society -equates meat-eating with masculinity and that political violence against women flows from violence against animals. Most case studies are not as humorou s . When Timothy Maguire, a third year law student at Georgetown University, criticized affirmative action in a student newspaper, the Black Law Stu- dent Association and some college administrators attempted to keep him from graduating. In a monograph to b e published by Young America's Foundation, Maguire concludes that affirmative action, abortion and sexual orientation am taboo subjects on campus. To demonstrate the atmo- sphere of censorship and political bias at Georgetown, Maguire cites a series of inc i dents from the administration's summary cancellation of student interviews with an "objectionable' law firni to disruptive attempts by leftist activists to keep conservatives from speaking on campus. It's not just the outspoken Tim Maguires. An American B a r Association survey found that 46sixty percent of law students ... reported there were professors at their law school who were intol- erant of political beliefs that differed from their own ... Asked whether they always felt free to express their disagre e ment in class, fifty-two percent said they didn't." Ile exclusion of conser- vative views beging at the admissions office. Even Alan Dershowitz asks, "How many politically correct students are demanding-in the name of diversity- an increase in the number o f evan- gelical Christians, National Rifle Association members and Right-to-Life advocates? Let's be honest: 'Me demand for diversity is at least in part a cover for a political grab by the Left. Most of those recruited to provide politically correct dive r sity- Afro-Americans, women, gays- are thought to be supporters of the Left." The Lzft knows its cumulative impact is devastating. Our educational institutions demean our national heroes and attack our history and culture. College and university faculties and adminis- trators are not our allies. They are not even neutral; they are the principal advocates of political correctness. Administrators rig the admissions procedures and replace -substantive courses with trivial or "politically correct" subjects. Th i s school year will be dominated by the horrors of Christopher Columbus, the pervasiveness of the crimes of dead white males, and calls to respect such "scholars" as Margaret Randall., Noam. Chomsky and Leonard Jeffries. Leading intellectu- als are rally s c oundrels. They have driven religion from our schools, denied there was an "Evil Empire'and preached envy and class hatred. Freshman orientations have become little more than liberal administrators' version of a politi- cal hazing. Students receive "safe s e x" kits, are warned of homophobia, and are cautioned that insensitive speech cannot be tolerated. Flying the American and Confederate flags was discour- aged and banned on campuses last spring, but burning Old Glory is now a protected right.. We are too o f ten tempted to understate the problem. But the conditions William Buckley iden- tified on campus forty years ago have only gotten worse. Our academies are dominated by our adversaries. We need to make this clear in order to take corrective measures. Lefti s t Overreaching. But there is some good news. The Left has created the demand for its own overthrow-During the past twenty-five years Leftists have honored Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin and Marx, dictators and ideologues whose legacy has been rejected and who se credibility is lost to all but a few Americans-Americans like Gus Hall, Angela Davis or perhaps your aver- age English professor. Many faculty office waUs are suddenly bare as Marxist pin-ups are


silently removed. The left is stretched thin on ca mpus, relying on authority and intimidaticd to make up for its lack of intellectual fire-power. You would not need speech codes and sensitivity training if you were leading students where they wanted to go. Too many of the Left's ideas have been implement e d-with plainly devastating results. Free Sex championed by the New Left in the 1960s has led to widespread venereal diseases, including AIDS. Affirmative action and its corollary, reverse discrimination, has provoked greater racial di- visions. The attack on Western Civilization has undermined belief in reason and the search for truth, the purpose of higher education. Even the most apathetic student has cause to question the sanity of his teachers. It was George Orwell who remarked prophetically, "There ar e some ideas that are so preposterous that only an intellectual would believe them." Defending Free Speech. It is important to note that the Left also has given up one of its most potent issues: Free Speech. The "Free Speech" Movement at Berkeley -was one o f the defining events for the New Left. But the Left now denies students' rights to attend ROTC, meet govern- ment recruiters, publish independent newspapers, form religious clubs, and hear conservative speakers. They have imposed restrictive speech codes . At the University of Connecticut they even proposed a ban on "inappropriately directed laughter!" If our message is to be heard campus conservatives must protect our First Amendment rights. The defense of the First Amendment can also become a powerful is s ue in its own right, as Young America's Foundation learned when we fought a major legal battle to allow demonstrations'in front of Communist embassies. The vast majority of students will support their fellow students' right to free speech. Conservatives s h ould become the strongest advocates of First Amendment rights on campus. I have been encouraged by reports of general student reaction to Leftist activities on campus. For instance, last March the faculty senate at Caffornia, State University, Sacramento v oted to abolish ROTC. After students contacted Young America's Foundation, we organized a campaign that generated 600'pro-ROTC letters from students to the University President. He changed his stand and decided to keep ROTC. Similarly, most students suppo r ted U.S. troops during last spring's Desert Storm operation despite faculty attempts to radicalize them against our military. Conservative Alternatives on Campus. While the campus Left finds more support among the faculty than among students, the Young Co n servative Movement, traditionally underfunded and divided, has become better organized and more combative. The Intercollegiate Studies Insti- tute, the Federalist Society, Accuracy in Academia, Ile Leadership Institute, the National Center for Public Poli c y Research, and Young America's Foundation are in good shape to help embat- tled college students. Our resources are still miniscule compared to our leftist adversaries, but we are succeeding in capturing a large and a receptive audience. This is the cont e xt in which Young America's Foundation operates.-The Foundation reports on the Left's activities on campus and we act to eliminate or overcome them. Young America's Foundation seeks to ensure that college students are given the opportunity to learn about c onser- vative ideas and to adopt them. A student's education is incomplete if he has not read, for example; Nobel laureates Milton- Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and if he is not exposed to free market, religious, and patriotic ide a s. We seek a true marketplace of ideas. A marketplace that'.resembles- an American supermarket with many choices. Our programs are designed to identify, -activate and support the campus conservative cadre. It is this cadm.that breaks through the liberal m onop- oly and recruits the majority of new Conservative Movement converts. It is this cadre -that is. forming an alternative university on gur campuses with own lecture prograrnst.- newspapers and conferences.


To this end, Young America's Foundation sponsors hundreds of lectures, including recent lec- ture tours by Edwin Meese, Dinesh D'Souza, David Horowitz, and individual lectures by Phil Crane, Joseph Sobran, Richard Pipes and Norman Schwarzkopf. We seek esp e cially to provide speakers to campuses that otherwise would not hear any conservative. Our Director of Lectures, Kate Obenshain, is coordinating a growing list of speakers, including Russell Kirk, Phyllis Schlafly, Kenneth Adelman, Murray Weidenbaurn, Fre d Barnes, and Congressman Chris Cox. We also train campus leaders through our National Conservative Student Conference, now in its 14th year. Speakers at last year's conference included Jesse Helms, Newt Gingrich, Dana Rohrabacher, Trent Lott, Michael Will i ams, Donald Devine, Howard Phillips, Bob Doman and Ed Meese. Our publications Campus Leader and Libertas keep students informed about campus developments nationwide. Young America's Foundation is fighting to secure students' First Amendment Rights. We de- fend student rights to attend ROTC and to meet with government recruiters. Under the leadership of our Academic Director, Peter Schweizer, we am resisting "PC" restrictions on campuses. The Foundation's Executive Director, James Taylor, stays in regular c o ntact with sympathetic faculty members, including frequent Foundation lecturers Burt Folsom, Russell Kirk, Mel Bradford and Forrest McDonald. Taylor oversees publication of academic works by Wilcomb Washburn, Burt Folsom, Frederick Wilhelmsen, and Manuel J ohnson. We have criticized Leftist dogma at our conferences, in our books, and now with our journal of American history, Continuity. We also have been greatly strengthened by our Board of Directors: Frank Donatelli, James Lacy, Ron Pearson, Al Regnery, Wa y ne Thorburn and Ken Cribb. These Foundation leaders are themselves a product of young conservative activism. Each director became a leader in the late 1960s and early 1970s fighting the excesses of the New Left. One became the top aide to two Congressmen, John Ashbrook and John Rousselot. Two became Assistants to President Reagan, one for Domestic Policy, the other for Political and Intergovernmental Affairs. One was a profes- sor of political science who was later executive director of the Texas Republica n Party. Another is a top Commerce Department official and still another a major conservative publisher. These outstanding leaders are typical of conservatives molded in the fires of campus activism. Each academic year Young America's Foundation publishes a nd distributes without charge over 100,000 campus posters, conducts an annual essay contest, provides scholarship assistance to scores of campus activists, publishes The Activist Handbook and republishes and distributes free of charge up to 50,000 copies o f such conservative classics as The Conscience ofA Conser- vative and The Roots ofAmerican Order. We provide guidance and encouragement to beleaguered students and have this year inaugurated an annual cash prize of $10,000 to be awarded to the faculty mem b er who most actively opposes political correctness. The audience we address and the activists we support will become, like the college graduates before them, the next generation of national leaders. They will be shaped, at least in part, by their own netw o rk of educational activities, by their own newspapers, lectures, conferences and con- tacts. An Agenda for Campus Reform. Now that the threat of communism has receded and the Su- preme Court is reformed, conservatives must reorder our national priorities a nd redirect our own resources. It's time to make reform of our campuses a national priority. Americans spend $100 billion a year on our colleges. We entrust them with educating our future leaders and allow them to frame our broader intellectual debates. T o reform higher education I suggest that we focus on higher education administrators. They have disappointed us in many ways. They have engaged in price-fixing and in financial corruption, instances well documented by serious government inves-


tigation s. But the greatest fault of college administrators is their failure to counteract ideological bias. It is time we demanded that our colleges treat conservatives and conservative ideas fairly. That is a simple proposition but it is also a neglected one. N o education is complete until both major schools of thought-liberalism and conservatism-are equally presented. This will require con- servatives to promote actively their own ideas on campus. Our efforts to reform the university will be one-sided until bal a nce is restored. Any other course rewards the Ixft by postponing its day of reckoning. Those who have been most affected by the campus crisis are students, the purported consum- ers in this $ 100 billion enterprise. They are the easiest group to rally. Co l lege students are attending conservative seminars, training sessions and lectures in record numbers. We at Young America's Foundation literally cannot keep most of our books, literature and posters in stock. By using our campus cadre to address their fell o w students we break through the liberal monopoly otherwise imposed by faculties, the entertainment industry and the mass media. If you are a conservative student: get involved. You have countless classmates waiting to hear. your message. If we are to deli v er conservatism's'niessage, ybu must carry it. These campus ac- tivities will be among the most memorable and rewarding in your life. If you are a conservative donor: give to conservative youth or youth service organizations. Your support will do more to u phold and spread your ideas than anything else you can do. Your. contribution is a wiser investment than giving to college administrations and faculties who have contempt for your principles. Young America's Foundation has been blessed with a band of loya l supporters. Their help has kept the conservative remnant alive. Their contributions have done much more for education than if they had only supported their alma mater. If you are a conservative leader, columnist or spokesman: hit the campus circuit. Stud e nts are anxious to hear from you. They will be your best audiences. I recently, offered a generous hono- rarium to a major conservative columnist for a campus speech. He refused, arguing that students would not be receptive I He was thinking of college ca m puses in the late 1960s and early 1970s and laughed off an invitation to return. The Left has -no such reluctance. The first three pest lecturers at the University of Michigan this semester will be Spike I=, Betty Friedan and Al Sharpton. The University o f Delaware re- cently gave $6,000 to Molly Yard to lecture and $5,000 to Anpla Davis, amounts typical for Leftist lectures. There is no question that the ideological bias of the campus Left largely deter- mines who will receive these fees. But the hard fac t remains that too few conservative leaders are willing to speak on campus. Look, for instance, at which members of the House of Representa- tives were campus lecturers. Patricia Schroeder made 39 separate campus trips last year. William Gray spoke at sixt e en campuses and John Lewis spoke fifteen times. There wasn't a conservative or Republican who made more than a handful of appearances. In contrast, conservative leaders like William Buckley, Jack Kemp; Dinesh D'Souza and Ron ald Reagan who frequently addr e ss campus audiences build large student followings. They truly are seen as heroes and role models by young Americans. Our colleges and universities are vitally important. The ideas and beliefs implanted in the dim million seventeen and eighteen year olds e ntering college this year win influence our nation for decades to come. Let's make the 1990s the years that will be called the seedtime for the Conser- vative Movement. Whether America in the 21 st century will share our principles of limited government, traditional values and patriotism will be determined by. the success of our work on campus today.




Honerable Louis

William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society