Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Conservatism on Campus Exposed

Interesting set of articles in Saturday's Daily News about conservatism on campus, featuring WSU College Republican Dan Ryder.
Ryder, who is a member of the WSU College Republicans, sees negative actions coming from liberals as well. He said he still feels backlash from a campus demonstration last fall.

The College Republicans staged a demonstration to support federal policies on illegal immigration that would include building a wall or fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. A counter demonstration occurred and both sides brought allegations of racism and discrimination.

"People need to move on," Ryder said.

He said the Republican students who were there still get stares, and people will mumble things at them under their breath. One of the students who ran for student president this semester even had his campaign posters defaced in recent weeks.

"It's very immature, and being in an academic community it seems kind of childish," Ryder said. "It hurt the campaign and it hurt the individual."
Another article featured commnets from professor and administrators:
It's no accident that conservative college students across the Inland Northwest are getting active and raising their voices against the liberal bias they perceive in their public universities.

In the past year, one student at North Idaho College asked for her money back after taking a class where she claimed her professor did little more than "Bush-bashing." A group of Boise State University students protested the university's speaker series, claiming it brought in only liberal voices like Al Gore and Gloria Steinem. At Washington State University, the WSU College Republicans called for the termination of a professor after he used a racial slur against a club member during the group's demonstration on illegal immigration.

"This isn't happening by accident. This is definitely orchestrated," said Lance LeLoup, a WSU professor of political science. "I think it's important for people to know that."

LeLoup said these instances are happening because the conservative movement is making a concerted effort to organize people to complain about liberal bias in academia. He said a slew of media stories leave people with the conclusion that liberal bias must be a problem and it must be getting worse, rather than the conclusion that there could be an organized group determined to put this on the public agenda and make it look like there is a problem.

Leadership Institute Director Morton Blackwell doesn't hide the fact that his Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is trying to bolster conservative student groups through its Campus Leadership Program.

Since its formation in 1997, the program has provided training and resources to support the creation of 1,004 conservative groups on campuses in all 50 states. Among these, 162 represent publications.

"We want to teach conservative students how to advance conservative principles which will provide a balance on these campuses and will communicate conservative ideas and principles to other students," Blackwell said.

Each year, his campus organizers go out and recruit students. When they return, they are asked, "What is the most common response that you get when you are recruiting students on campus?"

Blackwell said he is motivated to keep going because the students are saying, "I think I may be the only conservative student on campus."

"That is really tragic because there are lots of conservative students on these campuses but they don't know each other," he said.

University of Idaho Dean of Students Bruce Pitman believes there are many ways for conservative students to interact on the Moscow campus. Among the existing student groups, he said there are more faith-based organizations than anything else and those tend to be very active on campus.

Still, Blackwell points to freshman orientations as one place of bias.

"They run you through hours and hours of indoctrination on political correctness, and it's oppressive," he said. "They basically tell you that what your parents taught you and what you've learned in the church are old-fashioned and doomed, and you've got to be up with the modern things, which is essentially a left-wing agenda."

Pitman said that on any given day his campus could be seen as either conservative or liberal.

"Using those labels tends to - probably unfairly - label and categorize and oversimplify the topic," he said.

Pitman said the UI campus is just as likely to have an Evangelical Christian out in front of its Commons Building preaching and challenging views in a conservative way as it is to have a group tabling on reproductive rights.

Personal interpretation is the crucial element, he said.

Pitman described an exhibit that toured the UI's Moscow campus last fall. The exhibit consisted of row upon row of empty Army boots that came from fallen members of the Army National Guard. The boots were displayed on the Administration Building lawn.

"That could be interpreted as a protest against the war or paying homage to those that died," he said. "It can be interpreted in many ways."

Pitman said the display had been presented respectfully and it was a catalyst for important conversations among campus members. Reactions varied but were evenly split among those who were curious, those who were supportive, and those who were offended.

LeLoup said a lot of the concerns from the right are brought on by social issues like gay rights, immigration, abortion, and political correctness.

"Part of the skill of being a faculty member is to create an atmosphere in the class where people can talk about abortion or gay rights in a way that promotes dialogue in a way that makes people feel comfortable expressing their views even if they are different than their classmates," he said.

LeLoup said the majority of professors try to leave their personal bias at the door, but not all do.

"It would be naive to say this doesn't go on," he said.

LeLoup said the goal for most educators is to teach students how to think critically and research.

"The best thing we can do for (students) is give them tools to see who has a political slant that they need to take into account," he said. "It's not about trying to mold those little minds out there."

Blackwell still believes liberal bias has gotten worse in recent years. He said he only has to open a course book to see it.

"You can look it up in the course catalog and see studying gay women of the 16th century or whatever something obviously put together from a liberal bias," he said. "There aren't courses in catalogs at major universities that are clearly going to be conservative."

Blackwell said a class might talk about the founding of the United States, but "you can bet it's going to denigrate the founders and make the United States look as bad as they can possibly do it."

University of Idaho Provost Doug Baker said he doesn't see a political agenda embedded in his university's curriculum. He said the purpose of higher education is "to try and get people to grow as learners, to develop critical thinking skills, to understand themselves and their place in society."

"To do that you have to stretch yourself," Baker said. "You can't just read things that are already familiar to you. You can't just experience that already familiar to you. To broaden your education, to broaden yourself as a human being, you have to tread on new territory. Some will be left of where you are and some will be right of where you are."

Pitman said university campuses differ greatly, especially among private versus public schools and faith-based versus secular schools.

"I think they are watched very closely and should be," he said.

Blackwell wants to see progress made in faculty hiring, in curriculum, in off-campus speakers, in official student newspapers, and in any other thing paid by student fees and taxpayer funding.

"I would like to see a balance presented," he said. "I don't have any doubt that conservative principles would thrive in a fair environment."

For example, one of the Blackwell's start-ups made significant progress this month.

Boise State University's Conservative Student Coalition reached an agreement with its administration to create a student panel that will select student-funded outside speakers. The panel will include members of the student government and representatives from groups like the Conservative Student Coalition.

BSU Spokesman Frank Zang said it wants the speaker series to engage students in broader, thought-provoking discussions.

"Our responsibility as an institution of higher learning is to give the campus community food for thought," he said.

Pitman agreed that universities are some of the best places to have debates about speech, human rights, social justice and the political system. He said they are "at times places where sincere and rational people will absolutely disagree."

"It's one of the great characteristics of public institutions - you can have these debates and disagreements and learn from each other," he said.
It has been over 20 years since I was in a college classroom, but I'm going to, as Michael would say, pronounce Barbra Streisand on some of LeLoup's and Pitman's comments.

"This isn't happening by accident. This is definitely orchestrated. I think it's important for people to know that." Oooooohhhh. The vast right-wing conspiracy. Hide your children.

How are conservatives students working to have a voice any more "sinister" that than students of color, GLBT students, or any other group of minorities?

And make no mistake, conservatives are a minority on campus. My source of this information? Not David Horowitz, but the Washington Post:
College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

"What's most striking is how few conservatives there are in any field," said Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University and a co-author of the study. "There was no field we studied in which there were more conservatives than liberals or more Republicans than Democrats. It's a very homogenous environment, not just in the places you'd expect to be dominated by liberals."
LeLoup has it backwards. It's not an "organized group determined to put this on the public agenda and MAKE IT LOOK LIKE there is a problem." It's an organized REACTION to an ACTUAL problem. John Streamas' and David Leonard's antics are just the tip of the iceberg.

Who would possibly view a display of empty boots as being supportive of troops, respecful or not? C'mon. And the occasional Christian or conservative protest or display on campus hardly counteracts what goes on routinely in the classroom. It's attempts by university administrators and faculty at this kind of prevarication and equivocation that necessitate groups like bringing this to the public's attention.

Speaking of the WSU CRs, I heard from Dan Ryder and Danny Schanze. They are down at the Reagan Ranch in California with the Young Americans Foundation plotting strategy to continue the fight against liberal intolerance on campus.

No comments: