On campus, nobody's right

At U.S. colleges, Angela Davis, James Carville and the "Boondocks" creator get the red-carpet treatment -- while conservatives, like me, get the shaft.

Published May 6, 2002 10:37PM (EDT)

Vanderbilt University is a venerable institution in Nashville and the premier seat of higher learning in the state of Tennessee. Like every one of the nearly 200 colleges I have visited in the last 10 years, Vanderbilt has long ceased to be a liberal institution in the meaningful sense of that term. In the hiring of its faculty, in the design of its curriculum and in the conduct of its communal dialogue, like most American universities, Vanderbilt is for all intents and purposes an intellectual monolith -- an ideological subsidiary of the Democratic Party and the far side of the political left.

No aspect of the university system exposes this bias so readily as the process by which tribunes of the nation's culture wars are invited to speak at college forums. Only authorized student groups with faculty sponsors can extend such invitations. Moreover, they must come up with funds to underwrite travel and lodging arrangements, along with an honorarium that can range from $1,000 to $20,000, depending on the speaker's celebrity. If the speaker is a political activist, these appearances can provide a substantial supplement to personal income and a significant subsidy to the speaker's political cause.

I spoke at 23 universities this spring, including an appearance at Vanderbilt on April 8. The invitation had come from a conservative student group called Wake Up America, which was formed three years earlier for the purpose of bringing speakers to campus. Despite its dedicated agenda, however, Wake Up America has only managed to put on four events in the three years of its existence. This is not because of a scarcity of conservative speakers ready to speak on college campuses. It is because Vanderbilt refuses to provide funds to Wake Up America to underwrite its aspirations. Vanderbilt's attitude toward Wake Up America is, in fact, anything but supportive; Vanderbilt officials have treated the group like an alien presence from the moment of its conception.

Thus, when Wake Up America's founder, Dan Eberhart, approached the assistant vice chancellor and head of student life, Michelle Rosen, to gain approval for his group, she told him, "There is no need for your organization because a student group already exists, namely the Speakers Committee." This was an Orwellian subterfuge. The assistant vice chancellor knew that the Speakers Committee was a partisan student group dedicated to bringing left-wing speakers to the Vanderbilt campus. James Carville, Ralph Nader, Kweisi Mfume and Gloria Steinem, for example, are recent visitors, courtesy of the Committee. These are pricey celebrities and the Vanderbilt student activities fund has granted the Speakers Committee $50,000 a year in the past to make their wish list real. This year the Student Finance Committee, which administers the fund, has increased the Speakers Committee grant to $63,000. By contrast, in its entire three-year existence Wake Up America has never been granted a single cent to bring conservatives to the Vanderbilt campus.

The Speakers Committee is actually only one of an array of left-wing groups that are the beneficiaries of Vanderbilt funds. In a recent press release announcing the disbursement of $1,143,963 to student groups, the Student Finance Committee defined its purpose in these noble words: "to fund activities that will have broad campus appeal and that will guarantee a diversity of activities within our community." A glance at the roster of funded groups reveals, however, that this diversity principle does not extend to the realm of ideas.

While Wake Up America receives no funds, the Vanderbilt Feminists receive $10,620; the Vanderbilt Lambda Association (a group of gay leftists) receives $12,000; the (left-wing) Middle Eastern Student Association receives $4,700; the (left-wing) Black Students Alliance receives $12,400; the (left-wing) Organization of Black Graduate & Professional Students receives $13,120; the (left-wing) Vanderbilt African Student Association receives $1,500; the Vanderbilt Association of (left-wing) Hispanic Students receives $14,200; and the (left-wing) Vanderbilt Asian American Student Association gets $15,000.

How do I know that these ostensibly ethnic associations are "left-wing?" I know it as a result of my inquiries at Vanderbilt and by my own broad range of experience with similar groups on campuses across the country. They are not only political and to the left, but they are more often than not at the extreme end of that spectrum as well. For example, when I spoke at Denison College in Ohio a few weeks before Vanderbilt, I had been preceded by Angela Davis, Denison's official Martin Luther King Day speaker the month before. Davis is a lifelong Communist apparatchik who received a "Lenin Prize" from the East German police state during the Cold War, and remained a party member after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The official Denison Web site, on the other hand, describes her as "known internationally for her ongoing work to combat all forms of oppression in the United States and abroad." The university closed its offices during her speech so that the entire campus could hear her unreconstructed anti-America, Marxist views.

When I spoke at Michigan State, I had been preceded by columnist Julianne Malveaux, the official Martin Luther King Day speaker there, who received $15,000 from student funds, some of which were supplied by the black student association. As in the case of Davis, Malveaux's views are antithetical to King's. She is a crudely racial Marxist who once asserted that there were "200 million white racists in America," and on another occasion expressed her wish that Clarence Thomas would have a heart attack. Her speech was called "Economic Justice: The Struggle Continues," and included attacks on Ward Connerly, Laura Bush, the idea of a colorblind society and of King as its prophet.

I had been preceded at Duke by Aaron McGruder, a black cartoonist who had gained fame through his strip "Boondocks" and notoriety for attacking America after the World Trade Center was bombed. McGruder was also the university's official Martin Luther King Day speaker. In his speech, McGruder noted that 90 percent of the American people supported the war and said, "I would like to believe the 10 percent left over is black." He then told the students, "your vote means nothing; you can protest if you want, they'll throw you in jail." Davis, Malveaux and Magruder reflected the extremist sentiments of the black student groups on campus without whose imprimatur no Martin Luther King Day speaker could be selected.

In the academic world, the situation at Vanderbilt -- where $130,000 is provided to left-wing groups, and roughly $0 to conservatives -- is completely normal, with the exception of a handful of small conservative and religious schools like Hillsdale and Bob Jones University. At the University of Wisconsin, the Multicultural Students Association attacked the reparations ad I placed in the Badger-Herald last spring by attacking the paper as "a racist propaganda machine" -- an absolutely unfounded smear -- and attempting to shut the paper down. The MSA was rewarded for its bad behavior the following fall with a grant of $1 million to fund its radical activities. On the same campus, the Students for Objectivism receive a mere $500 in student program funds. At Duke University, in the wake of my reparations ad and the demonstrations that attended it, president Nan Keohane announced a grant of $100,000 in additional funds for student groups. When I spoke at Duke, which was a day after my visit to Vanderbilt, $50,000 of Keohane's grant had been disbursed -- $500 to the Duke Conservative Union and $49,500 to left-wing groups. Because university funds were unavailable, my Wake Up America hosts had to raise the money from outside contributions, not an easy task for students. They managed to secure funding from three individuals and from two conservative organizations -- Young America's Foundation, which underwrites the lion's share of my tours, and the Leadership Institute. The money they raised allowed them to bring me to campus, house me and provide about one-fifth the honorarium I would have received if I were a left-wing ideologue like Julianne Malveaux. If I were Malveaux, or Cornel West, or Gloria Steinem, in other words, I could have collected more than $200,000 this spring for attacking America and posing as a champion of economic justice to college students. There is probably not a single left-wing activist working the campus circuit who is not making a six-figure income.

A frustrating but typical trait of college conservatives is that they don't -- as a rule -- complain about the inequities that are routinely inflicted on them. Because they do not make trouble for abusive and illiberal campus administrators, nothing is done to correct these problems.

Funding inequities are actually only a small part of the injustices that conservative students suffer and that seem like normalcy to them. They also adjust, for example, to the rampant political bias in their expensive curricula, which is the result of a faculty hiring process that bars conservatives and limits the education of all students to a relentlessly one-sided view of the world they live in. Obtaining a faculty sponsor for Wake Up America was thus even more difficult than getting the vice chancellor to approve its formation.

The founder of Wake Up America, Eberhart, scoured the campus for a professor who would sponsor his club. He put letters of request in professors' mailboxes. He approached them directly. In the end, out of approximately 1,000 faculty members at Vanderbilt, he was able to come up with only one who would sponsor a group whose intention was to bring conservative speakers to a college campus. Vanderbilt is not only an old and traditional institution, but it is hosted by a state with a Republican governor and two Republican senators, and a citizenry whose majority voted Republican in the last presidential election -- against a favorite son, Al Gore. The successful purge of conservatives from the faculty of Vanderbilt is thus a sobering commentary on the politically debased condition of the American university, which has fallen victim to an academic McCarthyism more insidious than the academic witch hunts of the past because it is incomparably more effective.

The lone professor willing to sponsor a non-left student group at Vanderbilt was a business school professor from outside the Vanderbilt community. Because his primary occupation is actually business rather than teaching, this professor flies from his home in San Francisco to Nashville twice a week to teach his course. In other words, there are really no conservative professors in residence at Vanderbilt University who are willing to publicly sponsor a group whose purpose is to bring an underrepresented viewpoint to the Vanderbilt community -- even though it is a viewpoint shared by a majority of Tennessee voters and half the American public.

My Vanderbilt talk was scheduled for Monday, April 8, and on Jan. 12 Wake Up America had reserved the room where it would be given. But on Thursday, April 4, the Vanderbilt administration informed Eberhart that a professor now needed the room he had reserved for a review class, and that my speech would have to be canceled. Coincidentally, this happened to me on at least three other occasions on this spring tour alone. The University of Oregon canceled my appearance the day I arrived in the state on the grounds that a request for security for the event made two weeks earlier was one day too late, and the room had been given to another event, although my sponsors were not informed until one day before my announced appearance. NYU canceled the room for my talk there the day I arrived in New York, also because of an alleged room-scheduling problem, and James Madison University canceled, as I was about to depart for Florida, for the same reason.

In other circumstances, a young and well-mannered conservative like Eberhart might have capitulated to this petty harassment and terminated the event. Fortunately, he held his ground in this case, strengthened in his resolve perhaps by the fact that my office had been able to arrange a C-Span taping of the event. His resistance bore fruit, and permission was given to proceed, but not until Eberhart agreed to pay "for the wear and tear to the foyer" of the hall where the speech eventually took place. A $100 cleanup fee was also tacked on, even though no food or beverages were served and there was no refuse to clean up.

Despite a downpour, about 250 people showed up for the speech in Wilson Hall and listened civilly while I described "How The Left Undermined America's Security." The attendance was even more gratifying than usual because the Vanderbilt Hustler, which was the student paper, did not inform the campus community of the speech (or report on it after I gave it). This was not surprising, since the left-wing editors of the Hustler had refused to run my reparations ad the year before.

Afterward, I signed books and answered questions of those who stayed to ask them. One of my interlocutors was a professor of philosophy who handed me a yellowing copy of my very first book, "Student," published exactly 40 years earlier. In it, I described the first student demonstrations of the 1960s at Berkeley, where I was pursuing a graduate degree. I didn't realize at the time that we were going to transform American universities into politicized institutions, where only approved ideas would be welcome. I hope I would have had second thoughts about demonstrating then if I had realized this would be the outcome.

When I asked the professor what kind of philosophy he taught at Vanderbilt, he said with a smirk, "Marxist philosophy," then asked me to write the following in his book: "To my political enemy from a foaming at the mouth right-wing ideologue."

Humor seems not to be a radical asset. I signed the book, but with a different inscription (perhaps "second thoughts are best"), and he left. I was then approached by a group of undergraduates who by their appearance and questions were not politically conservative. A young woman with a diffident demeanor asked, in an earnest tone, what I thought of racial profiling.

Her question was inspired by a portion of my talk that addressed the problem of airport security. I had pointed out that nine of the World Trade Center terrorists were actually stopped by airport security on 9/11 because they had faulty IDs, but they had been allowed to board the planes anyway. I said that the Clinton administration's failure to institute adequate security measures prior to the attack was due in part to an ideological aversion to profiling Muslim terrorists.

I tried to explain to the student the difference between factoring race into a profile and using race as the profile itself. I referred her to Heather MacDonald's article in the conservative magazine City Journal, "The Myth of Racial Profiling," fully realizing as I did so that this undergraduate would never have heard of Heather MacDonald or the City Journal. Nor would she be familiar with the writings of virtually any living conservative writer including myself. I gave her the name of the Web site where MacDonald's article was posted and could be located. But I did so with a heavy heart, because I knew that the student had many questions, not one; that her parents were paying $30,000 a year to give her a good education, but that at Vanderbilt she would only be getting one side of the story and only one perspective on the ideological conflicts that would affect her life.

I had met students like this throughout my campus sojourns. The encounters were the saddest memories I took away with me. Millions like this young woman would pass through universities like Vanderbilt, which would routinely betray their trust. They would be given decks that were stacked, instruction that was partisan and partial, and there was nothing I or a small contingent of conservatives could do in one hour or during one event to alter these facts.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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