May 7, 2002
David Horowitz's account of his
David Horowitz's account of his recent visit to Vanderbilt is a great case study of campus partisanship. Read it and see how through the uneven distribution of student activities funds and other crafty measures, Vanderbilt does all that it can to block conservative student groups from forming, and, if they do form, from surviving. Horowitz makes Vanderbilt into an example, but he is quite clear that he sees Vanderbilt as no better or worse than the majority of American universities. The exclusionary and biased patterns he finds at Vanderbilt exist at countless other institutions. As a well-known conservative who speaks regularly on campuses--and who thus witnesses firsthand how little money conservative student groups have to fund speakers; how little respect those groups and their guests command among students, faculty and administrators; and how much effort administrators and students will expend thwarting conservative events--Horowitz knows what he is talking about.
When conservatives contend that campuses have become unbearably partisan and left-leaning, the left typically laughs. Everyone knows, the campus left argues, that American higher education is as conservative as can be. The university has been corporatized, they argue, and as a result the pursuit of knowledge has yielded to the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Tuitions are too high, big-money athletics are too important, and keeping alumni happy matters too much. Science is being subsidized by private interests, the left continues, and thus works to support and sustain the nasty biases of big business. Meanwhile, the liberal arts are being devalued and defunded. Departments are folding, enrollments are down, graduate students are exploited, and tenure-track jobs are disappearing. The left could go on, and on, and on, and it usually does. The left's favorite subject is oppression, especially its own.
But there is another side to this story. It has to do with the political affiliations of faculty (only 3% of Ivy League professors identify themselves as Republicans). It has to do with what the inevitable resulting political slant means for the curriculum, which tends to teach--or preach--radical philosophy while excluding the work of conservative thinkers (students are exposed to Marx but not Hayek, to Cornel West but not to Thomas Sowell, to Catharine MacKinnon but not to Christina Hoff Sommers). It has to do with what you can and cannot say on campus (an ethnic or misogynist slur can land you in sensitivity training while intolerant comments about Christians or white men or Republicans are de rigeur; it's okay to steal conservative campus papers but not liberal ones; and so on). And it has to do with where the money goes.
Tracking the allocation of student activities fees is always an informative adventure: it tells you exactly where a given school stands politically. More often than not, ironically, it's the "oppressed" groups--ethnic students, women, gay and lesbian students, and so on--that get the money for organizations, events, and speakers. It's the "marginalized" groups that have campus centers and theme dorms. And it's the so-called "dominant" groups that get little or no funding, and that are routinely refused the same level of recognition and support that other groups get. The funding story on campuses conflicts absolutely with the official narrative of white male privilege. It is in fact the conservative and religious groups that routinely get left out in the cold.
You can find scads of examples of the partisan suppression of politically incorrect campus groups in the case archive on the FIRE website. And those, FIRE is quick to point out, are just the tip of the iceberg. Have a look, and ask yourself these questions: Why is it that, in an age of ever-increasing sensitivity, and ever-louder calls for tolerance, it's okay to be intolerant of selected groups? Why is it that this selective intolerance is not seen as inconsistent with the push for increased tolerance and respect for difference? And how is it that this rank hypocrisy has become so "institutionalized" that it is actually embedded in university policy and enacted in such seemingly neutral venues as the distribution of fees?