By Jason, Collum, AFA Journal staff writer
April 2004 – Conservatism, once believed to be quashed in the land of academia, has been steadily making a comeback on college campuses across the United States. But not without a fight.
The most recent evidence is a poll conducted by the Education Research Institute showing that among college freshmen, 21% refer to themselves as conservative, while 24% hold liberal views. The vast majority of students prefer to sit in the middle of the political road.
While the number of liberal students is still greater than conservatives, consider this:
• According to the poll, the percentage of students holding strict liberal views has fallen from a high of 38% in 1971.
• The number of students holding conservatives views, at a low of 14% in 1973, has hovered around 20% since President Ronald Reagan’s first term in office.
• A larger proportion of students say they’ve recently attended a church service. According to the poll, 80% of students have gone to church recently, up from 69% in the 1960s.
• 45% of students in 2003 said they’ve drunk beer in the past year, down from 69% in 1966. Fewer students are smoking now, too.
Another sign of strength in the conservative ranks is membership in college Republican organizations. The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) touts more than 120,000 members on 1,148 American college campuses. The CRNC states on its Web site that one of its reasons for existence is to play an integral role in “the communication of a conservative message to college students.” Though not giving a definite time frame, the CRNC says it has tripled its membership in “recent years.”
Not without a fight
The shift of political positions toward the right has not been met with open arms by those of opposing views. With high-profile cases of some liberal professors expressing bitter intolerance toward conservative views, some conservative students might be afraid to speak up or stand for their beliefs for fear of reprisal.
In February, an English professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill sent an E-mail to her entire English class berating a student for his comments against homosexuality. He called it disgusting and a sin. According to several newspaper reports, instructor Elyse Crystall wrote in the E-mail, “What we heard Thursday at the end of class constitutes hate speech and is completely unacceptable.” Crystall went on to refer to the student, only identified as Tim, as “a white, heterosexual, Christian male” who “can feel entitled to make violent, heterosexual comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable.”
Tim made his remarks following a lecture in the class – an English class – on the relationship between heterosexual and homosexual men. Upon learning of the instructor’s lashing out at the student, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, (R-NC), sent a letter to Chancellor James Moeser. In the letter, Jones expressed his concern that the student’s civil rights had been violated, and said he would be contacting the state’s Attorney General Roy Cooper and the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education regarding the incident.
“I shared with the chancellor my concern, not just with this professor, but if there is a liberal bias at the University, and how does this affect students with a conservative position,” Jones said in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, the student-run newspaper at UNC.
Moeser issued a letter in regard to the handling of the situation. In it he said Crystall had “apologized to the individual student with concerns as well as to all members of this class. The department chair met with the lecturer and the students to discuss their respective concerns.”
UNC is not the only campus in America where conservative students have found themselves on the hot seat with professors. Recently, Worldview Weekend founder Brannon Howse issued a report telling of other instances of conservative students running afoul of instructors. Included in the list of incidents, obtained by Howse from the Myers Institute:
• A student majoring in microbiology made a comment about intelligent design on a paper and was docked two letter grades and slammed with the following remark: “I think you should seriously consider changing your major. It is ludicrous for you to major in biology. Pick another major where personal opinions are all that matter. I suppose my remarks will feed your martyr complex, but so be it.”
• A Christian young man at a university in the Southwest wrote several “politically incorrect” editorials in his campus newspaper. He was the only student with a 4.0 GPA not selected for the Honors College. This made him ineligible for scholarships he needed to continue his education.
Students aren’t the only ones singled out for their views. DePauw University lost part of its legal battle last fall. In that case, instructor Janis Price had sued DePauw after having her pay and hours cut without notice. The university made the move after a lesbian student complained that Price had copies of a Christian magazine in her classroom and shared them with her students. The magazine at the heart of the matter included a feature on homosexuality.
Not all conservative students are keeping their beliefs private. Many collegians, tired of being demonized for their views, are standing their ground, even celebrating their conservatism.
A group of students at the University of Colorado hosted “Conservative Coming-Out Day” on February 3. According to The Washington Times, the event, sponsored by the College Republicans, was part of a concerted effort to promote conservative ideals in February, and to fuel a statewide conservative assault on liberal bias in academia.
One student, Jeff O’Holleran, 19, made his announcement – “I’m Jeff, and I’m conservative,” at a podium in the middle of a crowded CU dining hall.
“We have some of the best professors in the world here at CU, but some of them are here to indoctrinate us,” Brad Jones, College Republicans chairman, told The Times. “What we’re talking about is diversity of thought, and a lot of professors don’t believe in [that].”
The assault on liberal backlash in Colorado goes all the way to the state General Assembly. Lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bill Owens have been presented with an Academic Bill of Rights, penned by conservative writer David Horowitz. The eight-point bill seeks to eliminate political bias in university hiring practices, stating that instructors should not be hired, fired or granted tenure on the basis of political or religious beliefs. Also, the bill says students should not be graded according to their beliefs, and that faculty should never use the classroom for indoctrination purposes.
Is such a measure needed? Some fear the bill would stifle classroom discussion and the free exchange of ideas. Others, though, cite examples such as what happened at UNC-Chapel Hill as proof that something must be done to prevent liberal instructors from running roughshod over the conservative minority on campus.
Perhaps, though, as more students lean toward conservative ideals, the problem will correct itself. Some students believe that may already be taking place.
At Chapel Hill, students say instances of liberal bias being brought to the forefront of the public are having an impact. “I think the climate has changed,” Kris Wampler, a sophomore from Charlotte, told The Charlotte Observer newspaper. Wampler founded Carolina Students for Life, a pro-life organization, in 2002. “It’s becoming a place where conservative students are not afraid to speak out and be active. We are kind of breaking through the institutionalized liberalism.”
MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION ON COLLEGE
With so many colleges catering to so many career paths, it can be overwhelming for parents and students to decide which college is the best fit for them – both in academic offerings and in quality of student life.
There are a host of magazines each year which rank colleges based upon differing factors. However, few – if any – rankings give a thorough picture of what life at the colleges is actually like. That’s where Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) comes to play.
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