Activists steer right 

These days it would be hard to imagine a group of students taking over the administration building at a local college to protest America's refusal to sign a land-mine ban treaty. Could that be because the political climate at many universities is becoming increasingly conservative, allowing little room for dissenting liberal voices? That's a question the Center for Campus Organizing set out to answer four years ago. The result of its research is the recently published manual, "Uncovering the Right on Campus: A Guide to Resisting Conservative Attacks on Equality and Social Justice." The answer? The answer? "The left remains strong on college campuses," says Bill Capowski, executive director of the center. "But the difference is that conservative campus groups are far more organized, have more resources and work together on like agendas." According to the study, a network of more than a dozen national conservative foundations with annual budgets ranging from $160,000 to $5 million are coordinating the agendas of many conservative campus activities nationwide. Those agendas, according to the study, are uniformly anti-affirmative action, anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist and anti-gay rights. "When I was a student activist at MIT in the mid-1980s, our counterparts on the right received political training," writes Rich Cowan, project coordinator for CCO. "The larger motive was to groom young people for future leadership positions. Ralph Reed's 'stealth tactics' did not start with his Christian Coalition efforts to take over school boards; they started years earlier with College Republicans President Ralph Reed's campaign to take over liberal student governments." For example, according to the study, the Michigan-based Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, supported by the owner of the Orlando Magic, with assets exceeding $130 million, made $85,000 in campus grants in the 1994-95 academic year. All told, conservative foundations have been funding campus groups to the tune of $10 million to $20 million a year since the 1980s, say the authors of the report. It's that kind of financial wherewithal that is supporting more than 60 "right-wing campus publications reaching almost a million students" and allowing organizations to conduct seminars, sponsor lectures, organize training programs for young conservatives and even provide "legal and financial support for students fighting progressive groups or campus administrations," say the book's editors. The University of Central Florida is mentioned as one of the colleges where a full-page advertisement was placed in the student newspaper by "Holocaust revisionists." The book's editors say that the purpose of the study is to inform local activists who might otherwise be isolated or silenced by this conservative backlash, and to help those outside the university to look behind the red-herring issues of "tenured radicals," "lower standards" and "political correctness" in higher education. In addition to providing research on conservative funding trends on campus, "Uncovering the Right on Campus" doubles as a "how-to" manual on how students can counter the conservative tide, from how to track the flow of funds to colleges and universities to "Rules for Engaging the Right." In the face of the revelations of the study, the Center for Campus Organizing, which was established in 1992 to support social justice activism and alternative journalism on campus, remains optimistic: "Despite tens of millions of dollars spent by the right to turn back the clock to the '50s, they are not winning our generation," say the editors. "Most students want more money spent on education, not war; most women are not abandoning their careers, and multiculturalism and the gay rights movement are gaining ground." Copies of "Uncovering the Right on Campus" are available for $8 plus $1 for shipping from CCO, P.O. Box 748, Cambridge, MA 02142, phone (617) 354-9363 or fax (617) 547-5067.

More by Desiree Cooper


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