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The Right Wing on Campus
An interview with Anuradha Mittal
A nuradha Mittal is the founder of the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank. In 2005 the Institute published a paper outlining the role of right-wing organizations in shaping political dialogue on college and university campuses, prompting this interview.
CRANE: What has been the role of the right-wing on college campuses in the last decade or so?
MITTAL: Very often people think of a college campus with an image of the 1960s. Kent State and the free speech movement come to mind. We tend to believe that college campuses are basically hubs of political activity. After all, we have environmental studies departments, women’s studies departments, ethnic studies departments, multi-cultural curricula. It is true that in the mid-20th century, especially after the GI bill, very different kinds of people came to college campuses for the first time. Sons and daughters of people who could have never thought of going to college were suddenly in colleges and they were questioning the status of those in power. We saw the involvement of students against the war and for women’s rights and civil rights.That is when the right moved in.
John Simon was Secretary of Treasury under Nixon and Ford. In his book A Time for Action he urged the corporations and the right wing to see what was happening. The attack was coming, he said, from academia and it was very important to challenge it. A similar call was included in the Lewis Powell memorandum where he said that this left needed to be crushed.
It has been a very carefully crafted strategy by the right wing to take over campuses the last few decades. Millions of dollars from conservative foundations have reshaped the debates on college campuses. You find national networks being created, for example, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute or think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. These are the institutions funding right-wing publications on college campuses. A very systematic attack on freedom of speech and liberal professors.
If you look at the survey sponsored by the American Council of Education in 2003, it reported that only 17 percent of college freshmen considered it important to be involved in an environmental program. In 1992 the number doubled. In 2003 a majority, 53 percent, said they wanted affirmative action to be abolished while only 55 percent favored reproductive rights, compared to two-thirds in 1992.
Affirmative action is a big one. Over the last few years, the right wing has been organizing these bake sales across campuses. If you are a white student or faculty, you pay more for your cookie, whereas if you are a student of color, or faculty of color, you pay less than 50 cents. They simplified the message to convince students that affirmative action is unfair.
Those kinds of hypes have been very successful. Fifty-three percent of students in 2003 believed that wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes than they do now. In 1992, 72 percent of students felt that richer people should pay more taxes.
Let’s go back to the Powell memo you mentioned What was in that memo? Who is Powell?
Lewis F. Powell was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President
Nixon. He wrote a memorandum in 1971 to Eugene Sednar, Jr., director
of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warning that America’s economic
system was under a broad attack by communists, new leftists, and
other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both
political and economic. And that “the most disquieting voices
joining the chorus of criticism came from the college campus, the
pulpit, the media, intellectual and literary journals, the arts
and sciences, and politicians.” So he recommended that the
business community confront this by building organizations that
would use careful, long-range planning and implementation.
It was the same message that in 1978 William Simon echoes in his books A Time for Truth and A Time for Action . He urged the right to rise and create a new set of institutions capable of leading the United States into a new age. He took funding from large corporations to support counter-intellectuals in the struggle. In 1978, he and Irving Kristol started the Institute for Educational Affairs, which played an important role in the rise of conservative college newspapers.
What about the chasm between funding of science and technology versus humanities and liberal arts?
In this whole effort to support the counter-intellectuals, corporate investments in universities have helped to dramatically change the mission of higher education. You have the revolving door between the CEOs and the university administrators to the corporate research and development in university labs. Basically, corporate influence has transformed every aspect of university life. At the same time, we have seen an attempt to de-fund humanities departments because they are supposedly the stronghold of leftist professors. They use the alumni, for example, who are often donors to the universities and dictate how their money is used. And that is not used for funding chairs in humanities programs. In the case of biotechnology you find in the state universities and the University of California system a strong takeover by the biotech companies. They have access to patents on research that is conducted in these state universities.
One of the biggest issues we have to deal with is that this corporate takeover is altering academic priorities. It is undermining the independence of university teachers, determining what research is done at the universities. Cal Bradford, a former Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphries Institute for Public Policy, was denied an extension of his contract after he criticized the university’s ties to corporations. In his words, “…basically the outside funds determine what universities will teach and research, what direction the university will take and the corporate donors decide to fund chairs in areas that they want research done. And their decisions decide which topics universities explore and which aren’t.”
What other tactics do you see the right using?
Let’s look at Students for Academic Freedom, started in 2003 by David Horowitz, who is not a student. It encourages the states to adopt its very noble sounding Academic Bill of Rights. It is about insuring that right-wing professors are hired in universities, that certain kinds of books are taught in courses. This campaign resulted in the Colorado State Legislature hearing from students and faculty in 2003. Their claim was that left-wing professors ridiculed conservative students, graded them down, and they attemped to recruit them to leftist causes. So this Academic Bill of Rights has now traveled to several states, including Georgia, Missouri, Michigan, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and California. In Florida in March 2005, a bill inspired by this Academic Bill of Rights, was adopted, which would basically allow Florida’s public university students to sue their professors for leftist “totalitarianism,” that’s what they call it. It was approved in the legislature.
Other actions are about intimidation. There’s a report put out by Lynn Cheney’s group (the Defense of Civilization Fund) called “Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America and What Can be Done About it.” This report attacks students and college faculty who oppose the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It lists the names of 117 students and faculty and the unpatriotic statements they made. These unpatriotic statements include, “Break the cycle of violence” or “Ignorance breeds hate.” They were considered dangerous to national security. When your name is put on a list like that, that is intimidation. Students Against War, a campus group in Seattle, had these post-inaugural demonstrations. They were chanting at the recruiters and they ripped up their literature. They were told by the Administration to apologize to the U.S. Army or they would be responsible for their actions.
You have right-wing organizations helping to shape the message and providing talking points to conservative student activists. This is done through annual conferences, journalism courses, internships at right-wing institutions, and fellowships. For example, the Collegiate Network Handbook for student activists, which is called “Start the Presses,” states that media outlets have the power to transform a minor event or fact into a major embarrassment. If the school persecutes you, send out press releases, notify alumni, and give the Administration a public blackeye. So they love it when you have progressive students going in and tipping over bake sale tables. They are like, “See, we told you that they are hostile to us.”
Another myth is that campuses are hotbeds of the left; that there is a Marxist conspiracy in the universities and radicals have seized the administration of universities.
The thing that they have done very successfully is choose who will deliver the message. For example, you have conservative women empowering feminism. So, for example, you have conservative speakers like Ann Coulter, Kathryn Harris, or Christina Hoff-Summers going to college campuses to explore questions such as whether women’s studies programs harm women by propagating feminists myths of women as victims. Or they have brought in conservatives of color far more successfully than progressives have. If you look at the Young America Foundation and their speaker’s bureau, it has right-wingers like Stark Parker, Clarence Thomas, G.A. Parker, Ward Connelly, and Walter Williams—these are the “alternative” black speakers who are put out as spokespeople for black America who are against affirmative action. Their message is, we need to move beyond race and gender.
How much has the right wing invested in this project?
A dozen right-wing institutions have spent nearly $40 million each year over the last 30 years. In 2004 the three largest conservative campus organizations were Young America’s Foundation, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and the Leadership Institute. They’ve spent approximately $25 million on various campus outreach programs. These resources were directed at four goals: training conservative activists, supporting right-wing student publications, indoctrinating the next generation, and generating myths about academia’s “liberal bias.”
There was a philanthropy roundtable in 1995 where Richard Fink, president of the Charles G. Coach and Claude Lamb Charitable Foundations, made use of the economist Frederick Kikes’s model of the production process to advocate for social change grantmaking. In his words, “Translation of ideas into action requires the development of intellectual raw materials. Their conversion into specific policy products and the marketing and distribution of this product to citizen consumers.” He was telling the foundations and grantmakers to invest in change along the entire production continuum, funding scholars and university programs where the intellectual framework of social transformation is developed; think tanks where these scholarly ideas get translated into specific policies; and implementation groups to bring these proposals into the political marketplace and, eventually, to consumers. According to the Media Transparency Grants database, between 1985 and 2000, conservative foundations had given away at least one billion dollars.
You seem to be describing a systematic, well-organized, and effective assault. Where is the left that is supposedly already in control of the universities?
In a recent poll, 27 percent of first year students described themselves as Democrats, 23 percent described themselves as Conservatives, and 50 percent have still not made up their minds. This battle has yet to play out. It’s still up for grabs.
Recently, we’ve seen something big happening on college campuses where students have organized walk-outs related to the war and military recruitment. They have organized protests against President Bush. Rock The Vote was a symbol of youth taking power and that progressives were recognizing the power of organizing on campuses. Also we have seen this national student outcry for corporate accountability, whether it was the success of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers against Taco Bell or Students Against Sweatshops. Look at the Kill-a-Coke campaign where students are getting Coca Cola out of the campuses. You have seen think tanks like the Oakland Institute delving into this issue. Or you have a student think tank called the Roosevelt Institute, which has been launched in Stanford. There’s a lot of activity. There’s Speak Out, which is bringing progressive speakers to college campuses.
What we need now is a long-term vision that can unite our efforts. We need funding and resources to implement these strategies and I think that’s a big question for progressives. Where is it going to come from? How do we reach out to students who have not yet identified themselves as progressives? Those 50 percent of the students—we have the potential to move them in that direction.
Carolyn Crane is a radio and print journalist whose work has appeared on community radio stations and magazines across the country.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.