Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site


Eric Young and Harry Crocker look like any other University of California at San Diego students cruising Interstate 5 in Harry's green Dodge Colt - except for their wry bumper sticker, ''I'd Rather Be Smashing Soviet Imperialism.''

They are heading back to campus after delivering speeches to a meeting of delighted Republican women. Their message: The college campus is a battle zone again - this time the '60s against the '80s. It's a battle of '60s radicalism - now faded gracefully into the established liberal wisdom - versus a contentious, no-holds-barred, freewheeling political conservatism.

About these ads

''We're betting on the '80s,'' says Eric Young.

Eric is one of a cadre of college students across the United States to bet on the '80s in a way that disgusts some and delights others: He is editor of a brash, new, politically conservative newspaper on the San Diego campus called the California Review.

The California Review is one of nearly 30 politically conservative college papers started up since the controversial, right-wing Dartmouth Review first drew scathing headlines in national magazines and newspapers in 1981 because of articles that poked sarcastic fun at blacks, women, and homosexuals. Not all the new papers are as controversial as the Review: They span the spectrum of conservative thought, from the more middle-of-the-road Morningside Review at liberal Columbia University to the strident conservatism of the California Review in Republicanized Orange County.

The papers aren't especially well received by university administrators, faculty, or fellow students. At many campuses, this reporter found the consensus to be that the papers were run by hotheaded, reactionary young upstarts.

''It's funny, we are the new radicals and we are challenging the liberal status quo,'' says Roderick Richardson, an editor of the Morningside Review. ''We're challenging the patterns of thought.''

But lest anyone think that the conservative newspapers are Davids fighting it out with the Goliath of ''entrenched liberalism'' (as the embattled young conservatives are wont to call it), note that the quick-darting Davids have more than smooth stones packed in their shepherd's bags. Big guns - corporations, foundations, and individuals - with formidable money, power, and prestige are backing the newspapers.

The advisory boards to the publications - as well as the financial contributors - read like a Who's Who of conservatives: American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Sen. Gordon Humphrey (R) of New Hampshire, columnist Patrick Buchanan, and Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, among others. The pivotal foundation, the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA), funnels grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 each year to fledgling conservative student papers.

About these ads

The IEA was looking for a lever to influence a ''small but crucial'' part of society: ''Intellectuals and their institutions became the focus of our work, in the belief that by changing this part of society, we could thereby cause multiple and magnified changes elsewhere, . . .'' says an IEA brochure.

And the ''lever'' idea may be working. ''We find conservatives coming out of the woodwork,'' says Peter Maillet, an editor of the conservative Stanford Review.

The campus New Right is now criticizing college administrations for the policies they put in place as a result of the protests in the 1970s. They're also taking strong conservative stands on issues such as affirmative action (against it), the draft (for it), the brand of economics taught in the classroom (anti-Keynesian, pro-free market), and black and women's studies, which they see as ''trivializing'' higher education.

Despite a chilly reception from many faculty and students, the potential readership for the papers is there: The American Council of Education, which annually surveys incoming college freshmen, shows more students moving further to the political right every year.

''The freshman college class of 1984 will have been born the year of the Tet offensive (a key Vietnam war battle),'' says Philip Marcus, executive director of the IEA. ''So there's a natural generational difference occurring. . . . What's happening on campus now is a spontaneous, natural, youthful questioning of established dogma.''

Still, at present the conservative numbers are few. The norm is still liberal , often led by campus newspapers that lean slightly to the left of the average student. But it is an intellectual force that is too provocative to be ignored.

But, asks John Zimmerman, a staunch leftist who edits the liberal Columbia University Spectator, does the conservative newspaper phenomenon ''reflect a turn to the right or a turn to the intolerant?''

Many students - and many others elsewhere - have objected vigorously to articles written in the new campus papers. For example, a story in the Dartmouth Review that was written in a parody of black English pulled national headlines - and spurred GOP Rep. Jack Kemp to leave the paper's advisory board. The California Review raised eyebrows with an article saying the welfare system had made black men irresponsible and sexually promiscuous.

Zimmerman questions whether students are actually more conservative today. ''It's not as fashionable to be leftist, but does that mean students are not (leftist)? It's not as chic to be up-front about your left-wing opinions, but it is chic to be up-front about your right-wing opinions,'' he says.

The Vietnam war, which had so much impact on the radical politics of the '60s , has also heavily influenced the growth of the campus conservative movement, says Morningside's Richardson. The debacle of the war soured all kinds of politics for many students.

''Upon a few, however, the effect is to cast them into intellectual ferment, from which they emerge as conservatives,'' writes David Frum, a recent Yale University graduate, in the conservative National Review. ''The failure [of liberalism] was colossal. . . . It would be strange indeed if . . . we kept its political ideas. Our conservatism is an act of desperate faith: Faith that the calamities of the 1960s and 1970s can be reversed . . . faith that the decline of the US is not permanent, faith that it is not too late.''

The smoke of battle between the liberal and conservative philosophies curls from the papers' letters to the editor columns.

A congratulatory letter on the starting-up of the Sequent at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., reads, ''Every college in America needs a bare-fisted, tail-twisting, icon-busting right-wing campus rag . . . as Jerry Rubin said, 'We are everywhere.' ''

In an open letter to the editors of the California Review was this opposing view: ''We find your attempt at right-wing, pseudo-satirical journalism to be tasteless and gutless in addition to its admitted elitist, racist, sexist, and ageist viewpoint.'' The letter-writers went on to call for a boycott of local stores that advertised in the paper.

J. Michael Waller, editor of the Sequent, calls it ''a battle for campus hearts and minds.'' But Spectator editor Zimmerman says he's glad to see Columbia's new conservative campus journal.

''It'll be good competition for us,'' he says, leaning back in his editor's chair with his feet up on the desk. ''We've had a monopoly on opinion, and we get predictable. I'd love to fight it out with them.''

Morningside editor Richardson, in regulation student corduroys and tweed jacket, sits in an Upper East Side cafe in New York talking about how he helped organize the first reversal of a town meeting proposal to back the nuclear arms race freeze.

Especially at the Ivy League colleges where they first started, he says, the right-wing newspapers are providing a platform for conservative thought that wasn't there before.

''Conservative tradewinds are blowing on the campuses now from these papers, '' says IEA board member John Bunzel, a former president of California State University at San Jose and now a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution (a conservative think tank) on the Stanford University campus.

''It's a bankrupt campus where only one side is heard,'' Mr. Bunzel says. ''It's important that the IEA fund these papers, because all through my time on campus, I've heard only one left-wing, radical voice. It's the same voice across the country. . . . The clash of viewpoints will be healthy for everybody. We're trying to make the conservative viewpoint more prominent - which just means making it available.''

The left has not been faring especially well on the campus. The single, dramatic issue to rally around, the nuclear arms freeze, has prompted only a lukewarm response from students. Nuclear arms teach-ins held at some 500 campuses across the country in October were led by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Lawyers' Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control, and other adult groups - and the campus turnouts were often lower than their sponsors expected.

''The Vietnam war was good for conservatives, because they had to go back and reconsider what conservatism was,'' says Richardson. He says the reemergence of conservatism may spur the left to rethink its positions and come up with better answers to today's problems.

Animosity toward some right-wing papers runs deep both on and off campus. The Boston Globe accused the Dartmouth Review of spreading ''the politics of hate and resentment.'' At the California Review, both the staff and advertisers have been harassed by obscene telephone calls. Sequent editor Waller, in describing the campus response to the paper, shrugs. ''They hate us.'' He claims he has been threatened physically. But as Phil Marcus points out about the Dartmouth Review, ''Even those who hate it, read it.''

The papers have not caused a big splash everywhere. Dean Osborn Elliott of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism hadn't even heard of the relatively staid and balanced Morningside Review at Columbia. And Richard Klingler, the editor of the middle-of-the-road campus paper, the Stanford Daily, says of the conservative Stanford Review: ''Not many people read it, and no one really takes it seriously.''

The conservatives say there's another reason for the contempt. ''We're a challenge to the status quo,'' explains Richardson.

''I think the reason for the shrill response [from the left] is because they lack ideas themselves,'' says Michael Joyce, executive director of the conservative John M. Olin Foundation in New York.

Conservative organizations, such as the Olin Foundation, are feeling their oats now because ''their man's in the White House,'' says Barrie Pribyl, executive director of the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, a trade association. He adds that even though one of their own holds them seat of power in the Western world, after so many years of being the outcasts, still the amounts of money being spread to fertilize conservative ideas are small.

Conservative student newspapers receive but a fraction of the monetary support that conservative foundations shell out for conservative causes nationwide. The Smith Richardson Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation, Adolph Coors Foundation, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the Bechtel Foundation are among the conservative crowd. More liberal campus newspapers, on the other hand, have no trouble getting funds. Often it is the university that subsidizes them.

Mr. Marcus at the IEA is linchpin of an informal network of such foundations. The IEA brochure explains that it came about because of what they saw as the public's confusion about, and intellectuals' sometime hatred of, what the US stands for. Something had to be done to reestablish understanding of the values at the heart of our society, they felt. A core of about 150 - mostly corporate - contributors agreed.

The effectiveness of the idea of supporting the student papers as a ''lever, '' or a way to bring a platform of conservative thought to campuses, shows that the IEA in particular is acutely aware that ''political revolutions do not begin at political conventions and party caucuses, but as ideas in the minds of a few individuals,'' as Stephen Tonsor, a University of Michigan history professor, writes.

One result of that aim is the IEA's priority of funding the campus papers. But Marcus says the IEA grants to fledgling student publications are meant only as seed money to get them started. ''So their funding will eventually have to come from various sources - alumni, solicitations, subscriptions, ad revenue.''

Not all the new conservative papers are backed by the IEA and its foundation guns. The Stanford Review got its presses rolling with money money from nearby corporations, and from relatives and friends of staff members. Local individuals and corporations are backing Manifest Destiny, a paper that is due to appear at 24 colleges in Florida next week. The Badger Herald at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Carolina Free Press at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are two more that haven't received IEA grants, among others.

Michael Waller leans back on the sofa in his Washington apartment, looking - for all his flannel shirt and corduroys - like any other granola-eating college student. It's the framed photo of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Ugarte - and not Cuba's Che Guevara - hanging on the wall above the sofa that sets him apart.

His belief that the copy has got to be biting to attract readers is reflected in the Sequent he edits. That paper, the California Review, the Williams Republican, and the original Dartmouth Review cause furor and controversy through their sharp-edged humor and prose. Others such as the Harvard Salient, Stanford Review, and Morningside Review are more balanced and scholarly.

''We're not out to alienate,'' says Stanford Review editor Maillet. ''We're just trying to get people to think.''

''There's a belief that the concerns of liberals and the principles of conservatives are mutually exclusive,'' says Richardson. ''We're saying it's possible to have both.''

The conservative movement ''needs to build the infrastructure that the left already has,'' says Richardson.The conservative support network is going forth and multiplying. Editors of the Ivy League conservative papers have formed a consortium to set up joint advertising and fund raising. Groups such as the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and College Republicans are trying to link up with the papers as a way to recruit members. The IEA is planning a student journalism clearinghouse that would do much of what's already being done by a conservative Washington-based group called Project Inform to help new papers get rolling, feed story ideas and background material for investigative stories, and syndicate stories nationally.

Sources for this story didn't venture many guesses as to whether the papers would soften their strident tone. But Dinesh D'Souza, editor of the Dartmouth Review last spring during the peak of its controversy, may have set the tone in a recent piece he wrote in The American Spectator. His message: ''[The conservative newspapers'] scalpel must not only be sharp, it must also be wielded with care.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.