In a recent Campus Progress article “Smashing ‘Left-Wing Scum’ on Campus,” author Erin Rosa attempts to characterize the Leadership Institute as conservative bullies on campus. The problem is that she doesn’t have much of a case in the first place.
Rosa derives the title of her article from a profile posting by Texas A&M graduate and Leadership Institute staffer Toni Listi that he is “active on CampusReform to ‘smash left-wing scum.’”
“I don’t know about that comment,” Rosa quotes Bryan Bernys, CampusReform National Director. “I don’t know where that is on the site or anything. Obviously with all Web sites you can post anything. Nobody at CampusReform can go through every single post,” he said.
So if the leadership at CampusReform did not sanction Listi’s comment, why tar an entire community for the actions of a single member? Listi’s profile stated that his reason for being “active on CampusReform” is to “start and support conservative/libertarian groups and publications” as of Thursday, Oct. 22, around 3:00 pm.
Campus Progress associate editor Rosa also writes that “Ken Johnson, a humanities professor at the University of Southern Indiana, was recently listed as a leftist professor on the social network by an anonymous commenter that claimed to be his student. The user wrote that Johnson ‘continually degrades the Bible,’ an allegation the Johnson denies.”
Since the professor rating no longer appears on campusreform.org, the only evidence remaining is Rosa’s excerpted quote.
The person described by Rosa as an “anonymous commenter that claimed to be his student,” is an active student at the USI, Adrienne Royer, CampusReform New Media Director, told this correspondent via email. “An active student at the University of Southern Indiana wrote the review and comment about three weeks ago. It looks like she went back and deleted at some point,” she wrote.
CampusReform leadership said that Rosa’s characterization of the site’s function and services were accurate. “While Campus Progress may have over-emphasized one statement made in an individual user’s profile, we thought that the overall description of the sites functions, features and resources were accurate,” stated Bernys.
However, Rosa missed key information when reporting on the faculty ratings on the site. In her Campus Progress column, Rosa described Johnson as a professor who lectures on a “variety of ancient philosophers.”
“Johnson says that he lectures on a variety of ancient philosophers, but his only objective is to examine how ideas move and change throughout the ages. The university exists in a rather conservative environment in the Midwest,’ Johnson says. ‘Students sometimes confuse the presentation of ideas with me, which is not all that uncommon. Some students, as soon as their thinking is challenged, the challenger becomes the evil one.’”
Prof. Johnson is listed as teaching Western Traditions: Humanities I (HUM 211) and Rhetoric & Composition I: Critical Thinking (ENG 101) for the Fall 2009 semester. However, his faculty biography states that he teaches “the Bible as Literature.”
His faculty biography states:
“Ken’s primary focus is rhetoric, but he also teaches humanities, ethics, and the Bible as Literature. Ken often speaks and writes about gender language in religious groups, and he enjoys challenging his students to think about how we use language as a tool of power. Ken’s composition students also know that he encourages them to think in new and different ways about everything while learning to write without using those dreaded ‘non-thinking’ words” (emphases added).
Several ideas expressed in this biography might be considered offensive by certain Christian denominations, or some faiths in general. (Imagine, for example, if Prof. Johnson had taught the Qu’ran as literature and commented about “gender language” among Islamist sects).
USI offers Intro to Biblical Literature I and II (ENG 382 and 383) on a four-year course rotation. An administrative staffer from the University’s English Department confirmed that Prof. Johnson taught the Biblical Literature elective in 2008.
Rosa’s inaccurate reporting was picked up by Andrea Hill on Think Progress and twisted even further. Hill writes that Johnson is “a humanities professor at the University of Southern Indiana who was recently flagged by CampusReform as an academic who ‘continually degrades the Bible’…” (emphasis added).
Firstly, Prof. Johnson was flagged by a USI student active on CampusReform, not the organization itself. Secondly, neither of these writers seem to find it pertinent that Prof. Johnson recently taught the criticized content, not just “ancient philosophers” as stated.
Pot condemns Kettle
In her Campus Progress column, Rosa also criticized Leadership Institute founder Morton Blackwell for spending millions of dollars to effect campus politics. “Just last year Blackwell’s nonprofit organization, the conservative Leadership Institute, spent $4.6 million to conduct training seminars for college students and to assist with launching right-leaning newspapers on campus, Internal Revenue Service records show,” writes Rosa.
According to their Form 990, the Leadership Institute spent over $5.3 million in 2007 on their “Campus Leadership Program,” which “Fosters effective student organization on U.S. college campuses. Conducts leadership schools for these groups and helps students start conservative newspapers on their campuses.” Similar records submitted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to the IRS indicate that CAP—parent organization to both Campus Progress and Think Progress—received over $29 million in revenue in 2007. The Leadership Institute received about 10.7 million in revenue that same year.
In fact, Rosa criticizes the Leadership Institute for offering the same types of college outreach that her organization does, albeit with a conservative, not progressive angle: According to the Campus Progress website, the program “funds, trains, and mentors students running a diverse and growing group of campus progressive journalism organizations,” engages “students in national issue campaigns on critical issues,” and offers “conferences and training programs for students” just like the Leadership Institute.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.