Across the college campuses of America, conservative students feel outnumbered and overwhelmed in the fight to rid academia of its liberal bias. Many conservative students remain in the shadows, afraid to confront the ideas and policies of liberal academia.
But a select few are so fed up with the liberal excesses and political correctness of academia that they are coming out of the shadows to wage a war of reform. “I will not back down from the Left,” said Jason Mattera, an undergraduate student at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island and president of the school’s College Republicans.
Mattera, along with fellow students Walter Bair and Ryan Cooper, spoke about his first-hand experiences challenging liberal academia and called for conservative students to become more active in the fight to reform the radical liberalism that infests college campuses across the country. Accuracy in Academia, which hosted Conservative University on July 16-17, showcased the efforts of these three students.
Walter Bair, who attends Shippensburg State University in Pennsylvania, discussed his dealings with his school’s Code of Conduct. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Bair posted anti-Osama Bin Laden posters on the door of his dormitory.
Bair soon received notice from his Residence Director that the signs were offensive to other students and would need to be removed. This action was supported by the school’s Code of Conduct, which defined harassment as “unsolicited, unwanted conduct which annoys, threatens, or alarms a person or group.”
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bair was troubled with the university turning a blind eye to anti-Bush signs. “Every time I walked out of the student union building, seeing liberals there with ‘Bush is a warmonger’ signs was annoying to me,” said Bair.
At first, Bair remained silent, but he had enough with the school when it established “free speech zones” on campus, which limited free speech to the center of campus.
Bair decided to fight this, seeking legal remedies to defend free speech on campus. He obtained legal assistance through the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which filed a lawsuit against the university on Bair’s behalf.
The university settled the lawsuit out of court, but Bair considers it a great victory. Based on the terms of the settlement agreement, the school agreed to revise its Code of Conduct and eliminate the “free speech zones.”
Ryan Cooper, president of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter at Southwest Missouri State University, experienced a similar run-in with a “free speech zone.” However, his strategy for leading the fight for free speech in academia was not only to file a lawsuit, but also to make use of the mass media.
Cooper believes utilizing the media is an important weapon in fighting the injustice of academia’s policies. You must always remember that school administrations hate bad press, said Cooper.
According to Cooper, YAF was initially refused official school recognition and could not pass out any pamphlets outside of the “free speech zone.” To protest these school policies, Cooper decided to stage a rally and contacted the local media to cover the event.
Cooper advised fellow conservative students that if they stage a school rally, “it’s always important to be creative.”
Cooper and his fellow YAF members built a cardboard wall around the free speech zone. Borrowing from the rhetoric of President Reagan, Cooper called on the university president to “tear down this wall.” These creative forms of protest received coverage from several local media outlets, including good press from his local newspaper.
Because of the media attention and a lawsuit filed on Cooper’s behalf by the Alliance Defense Fund, the university agreed to abolish the free speech zones. Cooper achieved another significant victory when YAF received official school recognition.
Mattera also understands how to fight academia through the use of the media. Mattera grabbed national headlines when his organization offered a “whites-only” scholarship to students at Roger Williams University.
The purpose of the scholarship was “to expose the hypocrisy of race-based scholarships that are given out by government [under] affirmative action,” said Mattera. Mattera refers to the whites-only scholarship as simply a parody and agrees with critics that it is not a solution.
The scholarship required applicants to complete an essay of one hundred words or less on “why you are proud of your white heritage” and supply a photograph that “confirmed whiteness.” If you want to convince fellow students of your conservative positions, you cannot be like National Review or a conservative New York Times, said Mattera. Parody is an effective form of argument in college because most students “watch Comedy Central more than CNN.”
All three speakers stressed the importance of defending the conservative cause in the halls of academia. Cooper considers the fight against the academic Left to “truly be a fight for freedom” and referred to Bair and Mattera as “fellow freedom fighters.”
Brian Thompson, an intern at Accuracy in Media, is a graduate of California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, which itself is something of a free speech battleground.