As a life-long conservative, I saw universities as battlegrounds of ideas before I came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Eager to spar with the Bush-bashing, tree-hugging, atheistic liberals whom I imagined inhabiting campus, I immediately threw myself into conservative activism and debate.
Now that I’m a senior, I have become the face of conservatism to many at UNC, after serving as chairman of the College Republicans and now serving as co-editor for Carolina Review, the school’s sole conservative publication.
Fighting for ideological balance has certainly been an uphill fight, and I’ve suffered my share of antagonism. Of course, the real Carolina was not quite the ideological war zone of my high school imagination. Most of the students and faculty, although liberal, had the best of intentions and were very nice people.
Even so, liberals dominate the campus dialogue. Their dominance is often revealed as soon as one steps on campus. Admissions ambassadors laud our “commitment to diversity.” Chants of “People, not profits!” ring from the frequent leftist protests that disturb our tranquil campus.
The blatant lack of support for non-leftist ideas even appears to be official policy. The main lecture series sponsored by the university only brings liberal speakers like Sen. John Kerry or author Kevin Phillips or television producer David Simon to campus. The only time a conservative appears on stage for an official, university-sponsored event is when the Frey Foundation pairs a conservative pundit with a liberal partner. Apparently conservative opinions can only be heard when they’re leavened by liberalism.
A current controversy about campus speakers reveals the university’s true ideological colors—and its basic unfairness. At UNC, student groups seek support for outside speakers from the student government, which controls roughly $500,000 in student fees for that purpose. While it sometimes supports requests by the College Republicans, this year it refused to pay an honorarium for Ann Coulter, invited by the College Republicans.
Although I’m no fan of Ann Coulter (I think she’s unproductively divisive and doesn’t help persuade people of the merits of conservatism), she is a famous, best-selling author. Yet the student government did agree to fund two intellectual lightweights on the left. It paid the honorarium of MSNBC commentator Richard Wolffe for an event sponsored by Young Democrats, and this fall, a student government-sponsored speaker series paid for a lecture by President Obama’s former press secretary Robert Gibbs. With such a low bar for scholarly discourse, why is Ann Coulter unwelcome?
Again, I’m not suggesting that all UNC’s liberals are necessarily mean-spirited (though a few are). Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield once pointed out that the mindset of college liberals is basically, “If only those conservatives were educated, they would finally see the light!” In essence, many academics don’t respect conservative thought and operate under the assumption that conservatism has nothing to offer. UNC is saturated with this thinking. In one course I took where we discussed neoconservative thinkers like Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, we were taught that nothing they said had any worth. A friend of mine took a seemingly innocuous course on ancient Roman archaeology in which the lecture frequently turned into an anti-Bush rant.
Sometimes, the pervasive liberalism at UNC can be wearying. Liberals wield political correctness as a weapon against conservatives; they stifle serious debate with a litany of baseless accusations: “Why do you hate the poor,” “why do you hate minorities,” “why do you hate gays,” etc. After representing College Republicans during a debate one spring, my Twitter feed was full of tweets calling me stupid, fat, and worse.
At times, I was tempted to become bitter and try to use those same tactics against the left. But I had a great example of how to deal with such animosity in the great conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. He was witty, charitable to his political opponents, and had many friends on the left, but was still one of the most effective champions of conservative ideas this world has ever seen. He learned and utilized the vocabulary of the left, an important tool for persuasion.
Buckley’s approach seems to have served me well. During the past four years, the small right-wing conspiracy at UNC has turned into a larger right-wing conspiracy. Much of our growth was likely the product of a backlash against Barack Obama’s social democratic agenda. In the run-up to the 2010 election, membership of the College Republicans tripled, growing from 100 to 300 members. With all these new members, we were able to organize all UNC voting precincts for the first time in living memory.
Carolina Review has also experienced a surge in membership and quality since the 2008 elections. The Tar Heel Rifle & Pistol Club’s membership (a majority of whom are conservative) exploded as well, going from two members to over fifty in a matter of two years. Conservative influence in student government is also growing: the College Republican contingent in Student Congress has doubled from only two years ago.
These existing groups were recently joined on campus by the Carolina Liberty Foundation (CLF). The establishment of the CLF marks the beginning of a new era for the conservative movement at UNC. Zach Dexter (then editor of Carolina Review) and I founded it as a non-profit organization to raise money across the state for conservative events and programs at UNC. We recruited John Hood, a UNC alumnus and president of the John Locke Foundation, to serve as board chairman and helped student groups sponsor speeches by former Bush advisor Karl Rove, activist Chris Barron, and pundit Jonah Goldberg. In addition to funding Carolina Review’s printing costs for the year, the CLF is helping the Tar Heel Rifle & Pistol Club bring activist Andrew Breitbart to campus this December.
The CLF will significantly amplify conservatism’s voice at UNC. Because university support for voices on the right on campus is absent, alternative viewpoints are only sustained through the efforts of conservative student groups such as the CLF. Without these groups and the events and speakers they sponsor, intellectual diversity at UNC would extend all the way from Robert Gibbs to Noam Chomsky—which is to say, from left to far-left.
Creating a sustained, vocal presence for these groups on campus was my number one priority as a conservative activist at UNC. The importance of these institutions cannot be stressed enough: without them, the school’s universal leftist culture would go unchallenged.
But that isn’t likely. Despite the liberal hegemony on UNC’s campus, conservatives at Carolina have been fortunate to have strong leaders who have created a strong, sustainable conservative infrastructure, and I tried to further their efforts. Knowing the caliber of the student leaders who will follow me, I know that conservative institutions will continue to grow and spread the ideas of liberty, even at this bastion of liberalism in Chapel Hill.