Indoctrinate U. · 01 October 2007

By Bill Steigerwald -

Human rights activist and campus freedom-fighter Thor Halvorssen is one of the producers of “Indoctrinate U,” the freshly released documentary film that uses humor and Michael Moore-like tactics to expose the culture of political correctness and left-wing politics that dominates most American colleges. Halvorssen, 31 and a native of Venezuela, co-founded the students-rights group FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) in the late 1990s when he was at the University of Pennsylvania. He is founder of the Moving Picture Institute and president of the Human Rights Foundation, which fights for individual liberty in the Americas. I called Halvorssen on Thursday, Sept. 27, when he was in Washington, D.C., the night before “Indoctrinate U" ( debuted before a sold-out audience at the Kennedy Center.

Q: What is “Indoctrinate U” about and what’s its political message?
A: “Indoctrinate U” is America’s first feature-length documentary about the assault on individual rights on America’s campuses. It is a hard-hitting, entertaining and remarkably well put-together film -- and I can say that because I’m not the director, I’m one of the producers. It will make a difference in communicating what is occurring on college campuses -- from speech codes to discrimination to the watering down of standards to the unspeakable bias in the hiring of faculty members and the disparity of ideological diversity. The film shows that college and university campuses talk a lot about diversity but they ignore the diversity that truly matters -- diversity of opinion, diversity of views. Their use of the term “diversity” is a perversion of meaning and language.

Q: And the movie's message is what?
A: The message is that whatever you thought about how bad it was on college campuses, it’s a lot worse. You get to talk to a number of people who survived the kangaroo courts of judicial systems on campus. And you get to talk to the professors who can explain what the climate is like. The film is a call to arms that something needs to be done about this.

The film’s political message is one of freedom and is one of equal rights before the law, and it’s one of diversity of opinion. This is not a conservative film; this is not a liberal film. Of course it talks about the discrimination that most of the time Christians and conservatives are victims of, but that is a reflection of the reality on campus, not a reflection of what the director wants you to see.

Q: On the “IU” Web site it says, "American higher education bears a disturbing resemblance to the totalitarian societies that are anathema to our nation's ideal of liberty." How so?
A: I’ll give you an example. College campuses are the only places in America, other than prisons, where people have fewer rights -- i.e., students are in there with prisoners in federal prisons in having less rights than normal Americans. Speech codes are a perfect example.

Q: Such as West Virginia University telling students they should use "lover" or "partner" instead of words like "boyfriend" and "girlfriend"?
A: Sure. Sure. West Virginia’s example is somewhat humorous. Some people will simply chortle at that. But on so many campuses whatever is deemed offensive is immediately considered harassment and thus is considered illegal. So a student putting up a poster advertising a speaker coming to campus can be the subject of months and months of a legal process because that poster offended some students. That’s one of the cases in the film.

Or the fact that some students wished to protest what they see as racial discrimination through affirmative action and so they choose to have an “affirmative action bake sale;" they choose to use parody -- a longtime American tradition of political communication, parody and satire -- and that becomes the object of judicial action. That’s what I’m talking about and that is what is so remarkable about what’s going on on American campuses.

Not only do you have inconceivable double standards when it comes to free speech, campuses like Columbia where Ahmadinejad can be invited as a guest to speak to the campus but the very same week the head of the Minutemen is not allowed to speak on campus. What kind of message does that send? That’s one example from among hundreds.
It does not mean that students are not allowed to protest. That’s exactly what universities are about -- vigorous exchange of ideas. It’s that students are only getting one tendentious idea, one tendentious view and this affects the university at all levels -- from student life to the administration to the faculty to what is available course-wise.
The general diagnosis is a poor one and something needs to be done about this. We believe that this film can communicate this to a mainstream audience, in as much as the film is entertaining, in as much as the film really grabs you. It’s also very well done. Evan Maloney is a star….

Q: He's the director -- the Michael Moore character, if you will?
A: Think Michael Moore. Put him on a huge diet. And have his documentaries be based on fact, not fiction, and you have “Indoctrinate U.”

Q: What’s the Moving Picture Institute and what’s its mission?
A: The Moving Picture Institute was founded to nurture filmmakers like Evan Maloney, to nurture and inspire filmmakers who care about the issues of American freedom and individual rights. It exists both to produce and distribute films of this sort and to find the talent and nurture them -- provide them fellowships and internships and things like that.

The institute has offices at the Tribeca Film Center in New York and it has offices in Hollywood. Its funding comes from individual donors. It has a budget that is just over $1 million and it has so far produced several feature-length films. Two of them have appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival: “Freedom’s Fury,” a film about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and a water polo game that captured the imagination when it came to the struggle against communism; another one is “Hammer & Tickle,” which goes into the power of humor in the struggle against Soviet communism; the “Singing Revolution,” a film about the Estonian revolution of 1997 and how Estonia got its freedom back and independence from the Soviet Union by singing; “Indoctrinate U,” which has the tagline “Our Education, Their Politics”; “Mine Your Own Business,” a film about the dark side of environmentalism; and right now in production, “Do as I Say,” a film about the hypocrisy of so many of this nation’s leaders who say “live this way” but they themselves live a different way.

Q: How do you define your politics?
A: The Moving Picture Institute doesn’t have politics per se. We’re interested in films and we work with filmmakers across the political and ideological spectrum. The Moving Picture Institute has filmmakers who have very differing views from each other many times. What we are interested in is the product -- the quality of their films and the message of their films. In that sense, we are very, very open. I personally consider myself a classical liberal in the European tradition. But we have all sorts of people who are involved with us, from conservatives to liberals. We’re just interested in films that we don’t think are getting attention.

Q: Why have you become sort of a freedom fighter on U.S. campuses?
A: I myself was involved previously in an organization which was conceived in my living room called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, which is based in Philadelphia. I was its CEO from its founding until 2004. In some ways, “Indoctrinate U” is my swan song to higher education. I did that work for a while, and why not make a film about the subject?

The kind of work that I am able to do is only possible because there are Americans who understand that this country is different and that this country lives because of certain ideas and is devoted to those principles.

This country has a remarkable set of philanthropists who want to ensure that this culture of freedom survives. It is because of that that FIRE was possible; it’s because of that that the Moving Picture Institute is possible. And it’s because of that my human rights work focusing on the Americas is possible. That’s my day job.

As someone who is not from this country, I have come to appreciate what it is, and to love it, because of what it represents worldwide and what it allows people living within its borders to be able to do if they are willing to work hard enough.

Q: You’re only 31, but you’ve been fighting against this culture of political correctness and leftist political environment for
A: How I got into this fight is that I was myself a target of intolerance when I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. I remember how shocked I was that universities, which are supposed to be all about the critical mind and the discovery of new ideas and no boundaries, was quite the opposite. I found a stilted environment that was very closed. I revived a newspaper that had been dormant for a while. Our funding was not permitted. Our offices were trashed. We were evicted from our offices and so I then decided to attack the university for having done this. I got some attorneys and threatened to sue and the university college settled out of court and thus that was my wake-up call to what was going on. I became an adviser to the judicial system at Penn and I got to see the kind of charges that are brought against students. From there I went to work on helping students on other campuses revive their newspapers or supercharge them. From there, FIRE came along and then the film world came along.

Q: Are you getting anywhere in your mission?
A: Well, we’ve got six films produced and we’ve got a whole bunch of new ones coming up the pipeline. I think there’s a lot of interest and a lot of people want to see these films. As the sold- out Kennedy Center shows, there are some people who are even willing to pay for this.
It’s very satisfying. We’re all basically at the same time very, very encouraged and excited -- and terrified because the film has never screened publicly. I guess we’re really anticipating whether they will clap or not. The film is really quite excellent and I think it is going to do very, very well. It will be available on DVD in a few weeks. is where people can sign up. If enough people sign up, we will bring the film to that area.

Bill Steigerwald is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's associate editor. Call him at (412) 320-7983. E-mail him at: