Napa Valley Students Respond to Lack of Views on Campus · 26 April 2004

By Heather Osborn--Napa Valley Register, 04/27/04

Being assigned Michael Moore's liberal bestseller "Stupid White Men" for an English course or listening to a professor's liberal convictions during a geometry lecture are just two incidents that motivated conservative students at Napa Valley College to mobilize this year.

"It's a response to the liberal environment we are in," said Stephen Wolfe, the 21-year-old founder of the Conservative Club, one of a growing number of conservative college groups that are showing up across the country.

The local club's inaugural event was a satirical sale of waffles and pancakes in honor of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., while the theme from the old television show "Flipper" played on a small stereo. A flier highlighted some of the changing stances of Kerry -- the presumed Democratic Party candidate for president -- on education initiatives, anti-terrorism laws and the Iraq war.

The students are calling for voices from the right to speak out on campus, saying a handful of professors are using the classroom inappropriately as a platform for their liberal agenda. "Maybe we can throw out some other facts that people aren't aware of," Wolfe said.

The Conservative Club leaders are planning formal debates with liberal students, a support-the-troops day and a screening of movies such as "Patton."

Although the college's academic freedom policy encourages diverse voices in the classroom, students said that isn't happening in every course.

"My main thing is how a lot of professors, no matter what the topic, will bring in their political views," said John Posey, a club member who plans to join the Marines.

Wolfe said one of his professors would not allow conservative viewpoints to be expressed in the classroom.

Posey and Wolfe are not the only ones concerned about the liberal climate in some college classrooms. Spurred by conservative pundit David Horowitz, federal legislation that outlines an "Academic Bill of Rights" for universities is in the works. The California Senate Education Committee rejected the same proposed legislation last week.

The bill calls for professors to be required to share various viewpoints on controversial topics, protects professors from being fired for their political beliefs and bans professors from promoting political, ideological, religious or anti-religious beliefs in the classroom.

Opponents say the bill would squash academic freedoms and stifle debate in the classroom.

Proponents say the bill would ensure that students are hearing both sides of every issue and are treated fairly in the grading process.

Wolfe said most of his professors, although liberal, have been the best he has had and have acted fairly, leading debates that delve into many perspectives. Still, one of his professors consistently called conservative views illogical and Americans and Christians "stupid," he said. Wolfe has been accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Richard Donohoe, chair of the social sciences department, said few professors push their agenda in the classroom. The classroom must be a place for a free exchange of all ideas, he added. "I don't try to proselytize my students," he said.

The college's academic freedom policy outlines how professors should present materials, encouraging them to protect the ability of all students to express their viewpoints. Students may file complaints about infractions in the student services office.

Donohoe and other professors said they welcomed the new conservative club. "I think it's a really healthy thing on any campus to have student groups like the conservative club form," he said.

Doug Dibble, a professor in the fine and performing arts center, said most of the professors at NVC are moderate, not liberal, and that many students are apolitical, a chief concern of his. When conservative politician Jeane Kirkpatrick spoke on campus last year, 20 faculty members protested against the engagement. Dibble said he would have liked to see a higher turnout.

Chad Kifer, director of campus education at Intercollegiate Studies Institute, said apathy, or "getting students to the point that they are interested in taking action" is the greatest roadblock to signing up more college students for political groups. ISI is a conservative organization that supports 300 conservative clubs on campuses across the country.

Starting a campus club at NVC for conservative-leaning students proved challenging at first. It took more than two months for the students to find a conservative professor to sponsor them, Wolfe said.

"I was nervous at first about coming out as a conservative," said Keith Keller, an adjunct history professor, who recently agreed to sponsor the club. "I think there is a need for another voice."