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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Rebuilding liberalism on campus.

The cover story of this week's Nation profiles three new groups trying to help liberal student groups on college campuses, Campus Progress, YP4, and the Roosevelt Institution. More power (and money) to them!


Frustrations abound, but the emergence of national progressive organizations on campus has given many student activists renewed hope. In its first year Campus Progress has provided progressive students with tools they've never had before: money and a sense of unity. While its $1.25 million projected budget falls well below the more than $10 million of the right-wing Young America's Foundation, Campus Progress has made an immediate impact. Wayne Huang, editor of Cornell's student progressive publication, Turn Left, has seen his paper "go through a shocking transformation in little under a year," thanks to funding from Campus Progress. On twenty-seven other campuses, formerly cash-strapped student left publications are finally competing with conservative papers, publishing regularly and printing on high-quality paper. At its virtual meeting place,, students from across the country are sharing ideas and getting advice on how to communicate their values from the likes of Senator Barack Obama. Features like "Know Your Right-Wing Speakers" and "Crib Sheet" provide concise talking points for fighting the right. . . .

As Campus Progress works to build a national community for student progressives, Young People For (YP4) focuses on developing individual leaders. A project of People for the American Way, YP4 mirrors the right's Leadership Institute, which has trained more than 40,000 young conservatives, including movement heavyweights Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, since its inception in 1979. Providing a leadership pipeline for the left, YP4 has trained 126 students on forty campuses in its first year. . . .

[Quinn] Wilhelmi says that the Roosevelt Institution is not an attempt to replace grassroots activism but rather to complement it. "Nothing would have happened in the '60s without the sit-ins, but nothing would have happened without the Civil Rights Act either," he says. "I hope students will do both. I hope they'll do the sit-ins and then also work toward getting a city government to pass a law." He also maintains that Roosevelt will be a "big tent" for progressive ideas. Even though the organization is courting DLC darling Hillary Clinton, it has Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and liberal philosopher Richard Rorty on its advisory board.

The Nation has to appeal to its man-the-ramparts base, though, so of course there's hand-wringing about whether these aspiring insiders are sufficiently lefty. Don't they want to free Mumia?! I want to pull out my hair reading purists like Tom Hayden complain about cultivating mainstream allies. After all, it's the collapse of liberal institutions within mainstream culture that has made progressive ideas ineffective. But then, I am — and was, on campus — just a liberal.

(The new face of the campus left, Sam Graham-Felsen, The Nation 2.13.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 31 January 2006 at 7:08 PM

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Bill Baar:

February 1, 2006 08:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

Problem here is the faculties are dominated by Liberal fuddy duddies. My liberal nephew is third year in Pol Sci at Champaign Urbana. He goes as a liberal and becomes conservative reacting against a pretty authoritarian liberal power structure.

Newsweek sounds like a mirror image here of the 60s when you had the mainstream trying to restore conventional politics on campuses overcome with reaction to conservative faculties.

Only problem in hindsight for me is those conservative faculties I was shouting down and suggesting should be treated as the students treated them in the cultural revolution, did a pretty good job. Better the faculties today.

We screwed things up awful in the 70s.

Bill Baar:

February 1, 2006 08:20 AM | Permalink for this comment

My friend the Marathon Pundit writing on all the problems at Chicago's DePaul University (I'm alum). DePaul fired an adjunct faculity member who argued with a Palastinian Arab group. There is a scary strain of anti-semitism going on at DePaul too... you see it when you talk with these kids.

They hired Norm Finklestein too who's a Holecaust Denier.

It's not so much students who've been taken in by this weird merging of the left and far-right going there now. It's a working class school with a lot of commuter students and kids are focused on school. But there is an entrenched faculity enamored with Ward Churchill and these other leftist-gone-far-right-neo-fascist sorts and they're really corrupting the place.

As in the 60's though, the create a student activist reaction.

We think Ward Churchill writes profanity on our blogs about this. If it's not him, it's his supporters from Denver.

Dudley Jones:

February 1, 2006 12:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Perhaps someone could write a short paragraph about the difference between "liberal" and "progressive" values.


February 1, 2006 06:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dudley, this is how I tend to map out the territory in my own mind: Liberals are one kind of "progressive," but there are others. Some progressives are more radical than they are liberal, at least in their ideology: They see "liberal" institutions as expressions of an oppressive system and view politics as a way of marshalling power for the overthrow of that system. Other progressives aren't radicals in this sense, but they criticize other liberals for being committed more to neutral principles like tolerance or fairness than to idealistic principles like justice or liberation.

But at many colleges, the difference that matters isn't so much ideological as it is stylistic or cultural, giving us stereotypes contrasting goody-two-shoes insider liberals (in pre-law and poli-sci programs and signed up for congressional internships) with hippy-dippy outsider radicals (in peace studies or cultural studies and signed up for VISTA).

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