Chip Walker and Dave Sanford couldn’t believe it when they heard the Missouri Students Association had rejected a statement of support for U.S. troops headed to Afghanistan.
Walker and Sanford, friends through MU College Republicans, had talked about publishing a conservative newspaper. The student government resolution was the push they needed.
They made calls to national conservative organizations, including the Leadership Institute, which provided them with advice and $500 in start-up funds. They gathered like-minded friends to produce the inaugural issue.
Twelve editions later, Equitas serves as a forum for conservative students on controversial issues such as affirmative action, gay rights and the Iraq war. Articles have railed against the university-funded Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, asserting it promotes a “radical homosexual agenda.” The paper also pokes fun at campus left-wing groups, writing in one issue that “Liberals would organize and protest Groundhog Day if they suddenly found something wildly politically incorrect about it.”
While some articles target MU professors’ alleged liberal agenda and take on other campus issues, the paper devotes considerable space to national and international affairs. Equitas has opposed what it calls the “blame America first” attitude, the “doctrine of diversity” and “political correctness,” all of which stifles academic discourse, the paper said.
Staff members say opponents have thrown copies of the paper on the ground and made rude comments when handed a new issue.
“Some of the headlines are kind of appalling, so I really don’t engage in reading it,” said MSA President Brian Laoruangroch. “They really don’t have much credibility. I think it’s just a bunch of opinions with no factual basis.”
Conservative students on campuses across the country are publishing newspapers like Equitas, importing right-of-center speakers and advancing like-minded agendas with the help of a network of national organizations. In addition to the Leadership Institute, the Collegiate network has helped fund Equitas.
As a recognized campus organization, Equitas also received $1,600 from student-activity fees. Walker said the publication also gets about $1,000 in private annual donations from sponsors including Target Masters, a Columbia shooting range, and Route B Barbershop. Lisle Moore Jr., owner of Target Masters, is the head of Callaway County Republicans.
Although campus conservatives are part of a national network, it’s not a stretch to say they see themselves as radicals rebelling against an academic establishment they said they believe is reluctant to acknowledge their point of view.
“Conservative activists are the rebels nowadays,” said Brian Johnson, an MU junior who is president of College Republicans and will be the next Equitas editor in chief. “You’ve got conservatives questioning a lot of things that have become institutionalized. The university and the academy are dominated by liberal culture, and we’re definitely rebels within that context.”
Publications like Equitas, Johnson said, “exist to provide an alternative voice and maybe report on things that aren’t being talked about in other places. We have a point of view and we want to advance that point of view.”
Walker said Equitas is a means to counterbalance the Maneater, MU’s primary student newspaper. Equitas staff members contend the majority of mainstream college newspapers present news with a liberal slant.
“Our job at the Maneater is to serve as the student voice of MU. We’ve been doing that since 1955, and I think we do it in an unbiased way,” said Maneater editor in chief Tim Elfrink. “Certainly the Maneater’s been an advocate of minority recruitment, inclusion of the sexual orientation clause and other things that could be seen as liberal issues, but I think we do a good job of keeping those opinions to our editorial pages.”
Even though today’s young conservatives are ideologically far apart from campus protesters of the 1960s, they identify with their predecessors.
“Historically, the left had a harder time with free speech when administrators and students tended to be more conservative,” said Ryan Cooper, founder of the conservative Bear Review at Southwest Missouri State University. “Now administrators and faculty tend to be more liberal. I think since the 1980s, when people started forming these conservative groups, that’s been the precedent.”
Equitas and the Bear Review are two of about 85 conservative student newspapers nationwide, according to the Leadership Institute.
“If you go back only about five years ago, it was about half that,” said Joshua Mercer, the institute’s director of student publications.
Conservative newspapers have become an important rallying point, Cooper said.
“I think we’re winning,” he said. “Students now want to form pro-life and pro-gun groups. I’ve noticed a lot of people speaking up, challenging teachers.”
Equitas writers have singled out MU professors, most notably sociology professor John Galliher, claiming he advances a liberal point of view in class. In a recent issue, Joe O’Neil wrote, “If in doubt, students will be best served to remember that in Galliher’s world cops are criminals, juries are biased, criminals are victims and America at large is racist and homophobic.”
Galliher said there was some incorrect information in the articles about him, but he welcomes Equitas’ point of view because it adds diversity to campus.
But, he said, “If the whole faculty is aligned against them, why are they focusing on just me and a few other people? There are several hundred people teaching classes, and they’ve devoted two whole pages to me. This faculty and faculty in general are not as liberal as they might believe.”
Trend toward conservatism
College campuses are gradually becoming more conservative, said Jeremy Smith, who works for the Independent Press Association, which promotes and supports independent progressive publications. In 1994, Smith helped found the Campus Alternative Journalism Project, which aims to connect liberal campus newspapers.
“It’s been a long-term trend starting in the early 1980s,” Smith said. “In the late ’70s, conservatives identified campuses as real battlefields. Starting at about the time of the election of Ronald Reagan, they started pouring resources into campuses. It’s just not true anymore that campuses are hotbeds of radicalism. It’s definitely shifted the political discourse.”
Among incoming college freshmen nationwide, 22.7 percent identified themselves as “conservative” or “far right,” compared to 21.3 percent the previous year, according to a 2003 survey by the University of California-Los Angeles. “I grew up in the ’90s like a lot of conservative students on college campuses today, and we really got the politically correct agenda stuffed down our throats,” said Johnson. “Finally some conservatives got riled up. We’re the ones challenging a lot of these notions that you can’t really talk about because it might cause a little controversy.”
Although the UCLA survey found a slight increase in politically “far left” students, the “liberal” label declined from 25.3 percent in 2002 to 24.2 percent in 2003.
“Nevertheless, the left-right political balance among college freshmen continues to favor the left, a fact that has held steady throughout the 38-year history of the study,” according to the survey.
Independent of Equitas, MU conservatives have made their presence felt. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation — all student groups — have brought in right-wing commentators Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza and David Horowitz. On April 21, the groups sponsored a lecture by Bay Buchanan, former U.S. treasurer under Ronald Reagan and sister of prominent conservative Pat Buchanan.
The Leadership Institute also sponsors seminars and workshops, helps conservatives at college newspapers network and finds students jobs in journalism.
“A lot of times conservatives complain about the media,” Mercer said. “Our philosophy here at the Leadership Institute is ‘be the media.’ ”
Bryan Auchterlonie, executive director of the Collegiate Network, said his organization helps campus conservatives turn their papers into a “serious student movement.” The Collegiate Network awards individual newspapers anywhere from $500 to $8,000 a year. Last year it gave out 56 grants and a total of $190,000, Auchterlonie said. Equitas got $1,600 this year.
Conservative students aren’t limiting their activism to campus. Some secure summer internships with high-profile Republican politicians or national organizations.
MU senior Angela Landers worked for Missouri Sen. Jim Talent last summer and will work for President Bush’s re-election campaign when she graduates in May. Walker has been an intern for U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Columbia. Sanford, the other Equitas cofounder, graduated from MU in 2002 and works in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Young conservatives also get to know other like-minded students around the country. As president of MU’s chapter of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Landers attended a Leadership Institute conference in Washington on starting a campus conservative campaign. Six months later, when she attended a Young America’s Foundation conference in California, she encountered many of the same students.
WhenLanders returned to MU, she was instrumental in bringing conservative campus crusader Horowitz to speak at MU in 2002.
She will see the friends she’s made at conservative conferences again this summer in the nation’s capital. They’ve all secured political internships, too.
MU sophomore Angad Nagra recently founded Prospectus, a liberal student newspaper preparing to publish its second issue. He said he wishes he had the same resources available as conservative groups. There are no national liberal organizations that exist solely to fund left-of-center student publications.
The Campus Alternative Journalism Project’s annual budget has never been more than $75,000, and it doesn’t fund newspaper production or student conferences.
“We are stuck with a more grassroots level if we want to ensure success for our newspaper,” Nagra said. “We have aggressively tried to seek advertisements, but we’ve received no such assistance from national groups. I feel there’s a lack of national organizations on our side.”
Nagra created Prospectus as a common platform for the fractured left-wing MU groups such as College Democrats, Students for Progressive Action, the Feminist Student Union and Students for a Free Tibet.
“We’ve seen a degree of organization of the right wing of political organizations that we rarely saw on the left,” Nagra said. “I took the initiative to start a publication that would offer this coordinated response that I felt was lacking.”
Equitas editors say they welcome Prospectus as another outlet for student opinions.
“I think Prospectus is one of the best things that ever happened to Equitas,” said sophomore Colin Kerr, former Equitas editor in chief. “With the Prospectus, that just encourages us even more because now we have a dialogue on campus where you can have two sides to every issue.”