It’s fascinating to hear about the conservative counterrevolution at Duke. I studied English at Chapel Hill from the 80s to the 90s and had friends in the English department at Duke, which was then the epicenter of the Marxist/feminist/deconstructionist craziness that was overtaking the study of literature at American universities.
As to your question yesterday about the political trajectory of academia, I can add a few comments, based on my experience as a PhD candidate at Duke for the past five years.
Although university faculties and administrations are still overwhelmingly liberal, conservative activism on campus seems to be gaining some momentum. I think our situation at Duke is pretty typical – we have a small but committed group of conservative students untied in an organization called the Duke Conservative Union. We’re increasingly successful in getting our message out, as funding from conservative organizations and foundations is quite readily available to help us publish a magazine and bring in conservative speakers. When we catch the administration or faculty doing something particularly obnoxious (like when the African and African-American History Department paid to bring to campus Laura Whitehorn, a woman convicted of bombing eight military and government locations including the Capitol building), we can get the word out pretty quickly through the new media, which tends to take a particular interest in questions of campus bias.
My understanding is that most campus conservative groups are relatively small like ours. However, conservatives right now benefit from a kind of youthful, rebellious energy. Most of our activities focus on attacking the administration of our own school – ironically, just like the 60’s generation used to do. But now, they’re the ones in charge, and it’s their policies that are getting attacked, and their hypocrisies that are being exposed. In general, it’s more difficult for the leftwing student groups to get riled up these days, because they know the administrators are their allies. So what do they really have to protest against? They run the whole school. Leftwing student groups thus seem to have lost all their genuine energy, and they just survive now on a kind of romantic collective desire to relive their parent’s experience from the 1960s. They’re like Don Quixote in a tie- dyed shirt.
Despite the energy on the right, there is a long, long way to go.
Since I’ve been at Duke, my group has launched one or two big campaigns per year against the administration. Our first one was to oppose the Duke President’s decision to force the Duke Chapel to perform gay wedding ceremonies. Our last campaign was last year’s effort to force the administration to withdraw its approval for the Palestine Solidarity Movement to hold its annual pro-terrorism confab at Duke. I have to note here that my group has lost every one of these campaigns. But with each one, we send the message to the administration that we’re not going to let them get away unscathed with the kind of leftwing activism in which it has freely engaged in the past. We’ve had their misdeeds publicized all over the Internet, in the local press, on the radio, in the Wall Street Journal, in Commentary magazine, and on Fox News. They don’t like being ridiculed, and they’re not used to it. We cost them donations and provoke angry e- mails from alumni who genuinely care about their alma matter and who don’t like seeing its reputation besmirched by ridiculous policies implemented by those who are supposed to be leading the school. So we hope that over time, this pattern will lead to a certain behavior modification by those in charge, who eventually will conclude that caving in to the left on every issue just isn’t worth the price we will exact from them in the court of public opinion.