11 April 2005
[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.Thomas Jefferson
Should universities actively recruit students to support specific political positions? Alumni like me--as well as parents, students and taxpayers--should be giving that question some serious thought, as it is our money being used to do just that on many campuses. At Bucknell University--my alma mater--there are offices staffed by paid employees of the university who spend their time encouraging students to adopt their political views. The leading offender seems to be an office called the Women's Resource Center. With a name like that, you might assume the office helps all women equally, regardless of politics. You'd be wrong. Last year, Bucknell's Women's Resource Center sponsored a bus trip so students could attend a political rally in Washington, D.C. to protest the Bush Administration. More recently, the office sent out a campus-wide e-mail soliciting participation in a three-day conference sponsored by something called the "Feminist Majority Foundation." And each week, the WRC sponsors "Feminist Friday."
The Resource Center for Certain Women
Last I checked, feminism was a political ideology, and it isn't one to which all women subscribe. There are also plenty of women who call themselves feminists who don't consider themselves leftists, but it seems the Women's Resource Center isn't interested in providing equal service to them. When some female students saw that the WRC was in the business of arranging trips to political protests, they asked for similar help setting up a trip to a rally with a different political philosophy. The students were turned down. Feminism is supposed to be about allowing women to make choices, but apparently there are some choices the WRC doesn't want women to make, such as how to think politically. More recently, students approached the WRC about co-sponsoring a speech by Christina Hoff Summers, the renegade feminist author of Who Stole Feminism? The students were told that the WRC simply didn't have the resources. (Of course, the resources always seem to be there when the speakers adhere to the political beliefs of the people who run the WRC.) When the students responded that the WRC didn't even have to put any money into the speech--just lend its name as a co-sponsor--the answer was, "not interested." Christina Hoff Summers, you see, isn't the right kind of feminist for the WRC, because she isn't a left-wing ideologue. Tellingly, though, the WRC saw fit to sponsor a screening of Outfoxed, an anti-Fox News film promoted and partially financed by MoveOn.org, the leftist political action committee that last year spent over $20 million campaigning for Democratic candidates. Exactly how a political film about a news network relates to the mission of the Women's Resource Center has yet to be explained to the parents, students and alumni who ultimately paid for it.
The Office for the Promotion of Gay Marriage
Unfortunately, the WRC isn't the only political office into which Bucknell pours money. The university also has an Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness. In February, the LBGT office used Valentine's Day to promote "National Freedom to Marry Week." The office handed out t-shirts and buttons and sent an e-mail to all students asking them "to show their support in a very visible way [...] regarding marriage rights." In other words, the university was asking students to take a specific political stance in support of gay marriage. Clearly, the university stepped over the line of appropriate action; this wasn't a case of one professor or administrator speaking his or her opinion at a rally, this was an official arm of the university--staffed by paid university employees--asking students to support gay marriage "in a very visible way." Now, you don't have to oppose gay marriage to oppose what Bucknell is doing here. I personally believe that gay couples should be afforded the same legal rights as straight couples, but the question must be asked: should the university be spending precious resources to further a controversial political agenda opposed by many students, parents and alumni? And since when did such politicking become part of the university's mission? Alumni might consider these questions next time the phone rings with an eager Bucknell undergrad seeking contributions. When asked about the appropriateness of politicking by university offices, Charlie Pollock, Bucknell's Vice President of Student Affairs, responded that "university funds sometimes help expose students to prominent holders of opposing viewpoints" by inviting speakers to campus. Still, while it is nice that the university "sometimes" gives a platform to other viewpoints, the occasional speaker is still a far cry from having a staffed office--essentially a permanent fixture on campus--routinely putting out political messages that bear the official stamp of the university.
Big Bucks for Campus Politics
Next fall, a year at Bucknell will cost nearly $40,000, which puts it well out of the range of many deserving students. Some of this money finances political offices like the Women's Resource Center and the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness. Precisely how much money is needed to pay for such offices is not known, because the university has refused repeated requests to release the details. It might take the tuition of five, ten, maybe fifteen students each year just to keep these political offices afloat. I can understand why the university is keeping quiet about how much it costs to operate these offices; the answer is probably scandalous. So where does our money go? It is a question we should never stop asking. Not just at Bucknell, but at every school that pushes its political views on students.