Making Campus Conservative

Wowzers! Having apparently given up on appealing to anyone else, the House GOP has taken to playing Santa Claus to campus conservatives. Their new proposal for the Higher Education Act threatens to make conservative dreams come true.

According to Politico, the big story from the new bill is the sweeping change it will enact in federal student-loan policy. Here at ILYBYGTH, though, we’re more interested in the way it will redraw battle lines in higher-ed culture wars.

As we’ve discussed frequently, conservatives interested in higher education have fulminated ferociously about the recent spate of anti-conservative student protests. As I argued at HNN a while back, conservative legislative moves like the recent one in Wisconsin don’t actually plan to improve things, but rather hope to make political hay. The only effect, as someone once put it so wisely, will be to “write a vague sense of conservative outrage into the law books.”

Speech codes aren’t the only target of the new bill. It also throws a brontosaurus-sized bone to religious conservatives. As we’ve seen, evangelical groups such as Intervarsity have been de-recognized on many campuses. That means they can no longer use campus facilities. Unless they allow a more diverse group of people to be group leaders, they are no longer allowed to be official student groups.

The House bill promises to fix both problems. As Politico explains, the new bill would ban public colleges, at least, from enacting any sort of speech-restricting codes. Plus, no schools could de-recognize religious groups. As the bill’s language puts it, colleges could not deny

a religious student organization any right, benefit, or privilege that is generally afforded to other student organizations at the institution (including full access to the facilities of the institution and official recognition of the organization by the institution) because of the religious beliefs, practices, speech, membership standards, or standards of conduct of the religious student organization.

Will it work? Hard to say. As we all know from Schoolhouse Rock, there’s a long journey from bill to law. House GOP leaders might be willing to give up the evangelical-friendly parts of their bill to get the student-loan parts to succeed. Or they might scrap the provision about free speech to win on their sexual-assault rules.

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Abortion and Social Justice at Yale

A pro-life student group at Yale University has been refused membership in a “social justice” organization.  Why?  Because, in the words of one student leader, “The pro-life, anti-choice agenda stands in the way of gender equity, and thus in the way of social justice.”

The controversy raises difficult questions: Is conservative religion still seen as a legitimate force for good?  For “social justice?”  Or has conservatism become irredeemably trapped by accusations of bigotry?  At least in the effete environs of Yale, it seems pro-life thinking has been stripped of its moral legitimacy.

Well-dressed Activists

Well-dressed Activists

The student group, Choose Life at Yale (CLAY), had been a provisional member of Dwight Hall, an umbrella group of student social-justice clubs.  Membership in Dwight Hall would have given CLAY access to meeting rooms and a sense of campus legitimacy.

Is pro-life a “social justice” cause?  Former CLAY president Michael Gerken thinks it is.  As he explained in the pages of First Things, CLAY members

realized that abortion has never been solely a matter of a baby’s life and liberty. It’s about the desperation and hopelessness of the mother that walked into the clinic. It’s about the grandfather who will never put that little girl in his lap. It’s about the classmates who will never sit next to her, and the boy who will never work up the courage to write her that awkward poem. It’s even about that friend who she would drift away from over the years, the successful sister who would make her insecure, and the God she’d curse when she lost her job and then her mortgage. The biggest lie in all this is that the choice to end (or to save) a life is a solitary one.

Of course, Yale will always have a special place in the history of conservatism and education.  It was William F. Buckley’s precocious expose of the godless atmosphere on campus that launched his career, and in many ways signaled the start of the modern conservative movement.

And college campuses have become leading forums to debate whether or not conservative religious ideas are legitimate traditions or vestiges of bigotry.  ILYBYGTH readers may remember a case at Tufts University a while back.  In that case, the evangelical student group Intervarsity was stripped of its official student-group status.  Other student groups complained that the prominent evangelical group represented an inherently bigoted worldview, one that did not recognize the full equality of homosexual students.

The current controversy at Yale represents a similar conundrum.  Do conservative religious groups automatically lose the right to participate in campus life?  Is it inherently bigoted to fight against abortion or gay marriage?  Perhaps most important, who gets to define “social justice?”

 

Pay Your Enemies: The New Front in Campus Culture Wars

Can religious groups discriminate?  On college campuses, as we’ve noted, the issue often boils down to whether sponsored student clubs have the right to insist on restricting their leadership to students who share their faith.

Historian John Turner offers some thoughts on these continuing battles in a recent essay on The Anxious Bench.  As the author of the go-to book on Campus Crusade for Christ, Turner has some unique perspective to share on the issue.  As Turner concludes, “If universities actually believe in the diversity they attempt to promote, they have to make room for evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, and the many other student religious organizations.”

Also intriguing is the comment from “Marta L.”  As she points out, many campus groups object to having their student fees pay for groups to whom they are ideologically opposed.  Students at Texas A & M, for instance, did not want to pay to support an LGBT Resource Center.  If conservative groups want to be included in the diversity of campus life, Marta argues, they must be willing to enter into this community agreement.  Christian students, Marta says, must “be willing to fund groups that don’t represent them.”

She makes a crucial point.  It is one thing to welcome a true diversity of opinion to a university campus.  It is another thing to insist that every student pay for all of them.  In practice, a Catholic student group would likely fund groups that support ideas about contraception and abortion that are anathema to the Catholic Church.  Similarly, atheist or LGBT groups must pay for groups that explicitly discriminate against gays or the non-religious.

Can this be the new definition of diversity?  We must all agree not only to welcome, but to foot the bill for those with whom we fervently disagree?