Right-wing newspapers are not a new phenomenon, but over the past 11 years, their influence appears to have grown. The increased clout is owed not so much to the tireless efforts of student editors, however, as to a national network, created in 1980 by the D.C.-based Institute for Educational Affairs—now the Madison Center for Educational Affairs (MCEA). The Collegiate Network, as it came to be known in 1986, now includes 64 papers on 57 campuses across the country, including the Dartmouth Review, the Yale Political Monthly and the Princeton Tory.
The backers of these papers acknowledge that their efforts are extremist: “At a university with 10,000 undergraduates, there are perhaps 30 or 40 right-leaning students who are willing to take a public stand,” writes Bob Lukefahr, editor of Newslink, the MCEA monthly newsletter sent to the editors of Collegiate Network papers. This translates into 0.3 to 0.4 percent of the student body, an extremely small number for a group often able to set the tone of campus debate.
This disproportionate influence is made possible by the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding and support earmarked each year by MCEA for student journalism. One of the more impressive support services is Start the Presses, a detailed guide on how to start and maintain a conservative publication. In addition to its monthly newsletter, MCEA also offers free syndicated columns; regional and national conferences, all expenses paid, allowing young right-wingers to schmooze with their conservative elders; and connections to over 60 right-wing think tanks, magazines and government organizations.
In an effort to “extend the influence of the Collegiate Network into the professional media,” MCEA’s Editorial Internship Program places students at media outlets such as Insight magazine, NBC News and the New Republic—as well as in the office of Vice President Quayle.
Most importantly, however, the MCEA provides its student publications with operational funding. In 1990, the Center distributed to two-thirds of its papers nearly $140,000 in direct grants. For further fund-raising help, Start the Presses promises, “MCEA may know friendly benefactors in your area and can help you make important contacts with your alumni.”
The Center itself has been bankrolled by some of the nation’s largest corporations, including Mobil Oil, Dow Chemical and Chase Manhattan Bank. The foundations of the conservative movement—Olin, Scaife, Coors and Smith Richardson—also contribute to MCEA.
By funding MCEA, these institutions seek to shape campus debate beyond the realm of student journalism. MCEA joined the attack on feminist and multicultural scholarship—disguised as a defense against “politically correct” tyranny—by sponsoring Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education. The Center is also launching its own college guide: The Common Sense Guide to American Colleges. This self-proclaimed “no-holds-barred critical view” will evaluate schools “using old-fashioned standards of academic excellence, social decency, and community spirit.”
Another MCEA venture is the “Student Forum,” an association of minority students “who do not support the reigning radical agenda.” MCEA boasts that the Forum has “grown to more than 80 members on campuses across the country”; the founding conference of this tiny group was notable for the attendance of Judge Clarence Thomas.
MCEA has positioned itself as a vanguard in the ideological struggle on campus, which it pictures as “a place where reasoned dissent is punished, standards are lowered or ignored, and ‘politically incorrect’ students and faculty are silenced.”
MCEA literature makes it clear that the right sees this debate as a war. In the May 1991 Newslink, Bob Lukefahr writes a “battlefield update” in which he claims that Collegiate Network papers are the “victims of vicious attacks,” finding themselves “under attack,” “under siege,” “invaded” or “sabotaged” by the “disloyal opposition,” which includes “minority students,” “homosexuals” and “liberals in general.”
In this “war,” as in others, the embattled see themselves as the righteous defenders of virtue, the protectors of free speech and open debate. As Midge Decter, a former IEA board member, told an IEA conference: “You are surrounded by people who, either irresponsibly or intentionally, seek to bring this blessed country down, and you and your future children with it.”
But with advice from the right-wing establishment and considerable financial support, MCEA is there to help the conservative press drive back the “P.C.” hordes. MCEA has given conservative campus editors an enemy, the means to fight it and the cash to pay for it all.