Features

Conformity on campus

"Conformity on campus" Continued...

Issue: "UN: Kofi's crisis," Dec. 18, 2004

The rich high-society kids, who predominate in this elite school, look down on poor, country-girl Charlotte, and even the students who are out of the social hierarchies still feel pressured to be "cool."

Charlotte is appalled by all of this. She holds onto her integrity-repeating to herself as her mother told her, "I am Charlotte Simmons!"-but she has the misfortune to be pretty, which makes her a target for the predatory frat boys, athletes, and intellectualoids who want to have sex with her.

This is a depressing novel-not just for the vile language Mr. Wolfe unpleasantly transcribes for us or for the purposefully repellent sex scenes-but for the agony of seeing Charlotte, one of Wolfe's most attractive characters, pulled down into the cesspool, both in her degradation and her success.

Readers learn lots about contemporary campus culture. Students don't "date" anymore. Instead, they "hook up" for totally impersonal sex. Sex, having already been separated from reproduction, is now separated from a relationship. Girls dress up like prostitutes to attract guys, who never dress up at all and who call women "dumpsters" for their semen.

What about the life of the mind? Charlotte finds a small circle of outcast intellectuals who care about ideas, but they are weak and spineless (except for the feminists) and utterly full of themselves. One of them is a "tutor" for the athletes, which entails writing their papers for them in their special "jock" classes. The professors are obsessed with left-wing politics, but the students don't seem to care much. They will dutifully turn out for Gay Rights rallies, but they are mostly concerned with "rut-rut-rutting."

Most universities have Christian groups, though they did not show up on Mr. Wolfe's social radar screen. There is no trace of any at DuPont. Charlotte desperately needs a good peer group to be part of. She also needs discipleship, a source of forgiveness, and a worldview that gives a framework for the life of the mind, something universities have evidently lost.

Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle sparked a revulsion at the unsanitary conditions of packing houses and inspired a wholesale reform of the nation's food industry. Perhaps Mr. Wolfe's novel could do the same for the higher education industry. -Gene Edward Veith

Journalistic Dissenters

If the more than 100 student editors gathered at the Capitol Hilton in Washington were the foot soldiers, then the big-name journalists addressing them were the grizzled veterans. Even as they celebrated 25 years of independent conservative newspapers on college campuses, the language they used was that of an unfinished battle.

"You're not being a conservative publication unless you're being persecuted," joked Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. He was editor of the Virginia Advocate, the right-wing paper of the University of Virginia.

Mr. Lowry was one of several alumni of the Collegiate Network, a band of 86 conservative college papers that began with one University of Chicago publication in 1979. While the Dec. 2 anniversary celebration was light-hearted, it underscored how far conservatives have come in creating their own voices in journalism-and in producing their own success stories.

The two upstart students at the University of Chicago who created Counterpoint have graduated to become prominent journalists in their own right. John Podhoretz helped to found The Weekly Standard and is a New York Post columnist. Tod Lindberg is the editor of the Hoover Institution journal, Policy Review. They were the first to receive a grant to support their paper. After seeing several supporters, the network is now administered under the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which promotes conservative thought at universities. The Collegiate Network has also churned out other well-known commentators such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza.

From a sampling of conservative campus papers, today's writers are just as unapologetic as their predecessors. Reporters at the University of Maryland's Terrapin Times discovered that their faculty's contributions to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry far outstripped those to George Bush. Bucknell University's The Counterweight drew attention to the leftist slant of the campus' women's resource center, which informed female students of a national pro-abortion rally but not pro-life ones. The Carolina Review of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tackled the institution's grade inflation and declining educational standards (in a "special" issue).

But even with a growing presence, conservative students are still not melding well on many liberal campuses. Case in point was The Yale Free Press, which was stolen from 11 residential colleges over Thanksgiving break. Several student editors at the Washington Collegiate Network event had similar stories. "This impulse for censorship is common on campus," said Sam Cecil, a Yale economics major who edits another conservative paper, Light and Truth.

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