Conservative newspapers alive and well at US colleges

AFTER the eight Democratic presidential candidates had staged their nationally televised debate at Dartmouth College, student newspaper editor Andrew L. Pickens III wrote in his weekly column:

''Democrats are trying, as usual, to woo the American voter into a realm of ignorance. . . .''

A week earlier he had made the Dartmouth faculty, opposed to the reinstatement of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps program, his target: ''When have the wise and benevolent voices of students and alumni ever prevailed upon Dartmouth's professors to listen to reason before?'' he wrote.

And in a column last fall he dismissed campus criticism of the Reagan administration by stating, ''It is high time to admit that Dartmouth's brand of student liberalism has become intellectually worthless.''

Mr. Pickens, a lanky, dark-haired Dartmouth senior, obviously practices advocacy journalism. He serves as editor in chief of the somewhat notorious Dartmouth Review, an off-campus student weekly known for its attacks on liberal faculty members, its advocacy of conservative ideology, and its crusade for the restoration of the ''Indian'' as the school's official symbol.

The controversies the four-year-old tabloid weekly has continuously generated have stimulated a wide readership on and off campus.

''I think we make a strong impact on Dartmouth students,'' editor Pickens says. ''A recent poll by the Tuck Business School indicated that 90 percent of the campus reads us.'' So, too, do thousands of alumni.

The Review's success as an alternative conservative voice at Dartmouth anchors the rise of off-campus, right-wing journalism on scores of campuses across the United States. This movement took hold first at other Ivy League schools - Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia - and then spread outacross the nation.

Estimates have placed the number of such publications at 100 or so, and the ranks increase almost monthly.

Most of these publications receive no financial support from the schools at which they exist. And raising money has always been a problem for any college press.

The conservative papers have found angels among supportive alumni and conservative foundations.

The chief benefactor behind the movement is a little-known New York City-based foundation named the Institute for Educational Affairs.

Co-founded in 1977 by neo-conservative writer Irving Kristol and William E. Simon, former secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford, the institute has the mission of stimulating conservative thought within the academic community.

Funding the conservative student press has become one of the institute's major projects.

Kenneth Jensen, the institute's director of grant programs, reports that, to date, the institute has granted funds to 33 student publications.

''Last year we gave grants to student publications totaling $180,000,'' Mr. Jensen said. ''The average grant is about $6,000 - somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of a publication's projected annual budget. Sometimes we give more. We gave the Dartmouth Review, for example, $10,000 during its first year.''

The student editors of the conservative press have developed a sense of unity among themselves. They know who their counterparts are and have developed a newspaper exchange among themselves.

In addition, Michael Collette, the Dartmouth Review's president, is devoting much of his time these days to organizing a national advertising consortium among the various publications. ''We think the big corporations should be interested in placing ads with us,'' he observed. ''After all, many business leaders think as we do.''

The Institute for Educational Affairs also strives to foster a common identity among the conservative editors. Last spring it brought 70 editors to New York for a national conference.

In a September issue of the conservative National Review - the intellectual model for many of the student publications - Phillip N. Marcus, the institute's president, reported on the proceedings of the conference.

The editors of the alternative student press, he wrote, ''share a sense of unity in the war of ideas against campus leftists who, in their alleged love for the First Amendment, have until now excluded conservatives and unwittingly denied themselves the experience of academic freedom.''

Although the student editors share a common conservative ideology, the form and content of their publications vary widely. Some, such as the Michigan Review , have made their publications forums in which students discourse on national and foreign affairs.

The Dartmouth Review editors, by contrast, eschew such essays and concentrate on campus affairs. ''Who wants to read what a college freshman has to say about Central America?'' editor Pickens asked. ''We leave those issues to the experts.''

Other editors dislike the ascetic tone of the Dartmouth Review. At the University of Chicago, for example, two sophomores, Phillip Polishook and Tom Elden, have just started a new publication called the Spectator. ''We plan to feature analytical, in-depth stories,'' says publisher Elden. ''We definitely do not want to be sensational like the Dartmouth Review.''

Some of these conservative voices are scholarly in tone and specialized in content.

Counterpoint, another University of Chicago publication, which is as old as the Dartmouth Review, features thoughtful book reviews that advance conservative perspectives.

Legal affairs is the focus of the Harvard Journal of Law and Policy, and government of the Yale Political Monthly.

It's now two years since the majority of these conservative publications were launched. Will they endure as an alternative form of journalism?

This is still an open question. Few publications are as financially sound as the Dartmouth Review, which has an annual operating budget of $125,000 and strong alumni support. Much of this press operates out of student apartments or dormitory rooms.

Student turnover is another problem. The next year's class may lack the enthusiasm of this year's. Without institutional backing, continuity may be hard to achieve.

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