Brainwashing on campus?
Ben Shapiro attended the University of California at Los Angeles and came out dismayed by much of what he heard and saw. Professors there, he laments, routinely spouted liberal propaganda and rarely had their biases challenged. Conservative thinkers, on the contrary, Mr. Shapiro says, were generally shrugged off as not too bright.
As a columnist for UCLA's student paper The Daily Bruin, he was able to voice his outrage until, he claims, he was fired for his views.
Now - having already graduated from UCLA at 20 - Shapiro has written "Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth" (WND Books), alerting the world to what Shapiro sees as the sorry state of US higher education.
Some early readers have already disparaged Shapiro's book - published by a conservative watchdog group - as an angry rant. But the young author is clearly not alone in his views, and some suggest that the stir he is creating is indeed a sign that something is amiss in US academe.
Freshly published - and without the support of a national advertising campaign - "Brainwashed" has already jumped to No. 28 on Amazon.com's bestseller list.
Of the about 50 reviews that quickly sprang up on the Amazon site, few were neutral in tone. Several were derogatory, complaining that the book contains "not a shred of fact" and directing a cry of "shame on you" at its author. A few fellow UCLA students wrote that Shapiro's comments did not tally with their experiences, and one commented that " 'The Lord of the Rings' comes across as more realistic."
But more embraced Shapiro's views, several saying their own college experiences were very similar - that their conservative views were discouraged rather than embraced by their unabashedly liberal college professors.
Unfortunately, such claims are more than just rhetoric, says Greg Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia. In his view, censorship of conservative views on college campuses is a growing problem that's hard to ignore.
"I'm a liberal myself, but since taking this job I've been shocked," he says.
Many US colleges tend to be built on liberal values and are uncomfortable with students who don't reflect those, he says. This has led many to adopt "speech codes" that are intended to prevent discrimination but sometimes end up repressing legitimate forms of free speech.
Mr. Lukianoff says he hears regular reports of campus newspapers airing conservative viewpoints being destroyed before they can be read. Conservative speakers are sometimes silenced. At Ithaca College in New York, he says, when conservative students invited Bay Buchanan (sister of arch-conservative Pat) to speak, fellow students tried to have them arrested for harassment.
Similar complaints led to the "academic bill of rights" introduced in the US House of Representatives and some state legislatures earlier this year. Conservative activist David Horowitz, who wrote the bill, said it was intended to protect conservative academics from discrimination on overwhelmingly liberal campuses.
While widely considered unlikely to pass, the bill has garnered support from concerned conservatives such as Luann Wright, a San Diego educator who worried that her son's college professors were promoting an overly liberal agenda. She established a website - www.No indoctrination.org - asking college students to share accounts of liberal indoctrination. More than 100 have responded.
Shapiro complains of similar discrimination at UCLA. He says his professors were moral relativists who shunned notions of good and evil and taught students to regard religious and patriotic values with suspicion.
Of US professors in general, Shapiro makes sweeping - and many would say absurd - charges that they promote atheism, absolute sexual freedom (including pedophilia and statutory rape, which are crimes), and rampant environmentalism to the point of urging the annihilation of the human species.
However, the debate is not new, says Jonathan Knight, director of the program in academic freedom and tenure at the American Association of University Professors.
"Faculty are seen as more liberal than the general population," says Mr. Knight. "They have described themselves that way at least since the 1960s."
He points to William J. Buckley Jr.'s "God and Man at Yale," first published in 1951, which covers similar ground.
And, asks Knight, if overly liberal college professors and administrators have long indoctrinated students, "how do we explain then that [the US] is the way that it is" - fairly balanced between liberal and conservative views?
One of the criticisms leveled against Shapiro is that despite disparaging elite and Ivy League schools in his book, he will attend one this fall - Harvard University Law School.
That fact makes it hard, says Knight, to accept either Shapiro's scorn for elite universities - or for the UCLA education that helped him gain admission to America's most prestigious law school.