Thursday, May 19, 2005

Seeing red in a red state

The neo-cons love to whine about how liberal college educators are. Here's a shocking admission from this screaming, beaming Kerry voter: They're right.

In my experience, college faculty, even on this W-lovin' campus, lean way left politically even as each new class of students marches in well-shod lockstep with their rich parents' rightwing views. It's like this: Like journalism, academia draws more of your bleeding heart liberati than other professions such as, say, real estate development and Wall Street. It attracts souls who are in it for the passion, not the cashin'. And there are plenty of teachers still in tenured positions who came into the academy during the hippie-yippy days of the Viet Nam War and Watergate because they were drawn as students to campus activism and then stayed because it was a safe place to express and explore the counterculture. The job security's nice, too, once you've made it over the tenure hurdle.

Look, this used to be a "liberal arts" college. But the L-word long ago was excised from the brochures and the catalog, replaced with the more exclusive sounding "private university." Like "private club," that carries a certain cachet that makes the hoity-toits think of it as an enclave where their young 'uns won't be confronted with too many views counter to their own on topics such as evolution, abortion rights, gay rights and affirmative action. It's a campus with mostly white students and mostly white faculty. Don't think that doesn't make a difference to some.

Little do they know that among the faculty hoi polloi are a great many who vote Democrat (or even for Nader, when he's running), observe Earth Day, join the ACLU and AAUP, applaud Molly Ivins' newspaper columns, Michael Moore's films and Al Franken's Air America radio. I'd say we also happily attend gay weddings, but I stopped going to any such shindigs after a friend appointed me maid of honor and then delivered the one-size-too-tight polyester orange halter dress I was supposed to wear. Exposing your political beliefs to public scrutiny is one thing -- upper arms are quite another.

At this school they excel at promoting a clean-cut country club image. Here the Ashleys, Courtneys, Megans and Madisons can major in elementary ed or PR, getting by on gut courses and their good looks, but rarely being exposed to philosophies of thought that might upset a Red State family's status quo. "If you're such a liberal, why do you even teach at this school?" asked a portly young Republican enrolled in my writing class last fall. Even in jeans and a T-shirt, the kid always gave the impression he was wearing a three-piece suit.

It's not quite Bob Jones University -- yet -- but since W took office, it's only become more obvious to those of us paying close attention that the higher-ups would like the mouthier liberals on campus to keep their traps shut. The team colors may be red and blue, but it seems that the red is getting a lot more play on the football uniforms and pompons lately.

This White House administration has lots of ties to the school. The president honored the First Lady with a commemorative walkway with her name on it outside one of the main libraries. And what doesn't say love better than 10 or 12 feet of bronze letters on a sidewalk? What a romantic.

The school is one of several in this state vying to build the presidential library on its campus, although where they'll put it is still a mystery. After the brand new workout facility is completed this year -- yes, they're erecting a sprawling state of the art gym/spa because students didn't like having to fork over thousands to join the floocy-doocy health club a HALF MILE AWAY -- there's barely room to breathe as it is.

Some of the president's closest advisors are alumni. One of them, a frequent comer-and-goer in the White House over the two terms, visited campus not too long ago for a sold-out speaking engagement. She was invited to visit some classes, too, and the Secret Service swooped in days before to survey and secure the buildings she'd be passing through. At the entrance of ours, just beyond where the First Amendment is chiseled in stone on the outside wall, is a set of glass double doors. Between the first and second doors you'll find racks of free reading material, including the alternative weekly I write for, plus the gay weekly, the "pennysaver" and a big stack of something called "Nu Image," a slick freebie advertising local plastic surgeons. There's also a bulletin board where anyone can tack up "books for sale" signs or "roommate wanted" fliers.

The night before the VIP's visit, workers were busy in that doorway for hours. By morning, all of the freebie papers and the bulletin board had been obscured from view by two enormous racks of long velvet draperies. God forbid, the pol should walk past something with the word "gay" or "alternative" on it.

A few steps inside the building, she would see a friendlier sight. On enormous square canvas boards running the full length of the main hallway are photographic tributes to W and his pals behind plexiglas covers. There he is shaking hands with this student and that one. There he is making a speech at the RNC, where some of our students earned college credit hours working as runners and gofers. Photo after happy photo arranged in pleasing patterns.

As Mr. Roark used to say in the opening of Fantasy Island, "Smiles, everyone! Smiles!"

(they zarched the term "liberal arts" out of the school's description years ago)


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