- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

When Rebecca Beach arrived earlier this month for her freshman year at college, she was unsettled by what her professors said in the classroom.

“The first week into class, you can already see the liberal bias,” she said.

“My professors make jokes and bash Bush,” said Miss Beach, who is organizing a conservative student group at Warren County Community College in Washington, N.J. “I want to be that conservative voice that is lacking on campus and in the administration.”

As college students return to campus this fall, conservative and liberal campus groups alike are gearing up by recruiting members, gathering funds and organizing events.

Miss Beach said her group plans to help conservative candidates in the area and attend national conferences in Washington. She is planning a Freedom Week in November to commemorate Veterans Day and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

College students are traditionally called on by political groups for tasks such as stuffing envelopes. But Chris Montana, president of College Democrats of Minnesota, wants to see his organization become more active.

“This year we’re not just going to be the cogs in the machine,” he said.

Most student political groups hold weekly or biweekly meetings, during which they conduct debates or showcase speakers and candidates. This year, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many students are refocusing their first-semester events. Mr. Montana said his organization will put some plans on hold to coordinate relief fundraisers.

When they need advice and assistance, students and groups turn to national organizations. Liberals have begun Campus Progress, a division of the Center for American Progress. Aiming to counter the activities of campus conservatives, they fund, train and mentor liberal campus groups.

“We think the next generation of progressive leaders ought to be better informed, more united,” said David Halperin, executive director of Campus Progress.

In an effort to engage young liberals, Campus Progress will tour with bands Weezer and the Foo Fighters, distributing postcards on issues such as the economy, the Iraq war and global warming.

Mr. Halperin said liberal students could stand to be more assertive.

“I think there’s a certain cockiness associated with the fact that conservatives are in power, a certain culture that elevates the outrageous and rewards it.”

He said conservatives have been effective in organizing students.

“People on the conservative side have done a better job in focusing young people on ideas and articulating ideas,” Mr. Halperin said.

Liberals have a home-field advantage at colleges and universities, said Patrick Coyle, director of campus programs for Young America’s Foundation.

He said most colleges already are so liberal that there is no need for organizations such as Campus Progress.

“The counter to [conservatives] is the university itself,” Mr. Coyle said.

Young America’s Foundation trains and supports conservative student groups. Mr. Coyle and Ron Robinson co-edited “The Conservative Guide to Campus Activism,” the group’s handbook for students who want a greater voice on campus. The book contains advice from seasoned activists.

The guide outlines how to attract prominent speakers to meetings and suggests holding presentations on topics such as racial preferences, feminism and terrorism.

The group also has the nation’s largest bureau of conservative campus speakers, which offers to help students bring speakers such as Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and Ben Stein to campus, sometimes even covering the speaker’s fees and travel expenses.

Group officials say it is important to bring “a dose of conservatism” to campus.

“We want to encourage students to be more persistent and not let the administration push them around,” Mr. Coyle said.

The left-right political divide doesn’t necessarily mean hostility between students on either side. Lauren Greer, of the University of Georgia’s College Republicans, said her group and campus liberals have a friendly relationship.

“It’s definitely not an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere,” she said.

Her group’s chairman and the local Young Democrats’ chairman travel together to give presentations at high schools. The goal, Miss Greer says, is to increase political participation regardless of students’ ideology.

But Mr. Montana of Minnesota said head-to-head confrontations are fruitless.

“It’s a waste of time to sit and hash it out with the Republicans,” he said. “It might be a little more fun, but it’s not very effective.”

He said most students are so busy with studies and jobs that they are unaware of significant political issues.

But not all students allow academic concerns to overshadow politics. In New Jersey, Miss Beach spends at least an hour of each school day working to establish her conservative group.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said of working to combine activism and academics. “But conservative principles are so important to me. I want to advance what I know to be true.”

Although they might fight for opposite outcomes on the issues, conservative and liberal students agree that activism is important.

“Politics is completely different when you get involved as opposed to when you watch from the sidelines,” Miss Greer said. “Having a say in the government is my duty, and I want to take advantage of the opportunity.”

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