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New Alumni Group to Fight ‘Political Correctness’ on Campus

March 17, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Prominent conservatives declared Friday that they’re fed up with ``political correctness″ on campus and plan to form a new organization to give alumni more say in what colleges teach.

In the wake of a dispute between Yale University and billionaire donor Lee Bass, the National Alumni Forum also will help private donors ``give intelligently″ to university programs they support, said chairwoman Lynne Cheney.

``It comes down to the question of who owns the university,″ said Cheney, a former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

On the other side, American Council on Education spokesman David Merkowitz commented: ``It’s always interesting when a highly politicized group gets together and says they want to eliminate political influence.″

Merkowitz said universities will be concerned about ``any external group promoting some type of litmus test for alumni when they give.″

But the new group’s president, Jerry L. Martin, said the opinions of alumni should count along with those of students and faculty. Instead, he said, alumni in recent years have felt that ``colleges are saying, send your money but keep your ideas to yourself.″

The Bass case was unusual, Merkowitz said. Private donors already have wide control over how universities use their money, and alumni are well represented on boards of trustees, he said.

Bass donated $20 million to Yale for a new Western civilization curriculum. But the program was delayed, in part after protests that Yale instead needed more courses on women, minorities and non-European cultures.

Apparently mistrusting Yale’s commitment to the Western civilization program, Bass eventually asked to approve the school’s choice of professors. Instead, Yale returned his money.

Cheney called the Bass case ``very sad.″ Other academic freedom disputes, such as those over student speech codes, the theft of student newspapers or political pressure on professors, are ``not just of concern to conservatives,″ she said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who will serve on the group’s council, agreed that free-speech restrictions on students, ``however well-motivated, cause demonstrable harm.″

As an example, the group pointed to a 1993 University of Pennsylvania incident in which a student who called a group of black women ``water buffalo″ was accused of racial harassment and threatened with expulsion. The university eventually scrapped that speech code.

But Merkowitz contended that restrictive speech codes are on the decline, and that the controversy has been overblown.

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