December 02, 2004,
The vast right-wing conspiracy will convene tonight in Washington, D.C., to mark the 25th anniversary of one of its greatest schemes: the Collegiate Network.
If you haven’t heard of the Collegiate Network, just think of those BASF commercials: “We don’t make the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.”
That’s sort of what the CN has done for the conservative movement. For the past quarter century, it has supported a loose association of student publications whose names you probably do know: the Dartmouth Review, the Harvard Salient, the Stanford Review, the Oregon Commentator, the Virginia Advocate the list is long. Just about every elite college campus in America is now home to a conservative newspaper or magazine. Some of them, like Princeton and Yale, even have two.
These are now the great talent pools of the Right. Meet a conservative think tanker, legislative aide, or policy activist under the age of about 40, and there’s a very good chance that this person will have had some CN experience. This is doubly or triply true if he is a writer.
A generation ago, conservative college students interested in becoming writers didn’t have many options. Campus newspapers tend to be miniature versions of the New York Times, but without the nonpartisan objectivity. One of the things I remember most about the Michigan Daily, when I first started reading it as a Wolverine freshman in 1988, was that hardly a day seemed to pass without a news story on a march for abortion rights or an editorial glorifying the Sandinistas for building a worker’s paradise in Nicaragua.
No true-blue conservative can thrive in that kind of an environment. I was fortunate enough to have an alternative: the Michigan Review. I joined the staff and eventually rose to editor, writing articles and editorials on everything from debates about the curriculum to the administration’s scandalous adoption of a speech code. If meeting my future wife in Markley Hall was the decisive event of my personal life, working at the Michigan Review was the key experience of my professional one because it led directly to my career as a writer on the Right. I took a CN-sponsored internship at The New Republic and haven’t left the D.C.-area since. Mark Molesky a Seton Hall history professor who is the co-author of my new book, Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France is an old Michigan Review colleague.
Today, the Collegiate Network counts 86 member publications, and for the last quarter century it has supported this group with small grants. The economics of publishing are difficult to begin with, but they are made even harder for college conservatives when the student radicals who plague just about every campus threaten to picket businesses that make the ideological mistake of advertising in newspapers that have the temerity to suggest that free markets are a good thing or that racial preferences are a bad idea. Those CN subsidies make it possible to meet the bottom line.
The CN is also a steady and patient ally. It has been said that sophomores do sophomoric things, and we certainly did our share of them at the Michigan Review, such as printing a risqué joke just to hack off the P.C. crowd. In other words, we made mistakes. The unwavering support of the CN, however, gave us the freedom to make them and then to learn from them. I’ve always compared the Michigan Review to the University of Michigan football team generally quite good, but some years better than others, depending on the ability and commitment of the people on the team. The CN has stuck by the Michigan Review through the great years as well as the not-so-great ones. Because of that, my old rag has become an important institution on a leading campus. Its products now work as journalists, speechwriters, and press secretaries.
When the CN was founded in 1979, nobody really knew what they were starting. A pair of students who lived across the dormitory hall from each other at the University of Chicago felt locked out of the school’s mainstream publication, and so they approached the Institute for Educational Affairs, a now-defunct outfit that made small grants mainly to conservative scholars. IEA sent them the check that gave birth to Counterpoint. Before long, IEA was supporting publications on other campuses, and the CN was on its way. (Today, it is a program of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.)
The Chicago duo produced Counterpoint for a couple of years, graduated, and then went on to greater things. Tod Lindberg is now the editor of Policy Review, and before that was the editorial-page editor of the Washington Times. His friend and colleague John Podhoretz is a columnist for the New York Post, and before that helped found The Weekly Standard.
Perhaps Lindberg and Podhoretz would have gone on to their journalistic accomplishments without this help. They are both smart and ambitious men. Then again, perhaps they would have applied to law school and nobody ever would have heard from them.
That’s the miracle of the Collegiate Network, or at least it was for me. It introduced me to the conservative movement and convinced me that becoming a part of it was both possible and rewarding. The CN even put in my head the half-cocked notion that perhaps one day I’d get a job at National Review. I’m not joking when I tell friends that today I’m doing almost precisely what my 20-year-old self had hoped I’d be doing and I credit the CN for making it possible. I like to think that I’ve made some modest contributions to the cause. But even if I haven’t, I know that a long list of other CN alumni certainly have done so: Lindberg, Podhoretz, Dinesh D’Souza, Rich Lowry, Laura Ingraham, John Hood, and on and on and on.
That’s the Collegiate Network: It doesn’t make the products you buy. It makes a lot of the products you buy better.
Happy birthday, CN. May you keep on making all of us better.