Censorship at 'Fox News U'
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In the summer of 2008, a dozen undergraduates at Harding University, a small Christian college in Searcy, Arkansas, decided to organize a daylong conference on the loose theme of “Social Justice from a Christian Perspective.” The idea was to bring in Christian experts to address issues such as poverty, trade and agriculture. The students raised thousands of dollars and spent months planning everything from audiovisual tech support to the lunch buffet.
A few weeks before the event, Harding administrators finally got around to reading the conference website. They didn't like what they found. Officials summarily informed the students they would have to find another home for the rapidly approaching conference. Harding would have nothing to do with it.
“They said that the conference was not in alignment with the mission of Harding,” remembers Zachary Seagle, one of the event organizers and a 2010 Harding graduate. The conference was also not in alignment with the politics found on Fox News, Harding’s de facto campus network. But more about Fox in a minute.
In America, the squashing of free expression and debate on campus is generally known as “political correctness,” or PC, a term with origins in the totalitarian lexicon of Maoist China. Since the 1980s, all of the most prominent professional critics of PC have been found on the right. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind pressed a refined template for the conservative case against PC in 1988.
A decade later, Dinesh D’Souza dumbed Bloom’s argument down, way down, with his breakout bestseller, Illiberal Education . Although the PC debate of the '80s and '90s now seems passé, it remains true that any investigation into the phenomenon pretty much guarantees favorable attention on right-wing television and radio. When conservative filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney in 2007 released a documentary called Indoctrinate U, which investigated “the assault on free speech and free thought on college campuses,” it was no surprise that he landed one of his most sympathetic and high profile media appearances on "Hannity’s America." The other documentary film of recent years to focus on alleged P.C. on campus, Expelled, was made by Fox regular Ben Stein.
It is a rich if unsurprising irony, then, that Fox News should have such close relations with private Christian colleges that restrict student expression to a much greater degree than anything found at allegedly liberal private and public colleges. Last March, Media Matters disclosed Fox D.C. bureau chief Bill Sammon’s noteworthy appearance on a fundraising cruise for that bastion of right-wing academic orthodoxy, Hillsdale College. In academia, Hillsdale is known for bearing a relation to academic freedom that parallels Fox’s relation to credible journalism. According to a profile in Lingua Franca , Hillsdale is unique in American higher education for its promise of “ideological purity” as reflected in the campus newspaper, the Collegian, which “undergoes regular administrative censorship” that can be “reminiscent of the Soviet media before glasnost.”
Then there is Harding University. With a student body of just over 7,000, Harding provides Fox News with a disproportionate number of its interns and, like Hillsdale, runs a lecture series that frequently features Fox employees and personalities. Harding also shares a reputation with Hillsdale. Professors, students and alumni describe the campus environment as uniquely intellectually repressive and stultifying — a paragon of conservative “political correctness” run amok.
"Harding is a very restrictive environment ,” says Becca Burley, a 2011 Harding graduate. “A lot of my teachers are afraid to say what they think because they know they’ll be fired. I’m afraid to speak openly about being gay for fear that my professor will try to report me to the counseling office, or lead a prayer for God to ‘save us from the gays.’”