Student Conservatives Muster Voters, Awareness on College Campuses

Monday, 17 Mar 2014 01:47 PM

By Andrea Billups

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John Publicover was barely 18 when he decided he needed to learn more about the political process so he could cast an intelligent vote. The University of Tampa student visited the college's Democratic group first and then listened to the student Republicans.

His conclusion: The conservative view "just made the most sense to me," he told Newsmax.

Nearly two years later, Publicover has launched his own voter registration drive, not only on his own Florida campus but also at 14 schools around the country.

The international finance and business major, who is studying far from his home in Derry, N.H., said more college conservatives are speaking up and not just going along with the traditional generational spin.

Publicover seeks not only to get student voters to the polls but also to better educate them on conservative values and principles.

"I feel college students aren't educated about politics as much as they should be. This is why too many are blue voters, not red. We want to change that demographic as we move forward," said Publicover.

Winfield Myers, a higher education analyst who has worked with campus political groups, called the effort courageous.

"College students who self-identify as conservatives know they're bucking the dominant, and often domineering, left-wing culture on most campuses, so efforts to register like-minded students to vote lends them a counter-cultural flair," Myers told Newsmax.

"Their professors are overwhelmingly left-wing and many are infamous for punishing students who rebel against them. Bloated university administrations reinforce left-wing orthodoxies through speech codes that restrict debate, diversity initiatives that enforce intellectual homogeneity, and student life programs that browbeat students to accept liberal pieties," Myers said.

Conservative students are "choosing a tougher path more likely to bring them trouble from the authorities than accolades," Myers said.

Among others leading a conservative campus charge is Zachary Freeman, who started a now popular website, thecollegeconservative.com, when he was 19 with no funding but his own.

Freeman's view is that young conservative activists should have a place to share thoughtful and well-cited opinions.

Now 40 to 50 writers act as contributors to his site and come from more than 30 campuses nationwide. Since its launch in 2011, more than 2 million readers have visited.

Freeman told Newsmax that he was motivated to kick-start his site after his own experience attending college in Tennessee.

The tipping point came in an economics class final from what he describes as a "terrible" professor set on advancing his own liberal agenda.

The question that roiled him to fury: What was the cause of the 2008 financial crisis?

"The correct answer on the test was Republicans," Freeman said, noting that his tuition money had been paid so he could learn the material, and now he found himself being asked questions "for which the answers are not remotely factual."

Freeman has left the public university and is finishing his degree online. He said he favors self-education over perpetuating a system of higher education that espouses many issues that he believes are damaging to the cultural good.

"Colleges need accountability. They need someone to name names and clean up the mess that the left has created in academia. That's what we're here to do," Freeman noted. "The taxpayers should know what their dollars are supporting."

Publicover told Newsmax he realized college students could not articulate political views effectively when he worked for Mitt Romney's presidential run and several local campaigns.

During the Romney campaign, he would ask young Obama supporters why they were casting a vote for the presidential incumbent.

"People didn't have a logical answer. They'd say 'Oh, Snoop Dogg wrote a song about him.' They vote liberal because that's what everyone else their age votes." On the real issues, they seemed clueless, he said.

Publicover calls his voter engagement work Project Red Leaf, where he serves as president and founder.

The "project" part relates to school, where projects are common. The "red" is the color associated with Republicans, and "leaf" is a nod to the grass-roots political mustering that he is undertaking, using targeted social media like Twitter and Facebook to promote his cause.

Four new schools are pending to join Project Red Leaf, and two others are just starting the process. Publicover hopes more will come aboard as it gains national attention, adding that he was invited to speak at this year's CPAC convention where he appeared on several radio shows and where his message was heard by a broader and "passionate" audience.

"My vision for this is to be on every college campus across the country, said Publicover.

Freeman said those who espouse conservative values need to shine their lights brighter at school.

"People on the left are very willing to speak out and to spend the money to get their viewpoints heard," Freeman said. "We don't speak up. We stay silent. A lot of the conservatives in college feel like they are alone because nobody supports them or protects them from this academic discrimination."

Myers said there was value in civic engagement work by students.

"Standing up to these forces teaches students that doing what they believe is right often comes at a cost, whether in social ostracism by peers outraged by independent thought, or in the opprobrium of faculty and administrators determined to squelch dissent. As such, it can be a character-building undertaking."

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