Where do community organizers come from? A taxpayer-funded college near you.

Kimberly Legendre, a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University , recently shared with CampusReform.org her story about a required course at her university, Foundations of Civic Engagement. In it, the instructor, a former "Outstanding Plaintiff" of the Oklahoma ACLU, teaches students how to "elevate" their campus to be "smoke-free" by 2010. But that’s not even the half of it.

Wh y This Story Matters

The mission of the university and the purpose of college courses have changed dramatically in recent years. Administrators and professors do not believe that students are in class to learn, to become better educated, or to glean the wisdom of past generations. Instead, they are placed on campuses to become "engaged citizens." Students require "twenty-first-century skills" as the refrain goes, and those skills look strangely like political activism for the left and nothing much like the science, philosophy, history, or other subjects one might expect.

Kimberly’s story shows this evolution . She is required to take a course in civic engagement as a FGCU student. She is required to read a "textbook" that is no more than a "personal testament" in the author’s words, a string of stories with snide comments about conservatives added for good measures. Finally, she is required, in at least ten hours outside of class, to lobby against smoking by adults and to lobby for FGSU becoming a smoke-free campus. The classroom is now an activist hub; the lecture podium, a soapbox.

Student’s Reaction

Kimberly shared her story in this class:

I opened my "textbook" for Civic Engagement the week before classes started. As I began reading, I thought ‘this won’t be too bad. It just seems like a book asking people to stand up and speak out for what they believe in.’ But as I continued reading, I saw that in the first chapter alone, Paul Loeb [the textbook author] put down the conservatives of this country, said that we NEED national health care or else, and that he knows there is a conservative viewpoint, but he isn’t covering it because, basically, it is his book and he didn’t want to.

I was frustrated and emailed my teacher. He got back to me quickly and told me that instead of reading the New York Times as supplemental reading, I could read the Wall Street Journal , but the textbook was not his choosing.

When I found out who did choose the book, I emailed her. She didn’t respond. After two weeks of no new messages, I fowarded the same email over again, and got a response. I was not very happy with this response  however. "Kimberly, Why are you asking?" Along with a little bit of malarky that I didn’t feel appropriate. So I emailed her that I felt the class was purely there to indoctrinate the FGCU students to believe an extremely liberal viewpoint, and her response was purely: "That is not what the class is about." Period. No more.

Luckily, my professor is more moderate than most, and I do not feel as though I will be stoned if I speak out. But the class still only presents one side, and since most of my peers don’t actually look into the issues, I feel that it is indoctrination.

Mandated Political Activism

The core of the course is the "civic engagement project ." In teams, students complete at least five "mini-projects", which include:

1. "Presenting to area civic organizations and municpalities information about the Great American Smokeout Day …and the smoke free [sic ] drive in Lee County."

2. "Monitoring compliance with local, state and federal regulations on tobacco sales and advertising at retail outlets, especially convenience stores."

3. "Using a team and class-constructed survey(s), conduct person-to-person polls with students at FGCU re: FGCU’s becoming a smoke-free campus , Fall 2010."

4. "Campus ‘butts collection’ for display."

5. "Enabling students who smoke to sign up for the Great American Smoke Out Day , Nov. 19th, and to encourage signing up for free cessation/evaluation…in the Wellnss Center."

The theme, if it were not apparent by now, is to eliminate smoking on FGCU’s campus specifically and to discourage smoking — even among adults — generally. Guest speakers from Tobacco Free Lee present to the class for the first five sessions. Speakers who discuss "smoke free [sic ] campuses" also attend the last three sessions. In between, the instructor gives lectures on "racial issues", "racial injustice", and "today’s oppressed minorities." It is unclear what link, if any, this has to the anti-smoking theme of the class.

Students cannot doubt the opinion they "should" have. After all, one of "outcomes" of the course is that students "will have sought to improve the community of which [they] are a part" — by pushing their campus to become uninhabitable for smokers.

The final paper, which students polish in several iterations, throughout the semester asks students to tackle one prompt: how they "feel" about a smoke-free campus . Hard-hitting analysis indeed, especially for an assignment formally known as the "personal critical thinking process paper."

Course Texts

There are two course texts which students are required to read: the New York Time s and Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Loeb . These texts are referenced at the close of the syllabus. After students finish Foundations of Civic Engagement, they "will have read and studied one of the most influential texts in civic engagement" (that’s Soul of a Citizen ) and "will have become familiar with the world’s most prestigious newspaper" (that’s the New York Times , with the emphasis my own).

Students spend the first 50 minutes of each session in discussion of Loeb’s book, after they are quickly quizzed on its contents at the start of class. The final exam is, in the words of the syllabus, "final exam on Loeb" , which "will primarily be a compilation of previous quiz questions, plus one essay question about civic engagement." For the New York Times , students compile articles weekly and submit a final "notebook" of articles on civic engagement midway through the semester.

The New York Times you already know, so I invite you to skim the pages of Soul of a Citizen online. Loeb is an author and speaker; his expertise is "citizen engagement" and, in particular, the citizen engagement of college students. He is openly political, though, and — in the greatest of surprises! — aligned with the left.

The recent articles Loeb lists on his website include titles like "Wild Weather Creates Chances for Political Progress", "Letter to Hillary: Remember When McCain Slimed Your Daughter", and "How the Democrats Can Keep the Youth Vote". The topics are similarly predictable: global warming, the "audacity of the Bush administration", and issues of interest to "social justice activists", like how they could "reclaim courage and hope" in the difficult political time, i.e. under the Bush administration.

But the book, Soul of a Citizen , offers quotes that are equally revealing. Hidden among stories of community activists and platitudes about becoming involved and not worrying if you’re imperfect, Loeb inserts little political landmines, guaranteed to alienate and discomfort conservative students.

Writes Loeb on page 232:

For example, when I look at the policies of the current Republican leadership I see mostly bullying and greed. But even among the most conservative people in Congress are some who’ve resisted being mere hired guns for the wealthy and powerful. I was infuriated by Orrin Hatch’s dismissal of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Yet as a staunch Mormon (a religion historically friendly to neither women nor blacks), Hatch has relentlessly challenged the tobacco industry and made unlikely alliances with people like Ted Kennedy and Tom Harkin to put more money into children’s health care and support research into alternative medicine.

The Reagan-Bush administration, marked for its "subservience to greed", brought these horrors on page 244:

Yet by and large this once tremendously active group [Vietnam era activists] was doing little to shape the political culture of their time. Instead, they’d become political spectators, mournfully watching from the sidelines of public life, even as the Republican wrecking ball steadily demolished sixty years of social programs.

But even the non-Republicans are distasteful, as Loeb recounts on page 249:

Activists on the political right have been steadily organizing , often with backing from powerful economic interests; so, if the rest of us stay silent, their views will prevail, whether or not they represent a wise national course.

End Notes

1. A selection of the guiding principles of FGCU, as highlighted at the top of the course syllabus, are listed below. If you are able to translate from academic-ese to workaday English, please do so in the comments section. I would particularly like to know what "connected learning" is.

  • "Informed and engaged citizens are essential to the creation of a civil and sustainable society."
  • "Service to Southwest Florida, including access to the University, is a public trust."
  • "Technology is a fundamental tool in achieving educational quality, efficiency, and distribution."
  • "Connected knowing and collaborate learning are basic to being well educated."

2. The instructor’s biography, which one suspects is autobiographical, informs students of the following accomplishments:

  • a "successful civil liberties suit" against the city of Edmond, OK (the city had a Christian cross in its official seal);
  • a "successful civil liberties action" against the school board of Edmond, OK;
  • a "successful civil liberties defense of the director of libraries" in Oklahoma City, OK; and
  • the "Outstanding Plaintiff Award" by the Oklahoma ACLU.

So now you know. Where do community organizers come from? A taxpayer-funded college near you.

Cross-posted from CampusReform.org , a new tool for conservative students to fight back against leftist domination on campus.