Poisoned Ivy, by Benjamin Hart, New York: Stein & Day, 256 pages, $16.95
Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau filled his early cartoons in the 1960s with placard-waving, long-haired protesters. But the Trudeau of the '80s illustrated last year's "Year of the Yuppie" Newsweek cover story with a young commuter couple complete with attache case and Walkman. The Baby Boom generation has given us an unexpected spin-off—today's "yuppies" are in many ways more conservative or approving of the free market than their parents were.
It is both inevitable and welcome that a writer should go beyond this observation and ask where some of today's college students (the soon-to-be yuppies attending the prestige schools) are heading, both politically and culturally. The impressionistic answer offered by Benjamin Hart in Poisoned Ivy, a memoir of his life at Dartmouth College from 1977 to 1981, is interesting: Today's campus radicals are just as likely—and probably more so—to be conservatives or libertarians who vigorously dissent from a liberal campus ethos that has infiltrated everything from the administration building to the course catalog.
But what Hart, now at the Heritage Foundation, found at Dartmouth among administrators and professors is not a liberalism of tolerance, fair play, and principled condemnation of injustice wherever it is found. Rather, it is an ideology that at its most amusing is straight out of cloud-cuckoo land and at its most menacing might even be called "liberal fascism." When he and others started a conservative campus newspaper, The Dartmouth Review, they were greeted with a campaign of intimidation and legal action that should chill the spine of any First Amendment champion.
The apparent catalyst in the conflict between the Review and the campus administration was the Dartmouth Indian, the school's unofficial symbol since its chartering in 1769 as a place to educate "the Indian tribes." Over 200 years later, during George McGovern's presidential campaign of '72, Dartmouth began to discourage its use as demeaning and racist. When, during Hart's freshman year, two students in feathers and loincloths skated onto the ice at a hockey game, they were cheered by the crowd but censured by administrators for what one called "emotional violence." The punishment? Either be expelled or give talks on the evil of the Indian symbol and take an Indian to lunch once a week for a year.
Such insanity led Hart and the other Dartmouth Barbs into a guerrilla war. Although this book will inevitably be compared, as William F. Buckley writes in his introduction, to his own famous God and Man at Yale, there is at least one major difference. Mr. Buckley wrote a scholarly indictment of his college's liberal excesses because he could not hope to do more. There was no question of leading a successful counterrevolution. Whereas Hart, seeing he had many allies and that the liberal positions had ossified, would accept no substitute for victory and gave his college of status quo a run for its money
Hart's entertaining account would be made more complete by publishing more of the offensive Review articles that so enraged its adversaries. Even Buckley admits that "some of what has appeared in the Dartmouth Review I would not myself have published." No doubt that includes an insensitive satire written in black dialect and headlined "Dis sho' ain't no jive, bro." That precipitated a physical attack on Hart by Stephen Smith, a black college administrator. Smith was fined $250, but the Dartmouth faculty showed its colors on nonviolence three days later by voting 113 to 5 to censure, not the assailant, but the Dartmouth Review.
Hart found his own antidotes to the surrealistic intrigues of "poisoned ivy." He led a typically robust campus life: cheering the football team, falling in love, cramming for exams, participating in both wild parties and inspiring talks with a campus monsignor. Some of this material would make a fine B+ movie—a sort of thinking man's Animal House.
We are also treated to hurried sketches of Hart's partners in the Review rebellion, a bright group whom ABC Nightline's Ted Koppel credited with "a hell of a job of self-promotion." Greg Fossedal, the Review's founding editor, has coauthored a book endorsing a strategic defense program. Another editor, Dinesh D'Souza, has published a biography of Jerry Falwell. And the Review has inspired similar papers on 40 other campuses.
Is Hart right in predicting, from his own limited campus experience, a youthful revolution against liberalism? There is some evidence from the larger world to confirm his hunch. President Reagan did surprisingly well at many colleges. And a post-election New York Times/CBS poll found that among 18- to 24-year-olds, a full 50 percent of those surveyed identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party, compared to only 36 percent for the Democrats—no other age group had nearly so high a percentage of GOP sympathizers.
Other evidence, however, suggests that the move away from liberalism is not necessarily a move to conservatism. Political scientists William Maddox and Stuart Lilie, reporting the results of a major survey on American political views, caution that the apparent trendm "toward conservatism among our youngest generations is more a trend toward libertarianism (support for both economic freedoms and civil liberties) than a trend toward classic conservatism."
It is unlikely in any case that we will soon see a wave of well-groomed, blow-dried ex-College Republicans running the country. Hart's quick survey of the scene on other campuses convinces me that our most prestigious schools will be the slowest to spurn the lingering embrace of the 1960s' Zeitgeist. Many of their graduates, schooled by exiled Marxists and the radical chic, will enter an outside world both unfamiliar and disconcerting. Many will adapt; others will sulk in quiet hostility.
For interested observers and alumni, Poisoned Ivy is a revealing exposure of the soft intellectual and moral underbellies of some of our best universities. For those who merely enjoy middling-good satire and an enthusiastic campus depiction of youth's golden years, Hart's effort is a darned good read.
John H. Fund is deputy editorial features editor of the Wall Street Journal.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The New Campus Revolution".