Challenging the status quo at any university can be a daunting task. Enter Joe Malchow, who begins his first year at Stanford Law School with a legacy of political activism.
As a freshman at Dartmouth in 2004, Malchow began Dartblog.com, an online forum dedicated to campus news and politics. Its influence spread, at one point attracting up to 20,000 hits on one day alone. Its success prompted the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine to call Malchow “an unlikely media empire.” Unlikely, perhaps, because his was a conservative forum on a liberal campus.
Despite its politics, his blog was one of the few news sources that aggressively explored campus controversies, even when – and particularly when – it put him at odds with the university.
“Real student activism was hated when what it stood for was something antagonistic to the executives of college,” he said.
But antagonizing the college was never a problem for Malchow. He scrutinized the elections of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, claiming that the college exercised a restrictive speech policy.
While Dartmouth has a democratic election process for Trustee members– unlike Stanford, whose alumni possess a slim grant of power to nominate trustees, but never actually to elect them – Malchow noted that as more and more candidates petitioned for spots on the ballot and gained spots on the Board, the pressure from the administration against them became more and more intense. Like a CEO facing an activist investor on his board, Dartmouth was in panic mode.
Later, Malchow did extensive coverage on a proposed alumni governance constitution that he said would have sanctioned “academic gerrymandering.” The new constitution would have forced petition candidates to announce their races in advance of the “official” nominated candidates, a policy that would have allowed Board members to strategically choose people who had better odds of winning.
The proposal also suggested, Malchow contends, that administrators valued having on the board grace-and-favor directors, who owed their spots to the very college executives they were obliged to oversee, over the best directors.
Many of Malchow’s articles became as controversial as the problems he explored. While he himself was not targeted for his political views, he said “there was bullying going on of conservative students without public profiles to protect them.”
Nick Stork ’06, captain of the Dartmouth football team, accused some administration members of intimidation, while student Andrew Eastman ’07 said, “They were questioning my ability to do my job because of my expressed political opinions.”
Allowing conservatives a voice was something Malchow enjoyed about Dartblog. “You discovered these conservative or libertarians who existed at Dartmouth but were forced to lay low,” he said.
Being ‘forced to lay low’ is a somewhat surprising phenomenon on campuses designed to promote intellectual diversity, but it is not an uncommon one. Stanford is not immune to political intolerance. Malchow is quick to observe the one-sidedness of political opinion here, describing it as a “constrained environment.”
He noted that in 15 of the last 20 years, only one Stanford Law professor has been conservative. The environment is hostile to right-wing students, he said, to the point where conservatives are afraid to admit their own political opinions.
Stanford’s political scene in particular surprises Malchow, who expected a university in Silicon Valley to reflect an entrepreneurial spirit and aversion to government interference.
“That’s what created the riches that gave rise to Stanford,” he said. “What if some bureaucrat had told Leland that he couldn’t build his railroad? I find it improbable that there should not be that essential free market spirit at Stanford.”
Malchow suggests that while the majority of college students tend to be liberal, the real world often alters their perspective.
“Politics doesn’t mean more than a designer label on clothes [in college],” he said. “Things change.”