In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan became President and the nation was in the midst of the Cold War, nearly 30 politically conservative student publications emerged in college campuses across the country. Starting with the founding of the Dartmouth Review in 1980, the movement spread to some of the nation’s top colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Columbia, UC San Diego and Stanford.
At Stanford, the creators of the first Stanford Review in 1981 were hoping that their newspaper, which was originally a magazine, would help balance political discourse in the mostly liberal campus. According to Lew Davies ’83, former President of the publication, the Review came in response to “a small but vocal liberal group that protested Jimmy Carter’s reinstating mandatory draft registration in 1980.”
Despite having the same name and serving a similar purpose on campus, the current Stanford**Review, founded in 1987 by Peter Thiel and Norman Book, has no continuity or connection with the first Stanford**Review, which ceased to exist in 1984.
John Zimmerman, an editor of the liberal Columbia University Spectator, arrogantly welcomed the rise of conservative newspapers. In a 1983 article published in the Christian Science Monitor, he was quoted saying, “We’ve had a monopoly on opinion, we get predictable. I’d love to fight it out with them.”
The first Stanford Review was among the more scholarly and balanced conservative newspapers in the country. Quoted in a 1982 Time**Magazine article, former Stanford Review editor Peter Maillet declared, “We’re not out to alienate, we’re just trying to get people to think.” **
Davies explains that the Review was the publication of the Stanford Conservative Political Alliance, which also sponsored debates and speakers. In its early years, the paper covered topics such as the Reagan Revolution, tax cuts, the Soviet-American rivalry, the 1981-2 recession, and the revitalizing effects lower taxes and less regulation had on the U.S. economy.
In contrast to the Stanford Review, several other newspapers, including the Dartmouth Review and UC-San Diego’s California Review, were much more inflammatory and controversial. According to a 1983 article in the Christian Science Monitor, many of these newspapers took “strong conservative stands on issues such as affirmative action (against it), the draft (for it), the brand of economics taught in the classroom (anti-Keynesian, pro-free market), and black and women’s studies, which they see as ‘trivializing’ higher education.”
When asked how the Stanford Review was received on campus, Davies explains that many did not like it. He describes how “a number of liberal students rode bikes or walked behind our group as we distributed the Review, throwing them into the garbage as fast as we set them out.” Even though these students claimed to support free speech, Davies believes that many of them were afraid of having views opposite to theirs being heard by Stanford students. “They were fundamentally hypocrites,” says Davies about the students who threw away Reviews, “interested in free speech only when it supported their point of view, but otherwise giving it only lip service.”
The conservative newspapers also met resistance in other parts of the country. According to the same 1982 Time Magazine article, Dartmouth’s Arts and Science faculty voted, 113 to 5, to “deplore the abuses of responsible journalism that have been a regular practice of the Dartmouth Review.” However, as written in the same source, then College President David McLaughlin stated, “Free expression is not a privilege, but a fundamental right. When freedom of expression is used relentlessly to attack the integrity of individuals or segments of the community, it tests to the utmost our commitment to this right.”
The Dartmouth Review’s content, which often ridiculed minority groups and homosexuals, was not a model the Stanford Review was attempting to emulate. “We had no interest in following suit,” states Davies, noting that the Stanford Review focused mostly on economic and foreign policy issues instead of the more controversial social issues.
For most conservative papers in the country, funding came from the Institute for Education Affairs (IEA), which sought to promote the publications with grants between $5,000 and $10,000 each year. However, at Stanford, the Review did not receive funding from this organization, instead relying on donations from nearby corporations and the staffs’ friends and relatives.
Asked about the political scene on campus at the time, Davies contends that, with the exception of the Hoover Institution, administrators and faculty were fairly liberal. He adds that while there were liberal and conservative students, a large part of the student population was either moderate or not interested in political discussions. However, he emphasizes that there were “very vocal groups on the left who tried to dominate the debate and news by being loud and getting attention from protests.”
Columbia University’s conservative Morningside Review editor Roderick Richardson told the Christian Science Monitor in 1983 that the conservative newspapers were “challenging the liberal status quo [and] the patterns of thought.”
The first Stanford Review, according to Lew Davies, published four to six issues per year, with a circulation of approximately 1,000 to 2,000. Moreover, the staff consisted of a core group of about seven students, with some additional writers. However, the newspaper struggled to survive after 1983, when most of the staff graduated, and ultimately disappeared in 1984.