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Left School

According to U.S. News & World Report, the University of Pittsburgh is among the top 100 universities in the country. But as students head back to campus this week, there's something else they should know: Their school is infested with liberals!

Or so says the right-wing website CampusReform.org, which recently asserted that Pitt is one of many schools where political ideologies skew left. 

The website, created by the conservative Leadership Institute, reviewed the school's faculty, student organizations and administrative policies, finding what it considered insufficient political diversity at the Oakland campus.

"America's colleges and universities are dominated by liberals, and the University of Pittsburgh is no different," Morton Blackwell, CampusReform.org's founder, said in an Aug. 16 press release. "Too often, the campus left uses its power to indoctrinate the next generation."

Such accusations are nothing new in academia. For decades, conservatives have argued that most colleges and universities are too liberal. But CampusReform.org -- a self-proclaimed "one-stop resource, networking, and instruction center for conservative activists to take back their campuses from leftist domination" -- is trying to quantify the claim. 

For example, CampusReform.org found that Pitt's liberal student organizations (College Democrats, American Civil Liberties Union) outnumber conservative student organizations (College Republicans, College Libertarians) 13 to 8. 

Using the Huffington Post's campaign-finance data, the website also highlighted political contributions: Among Pitt faculty and staff who donated during the 2008 campaign, 88 percent gave to Democratic candidates. 

"That should be a concern for anybody," says Brian Bernys, national field director for the Leadership Institute. Faculty "are aligned with one political ideology."

Pitt spokesperson John Fedele declined to comment on the CampusReform.org report. 

James Weaver, president of Pitt's LGBT group Rainbow Alliance, says the conservative website is sounding false alarms. "There's a pretty even mixture of conservatives and liberals," he says. "You're not going to feel like an outcast for being conservative."

Not everyone agrees. In fact, one member of the Pitt Law Republicans spoke to City Paper only under the condition of anonymity. "I'm very wary of publicizing that I'm conservative," the student says. "[Pitt] is very liberal."

According to CampusReform.org, so is pretty much every other university. So far, the website has profiled more than half of the top 100 universities as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. (The site used rankings from 2009.) Practically the only school the group considers truly conservative is Utah's Brigham Young University, where 90 percent of students are Mormon. 

The conservative website has yet to profile Carnegie Mellon University, which was recently ranked 23rd by U.S. News & World Report. Penn State University is considered a liberal university, according to CampusReform.org. The site notes that 90 percent of the school's faculty donated to Democrats during the 2008 campaign.

 Michael Bérubé, an English professor at Penn State University, admits that liberals typically outnumber conservatives on college campuses. "We're more liberal than the rest of the population," says Bérubé, author of What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and "Bias" in Higher Education. "I don't think that's terribly surprising."

But Bérubé -- whom conservative firebrand David Horowitz named in his own book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America -- scoffs at efforts to portray campuses as indoctrination centers. 

"The conservative movement has been bashing higher education for the last 30 years," he says. "They've made no secret of their disdain."

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