Malcolm A. Kline is not someone who would be easily mistaken for a liberal.
If his photograph on a flier announcing his speech at the University of Maryland a few weeks ago says a thousand words, they are all conservative.
His expression is imposing, accented by one raised eyebrow, a bow tie and a half-smoked cigar.
Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia, a conservative watchdog group aimed at combating political bias in higher education. He is driven by a conviction that “colleges and universities are overwhelmingly tilted left,” though he admits to being the underdog in the fight to reverse that trend.
“I guess that is my natural state,” Kline said in an interview, but added, “I’m fascinated by the number of times when the side that is outmanned, outgunned and outspent is the side that wins.”
Kline writes for and edits Campus Report, the monthly newsletter of Accuracy in Academia, which documents the latest cases of what he views as liberal bias in the academic world as well as the progress being made in reversing it.
Kline does not see the effort as conservative or Republican though.
“The way I was trained and the way I still try to operate is that you do not address the imbalance in the media or in academia by tilting something right instead of left,” he said. “Consequently we cannot be relied upon to toe the party line – we don’t.”
The imbalance in media is addressed by Accuracy in Academia’s parent organization, Accuracy in Media, founded in 1969 by Reed Irvine.
The two groups share a set of offices in Washington, D.C. In the lobby is a small table with fliers and free merchandise including bumper stickers that read, “I don’t believe The Washington Post,” and decks of cards with the faces of captured members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
Some in the academic world are receptive to what Accuracy in Academia promotes, even if they don’t share the same views.
“I can understand why they’re forming these groups and asking these questions,” said John Doolittle, who recently participated in a forum with Kline on students’ rights at American University, where he is an associate professor in the School of Communications.
Doolittle said he doesn’t think that students at American University are denied the right to espouse conservative views, but he said it is important to “discuss issues that students might have if they feel they can’t express themselves.”
Kline attributes his outlook on academia to his interaction with students over the last 20 years. Most of the primary sources he draws from in his work for Campus Report are students, and he has a large repertoire of stories about those who have been penalized for expressing conservative views and teachers who have been discriminated against for being out of step with liberal deans and administrators.
The cover story in the April issue of Campus Report is devoted to Catholic Universities, which Kline says students contact him about often.
A nun at the University of Dayton, prompted by the illegal immigration debate, told her class, “You can’t be a Christian and a conservative,” according to the article, a stance Kline said counters what Pope John Paul II has to say on the issue.
In a letter addressed to readers on the back page of Campus Report Kline wrote, “We are still investigating universities that might be Catholic in name only . Devotion to Catholic dogma on campus is not always as universal as that religious designation implies.”
This sort of false advertising is what Kline is most vehemently opposed to and he turns the same skeptical eye on classes that bill themselves as “multicultural studies” or “women’s studies.”
Instead of what Kline refers to as “real multicultural studies,” classes that pass under that title have more to do with attitudes, he said. He pointed to an exercise from a sociology course at George Mason University in which students were asked to name seven privileges of being white.
“Since I stand on the same lines as everyone else, they’re not apparent to me,” he said.
But Kline said he is not opposed to the idea of multiculturalism in general.
“I am married to a Zimbabwean,” he said. “I live multicultural studies.”
His wife can trace her ancestry to the Zulu king Shaka, he said. “To this day there is a mountain in Zimbabwe that Shaka named after my wife’s family.”
Though Kline maintains his intentions are to inform students and their parents, some of his critics allege other motivations
“He’s really engaged in partisan politics,” said Roger Bowen, secretary general of the American Association of University Professors, a group that promotes academic freedom. “What he’s doing is unfortunately not always helpful to the academy and I think frequently misunderstands what the academy is all about.”
It is difficult to measure the impact that Kline and Accuracy in Academia have, but Bowen says it is negligible.
“It’s pretty much faded into absurdity as far as I can tell,” Bowen said. “In higher education circles they don’t even cause a ripple.”
Kline runs a three-person operation including himself, a staff writer and an intern, but is always looking to expand his efforts.
“It’s always an uphill battle,” said Kline. “We always want to do more.”
Julia A. Seymour, who was hired to write for Campus Report in November, said, “I think [Kline] believes in what he’s doing and is working very hard … I think we’re making a difference.”