Editor's note: This is the campus perspective from our partners at UWire.com. Authors Travis Korson and Joe Naron are students at George Washington University and members of the school's Young America's Foundation.
Earlier this year, first lady Michelle Obama pledged that if George Washington University students completed 100,000 hours of community service she would speak at the school’s commencement. -- Not that we're against community service, but Mrs. Obama's offer should be declined.
Mrs. Obama’s “service for speech” pledge earlier this month works counter to the notion of community service. By encouraging students to volunteer for the stated purpose of booking a high-profile commencement speaker, the meaning of service is reduced to a measure of hours spent working for a political objective, and volunteering no longer is an act carried out for its own sake.
Volunteering should be conducted as a selfless act whose only motive is a desire to see beneficial change in the community, lest doubt is cast on intentions of those serving. Shifting the focus of community service away from the community and towards some other goal, as Mrs. Obama has done with her pledge, has created an atmosphere of false volunteerism.
What makes Mrs. Obama’s pledge different from President Reagan’s call to service or the initiatives of Barbara and Laura Bush is its connection directly to politics. “Organizing for America”, which emerged from the remnants of President Obama’s presidential campaign, has been used as a vehicle by the first lady to call for community service in support of her husband's health care initiatives. Now, community service is linked to a goal bringing yet another liberal commencement speaker to campus.
Moreover, if Mrs. Obama was allowed to give the commencement address, she would serve only to further the lack of intellectual diversity among recent speakers.
At GW, one has to go back to 2006, when first lady Barbara Bush spoke, and then into the mid-1990s to find commencement speakers outside of the liberal consensus.
Marginalization of conservatives is standard operating procedure at most colleges. Why should conservatives inadvertently work toward a goal that further marginalizes us when we're selflessly helping those less fortunate?
But when our conservative organization called upon the administration to offer students the ability to opt out of their hours spent serving a political cause, the school’s administration stated that “all students would have their hours counted,” assuming that the university is some sort of command economy where administrators can bend the unselfish actions of students to their will.
It lies completely outside of administrators' collective liberal mindset that opposition to the initiative is valid.
Our struggle against the school in raising concern about the pledge is a symptom of a pervasive crisis in academia, the belief that students have that the liberal establishment cannot be challenged. Bias has overtaken the civil right to freely associate and choose who benefits from the fruits of one’s service.
Whether it’s the right to volunteer without political considerations, the right to develop one’s own opinions in the course of study—bias on campuses is overtaking even the act of thinking independently.
In opposing the pledge, our organization sought to uphold the conservative idea that the role of politics in education and in our daily lives should be minimal. Official bias can only be altered if it is confronted.