Hopkins' student magazine sparks flak Spectator editors aim not to be ignored

April 26, 1992|By Thomas Waldron | Thomas Waldron,Staff Writer

The editors of the Spectator, the conservative-minded magazine at the Johns Hopkins University, know just how to pound the campus' hot buttons.

For example, there was its critique of the Introduction to American Politics course that featured a non-traditional syllabus including "Malcolm X Speaks" and the film, "Berkeley in the '60s," instead of old-fashioned staples such as de Toqueville or the Federalist Papers.

"The list of books required for the course reads like Jane Fonda's List of All Time Favorites," wrote Michael Grossman, a freshman enrolled in the course.

Then there was the magazine's denunciation of student activity dues paying for the gay and lesbian student alliance's series of awareness-heightening events.

"Looking for something out of the ordinary? Then be sure to catch Martin Manalansan's talk on 'Homosexuality in the Philippines.' A bargain at any price, your's for only $360," wrote Lyle Roberts, the magazine's dogged editor.

So it goes at the Spectator, a pesky monthly that has offended blacks, gays, liberals and probably lots of others who don't fit those labels in its four years of publishing. On the politically quiet Hopkins campus, it is a high-decibel shout.

The Spectator is a somewhat kinder and gentler version of the Dartmouth Review, the aggressive and sometimes nasty father of conservative campus publications. The Spectator is funded largely by the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, a conservative Washington organization that supports right-of-center newspapers at campuses across the nation.

"I think the campus genuinely needs something like this," said Doug Munro, a graduate political science student from Scotland and one of the magazine's founders. "The Spectator is very much an outsider with nothing to lose. Everyone hates us anyway."

"Hate" may be too strong a word. "Annoyed" might be closer. But even instructor Suzette M. Hemberger, whose syllabus for jTC Introduction to American Politics was skewered by the Spectator, says the magazine provides a service.

"Grudging as this admission has to be, there isn't much public space on this campus for argument and [the Spectator] provides that, though it sometimes frames the issues in destructive ways," Ms. Hemberger said.

The Spectator's editors are searching desperately to expose the "politically correct," the catch-all description of much of what goes on at U.S. campuses, Ms. Hemberger said.

"I think I was as close as they can get and it wasn't all that close," Ms. Hemberger said. "I guess I would do in a pinch."

Although it was founded in 1988, the Spectator exploded into the campus consciousness last year, when it published an article that claimed that black Hopkins students' Scholastic Aptitude Test scores were 200 points below those of white students. The article relied on anonymous sources and was thin on factual detail.

Black students, who make up roughly 5 percent of the student population, were angry.

"It's just a shock to see it in writing to come out with something like that and not back it up with facts," said Dana M. Trammell, president of the Hopkins branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It just proves a lack of sensitivity about the lack of awareness of black intelligence and pride."

Magazine officials now say that the "200 points article" was badly written. But the editors remain concerned that Hopkins will lower its standards just to increase the number of black students.

The university disputes the magazine's assertion on SAT scores but has not released actual data to clear up the issue.

The university has, in many cases, tried to ignore the magazine.

The Spectator, in turn, prints regular updates on the names of university officials who refuse to talk to the publication or who fail to respond to queries.

Nothing makes the editors happier, of course, than an angry denunciation from an administrator or faculty member.

"We don't mind criticism," said Mr. Roberts, a confident 21-year-old from Plainfield, N.J. "The worst thing is to be ignored."

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