Saturday, March 14, 2009

Right wing to get its time at Berkeley

BERKELEY — Conservative politics are coming to UC Berkeley — at least in an academic sense.

An anonymous donor has given $777,000 to the university to establish a Center for the Comparative Study of Right-wing Movements. Researchers will study the right wing in other countries and its relationship to U.S. movements.

Conservative movements have been largely ignored in academia, said Larry Rosenthal, a sociologist who will oversee the center.

The donation allows UC Berkeley to examine the right wing at a time when others are least likely to do so, he said.

With the Republican Party struggling in the United States, "liberal groups will figure, 'OK, that's not a problem now,' " Rosenthal said. "Conservative groups will try to regroup. I want to step back from both those groups."

The right wing encompasses a range of philosophies. In the United States, it can range from libertarians who support individual rights and leaner government to religious conservatives who push for traditional values.

Left-wing movements around the world have been studied extensively on college campuses. At UC Berkeley, for example, researchers have focused on organized labor and foreign relations.

The relative lack of attention to the right wing has become a popular target for criticism by conservatives. Some, such as higher-education critic David Horowitz, have published "hit lists" of liberal professors.

The Berkeley center Advertisementis long overdue and should be maintained along with other research institutes, said Ward Connerly, the former University of California regent known for his conservative politics.

"I certainly believe there's a shortage of anything other than far-left thinking in most of academia," Connerly said. At Berkeley, "one out of 100 (professors) looking at conservative politics is probably what they view as fair and balanced."

The donation's announcement brought immediate interest from several faculty members on the campus, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement.

One researcher, sociologist Paola Bacchetta, has spent years studying right-wing movements in India and other countries and said the new center is an exciting opportunity.

"The right has been studying the left for a long time," said Bacchetta, who teaches gender and women's studies. "But the left has not really studied the right.

"I don't think it's a good idea to have a lot of study on one movement without studying others."