Michael Moore’s political provocations are typically reserved for the movie theater. Recently, however, the roly-poly radical has sought a new venue for his agenda: the university.
Toward this end, Moore has created special scholarships for liberal students. For the 2006-7 academic year, Moore has awarded six such scholarships to liberal students at California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM). Moore first set his sights on the university in 2004, when he was invited to appear by several left-wing students. University President Karen Haynes canceled the appearance because Moore was “too political” a figure, and public universities are prohibited from using state funds for partisan political activity during the election season.
But that didn’t sit well with some CSUSM students sympathetic to Moore’s brand of leftist sloganeering: the student government independently raised money and organized a 10,000 person rally at the Del Mar Fairgrounds as part of Moore’s “Slacker Uprising Tour.” For his part, Moore attempted to make political hay of the entire controversy. In response to his rejection by the CSUSM administration, Moore founded the Freedom of Speech Scholarships for those students “who have done the most to fight for issues of student rights, by standing up to the administration of Cal State San Marcos.”
Notwithstanding Moore’s grandstanding rhetoric, the scholarships reward not independence but adherence to left-wing politics. Indeed, the scholarships are nothing more than blatant attempts by Moore to further politicize the campus by disadvantaging conservative students. Consider the six recipients of these $2,500 scholarships: five of them are Women’s and Genders Studies majors; and two of the six are affiliated with left-wing Progressive Activist Network (PAN). Moore has stood by the scholarships, insisting that “the University should not be a place for fear, but a place for bravery, free thought, and a little bit of rebellion.”
But it is difficult to see how bankrolling left-wing political conformity serves that purpose, critics note. “It was obviously, from its inception, meant specifically for liberal students,” says Aaron Byzak, district representative for California State Senator Bill Morrow (R 38th), of Moore’s scholarships. “The ultimate irony is that the administration at the school is profoundly liberal. The liberal students who won the scholarship basically parrot the beliefs of the administration, especially the department heads. So, if Michael Moore was honest and stuck to the most strict definition of who his scholarship is for, he would be giving the scholarships to one of the College Republicans.”
And that’s where Byzak comes in. Perceiving Moore’s scholarships as a less than subtle attack on conservative students at CSUSM, Byzak has founded an alternative: the Cassandra Byzak Scholarship for Conservative Thought. The scholarship is named for his late mother, Cassandra Byzak. A drug-addled radical during the 60s, Cassandra Byzak spent several peripatetic decades living with her children, barely scraping by. Desperate to bring more food to the table, she took to selling marijuana and methamphetamines, whereupon she was arrested for possession with the intent to distribute.
Things changed in 1993. When one of her close friends died from AIDS, Cassandra Byzak forswore drugs and cleaned up, becoming a volunteer for HIV/AIDS education. Moreover, she found regular employment. After battling terminal colon-cancer for seven years—doctors initially gave her eight months to live—Byzak succumbed to her illness this March.
Even in her weakened condition, however, Byzak never wavered in her conversion to the conservative ethos of hard work and self-reliance: while undergoing intensive chemotherapy and radiation, she continued to work worked full-time. “During her last days she showed a selflessness and commitment to her family that I know would not have been possible had she not escaped the drugs, alcohol, and poor choices that had directed her life for so long,” Aaron Byzak remembers. “She was the epitome of a conservative: loyal to family, community, and country.”
Byzak hopes that through the scholarship, his mother’s story will now serve as an inspiration for young men and women. Byzak, who will begin graduate school in the fall, plans to award two $2,500 scholarships to students at CSUSM. Applicants will need a minimum GPA of 3.0, verifiable volunteerism or scholarly work in the realm of conservatism, and an essay detailing how conservatives can counter the liberal influence in education and academia. “We, as conservatives, need to start supporting those students who are willing to put some work into learning the philosophy,” Byzak wrote in support of the scholarship. He is currently trying to raise the $5000, which will put two students through CSUSM for one year, through private donations and his own contributions. “My mother would want to help those who are less fortunate,” he explains.
The Cassandra Byzak Memorial Scholarship for Conservative Thought has already received immense support from conservatives across the country. That’s hardly surprising: By countering the efforts of a certain activist filmmaker, the scholarship looks poised to become a symbol for the nationwide call to intellectual diversity. Michael Moore, watch out.
Donations to the Cassandra Byzak Memorial Scholarship for Conservative Thought may be sent to the following address:
The Cassandra Byzak Memorial Scholarship
C/O Aaron Byzak
2404 Granada Way
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(Receipts will be provided)