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Visit To A Small College
By: David Horowitz
Monday, April 26, 1999


IT IS THE SEASON WHEN HIGH-SCHOOL GRADUATES, parents in tow, set out on their tours of ivied campuses, in search of the right investment for their education dollar. This spring I made a parallel tour. Speaking at colleges in Chicago, Boston, Lewiston (Maine) New Haven, Quinnipiac (Connecticut), Houston, Dallas, and College Station (Texas), I conducted my own hands-on survey to see how American colleges have changed since I was an undergraduate in the 1950s.

IT’S THE SEASON WHEN HIGH-SCHOOL GRADUATES, parents in tow, set out on their tours of ivied campuses, in search of the right investment for their education dollar. This spring I made a parallel tour. Speaking at colleges in Chicago, Boston, Lewiston (Maine) New Haven, Quinnipiac (Connecticut), Houston, Dallas, and College Station (Texas), I conducted my own hands-on survey to see how American colleges have changed since I was an undergraduate in the 1950s. Or, to be more precise, to check conclusions I had already drawn about these matters on the basis of previous trips I had made to over 100 campuses in the last decade.

When I was an undergraduate, the censors attacked the university from without. Now, they were entrenched in the faculties and administrations themselves. Then, the university defined itself as an institution "dedicated to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge." Now, every term of that definition is under siege by post-modernists and deconstructionists who have become the new academic establishment and have redefined the university as "an institution dedicated to social change." That is one reason why the academy, once perceived as a redoubt of intellectual freedom and cutting-edge discourse, has become the butt of snickering jokes about political correctness, and a cornucopia of Kafka-esque tales about bureaucratic censorship and administrative obtuseness.

In Chicago, I encountered a very bright second-year graduate student in the famous Committee on Social Thought program, who had previously completed four years of undergraduate work at Harvard, where he had never heard the name Friedrich von Hayek. In a way, it was the most shocking anecdotal evidence I retrieved in my forays into the halls of learning. It’s not just that Hayek won a Nobel Prize for economics in 1973, or that he is the author of a classic text of the modern era, The Road to Serfdom, which was already required reading for students at Columbia when I went there in the 1950s, or that he is one of the three or four greatest social thinkers of the Twentieth Century—the Karl Marx of the libertarian-conservative world-view. Any of these would have been enough to make such a student’s ignorance dismaying. But Hayek is also one of the handful of social scientists who (along with his teacher Ludwig Von Mises) demonstrated more than 60 years ago why the socialist system could not work and, thus, why it would eventually collapse, as it did in 1989. The implosion of the Soviet Empire was a dramatic vindication of the analysis Hayek and his colleagues had made.

It was not the first time I had encountered such ignorance of Hayek and other conservative intellectuals on university campuses, nor was it accidental. It was a direct consequence of the tenured left’s dominance of liberal-arts institutions after the 1960s, and its politicization of the curriculum and the faculty-hiring process. This, in fact, was the subject of the lectures I gave at the campuses I visited.

At Bates College in Maine, for example, I spoke in defense of the following proposition: "The Intellectual Tradition of the Left is Bankrupt and Its Hegemony at Bates Is An Abuse of Academic Freedom." To anticipate the situation I encountered at this pricey liberal-arts college, let me quote an e-mail I received from a Professor at Smith, a comparable institution, when I challenged the faculty about these academic abuses: "I would gladly crush you in a debate on students’ so-called ‘right not to be ideologically indoctrinated in the classroom,’ " wrote Professor E. C. Graf. "Your phrase ‘students’ academic freedom’ is already a laughable oxymoron, as if students ever had such a thing or ever should. . . . As for admitting that I ‘indoctrinate’ my students instead of teaching them, tell me my friend, when has there ever been a difference?"

In a rare departure from the norm, I received an invitation to Bates from the Dean of the College, who informed me shortly after introducing himself that he was a "leftist." Out of 100 or so colleges I have spoken at in the last several years, it should be said, I have only been officially invited to four. The college administrations will roll out no red carpets, provide no honoraria or airfares, for a conservative like me, as they will for my former political comrades on the left, nor will faculty members offer credit to students for attending my lectures (a common practice as well). Even on this visit to Bates, where I would have to take my hat off to the dean who invited me, my reception proved to be a little unusual.

I arrived at the airport in Portland the night before my scheduled evening lecture, where a university-provided driver picked me up and deposited me at the door of an apartment that the university had also made available. But there the hospitality stopped. Until my evening lecture the next day, I was left to my own devices, wondering whether the dean who invited me would like to have a lunch or even coffee in his offices to get acquainted. In fact, as noon approached in the morning after my arrival, I decided to drop in on the dean to thank him for my invitation and inquire if he would like to have lunch. When I got there, a secretary informed me that he was unavailable. Instead, a student escort was provided to take me to the school cafeteria, where I ate by myself. The cafeteria meal was complimentary, and the dean, perhaps feeling guilty by my unannounced appearance, eventually showed up to take me back to his office. In manner, he was entirely cordial, while explaining that he had taken some criticism from members of his faculty for even inviting me. When I returned to California, I received a somewhat testy letter from him because of a full-page ad I had run in the school paper on the day of my lecture, which he had not seen at the time. The ad announced that the dean was inviting students to attend my evening talk. It then continued with the following headline:

"Marxism Is A Resurgent Doctrine in the Former Soviet Empire and Apparently on American Campuses Too."

Below this headline was a reminder to students that the false doctrines of Marxism had led to the deaths of 100 million people. Below that was a selection of book titles written by authors like Thomas Sowell, David Gress, and myself, offered as "antidotes" to what students were being taught by their professors at Bates.

In all fairness, the Dean had a point, which I readily conceded. I had undoubtedly made his life more difficult. Still, his anguish was just another indication of the pressure he was under from his leftist faculty because of my visit. How left? Well, in the Bates catalogue, one course listed was called "The Cuban Revolution: Problems and Prospects" which included a two-week on-site visit to Cuba. Aviva Chomsky, daughter of the MIT grouse, had taught the course until she left Bates for a more "working-class" school (as the dean kindly informed me). At my talk that evening, I couldn’t resist making the observation that the Cuban revolution had no prospects.

Since I had a whole day available before my scheduled talk, I decided to sit in on one of Bates’ political-science courses to check my impressions of the academic life. I asked students for directions to the building in which political-science courses were taught, and went to the department office on the ground floor. None of the administrators seemed to have a problem with my desire to audit a class. Accordingly, I approached a professor as she was entering her classroom and asked permission to attend.

She was an Indian woman in her thirties and spoke with an English accent. She seemed pleased at the prospect of having an adult in her audience, and had no hesitation inviting me in. All through the class hour she smiled at me and talked in my direction, and even encouraged me to answer a question when the rest of the class could not. She taught from a single text, and it was obvious from her remarks that the class consisted in reading through the text a chapter at a time. In the college courses I had attended at Columbia some forty years ago, there was rarely an "official" text for the course, and if there was one, my professors seldom referred to it. Any text included was more as an aid to students. The real "text" for the course was the professor’s lecture notes, and students were expected to read several books, usually by leading contributors to the subject and usually with strongly differing views. A political-science course devoted to modern industrial societies, as this one was, might have had required readings by Weber, Marx, Durkheim, Tonnies, and even Hayek.

In this course, however, there was a single 600-page text called Modernity, edited by the well-known English New Leftist, Stuart Hall. Like Hall, every contributor to the text was a Marxist. There was no lecture. The teacher proceeded in Socratic fashion to guide the students page by page, and paragraph by paragraph, through the textbook assigned. It was like a science course, based on an accepted body of knowledge, where a single class textbook is the norm.

Except that this norm was the discredited intellectual tradition of Marxism. I looked over at the text of the student next to me and asked what the acronym ACS, staring out of the page, stood for. She said "Advanced Capitalist Society." I noticed another acronym MIBTC and was told it stood for "Military-Industrial-Bureaucratic-Technocratic-Complex." The teacher was admonishing the students to pay attention to the main points in the authors’ arguments and to take note of the way they grounded them—whether in authorities or facts. Then she had the class break up into small groups, each of which was to apply this technique to a different section and assess whether the author of that section satisfactorily proved his point.

My group was assigned a little section on American militarism(!). The question put by the text was whether militarism emerged out of the capitalist economic structures of ACSs, or whether once it emerged it became systemic. There was no question as to whether American society could reasonably be described as "militarist." One young woman in my group wondered aloud whether the author had proved there was an MIBTC merely by pointing out that cell phones made by AT&T were used by the army in the Gulf War. (I stepped out of my role as observer to assure her he had not.)

Subsequently I bought Modernity from Amazon.com and found that the passage was typical rather than exceptional. The viewpoints in the text ranged from classical Marxism to feminist Marxism to post-modernist Marxism. There were no opposing views introduced except in order to be refuted. In the book’s index there was not a single reference to the name Hayek. On the other hand, there were plenty of discussions of obscure Marxists like Nicholas Poulantzas, who wrote a book on the "ruling class" in the 1960s before jumping out a window at age 29.

After the class, I went up to the teacher and said that I admired her pedagogy in advising the students that she wasn’t there to tell them what to think, but to teach them how. On the other hand, I thought that assigning an ideological Marxist tome as the course’s only text worked at cross-purposes with that goal. At once, the smile disappeared from her face. She said: "Well, they get the other side from the newspapers." Education like this cost the Bates’ students’ parents $30,000 a year in tuition alone.

This was not to be the end of my auditing adventure, however. Afterwards, the lecturer complained about me to the dean. The dean, who had ignored me until then, called me up at my apartment to tell me I should have gone through his office if I wanted to sit in on a class. I explained the circumstances that had led me to the class, the encouragement of the departmental administrators, the pleasure with which the lecturer herself had welcomed me, and the reason for her change of heart. But to no avail. Obviously she had given him a hard time, and there was no way he was going to sympathize with my point of view. I realized that this intimidation was similar to the intimidation over the ad, and the criticism he had received for inviting me at all. It served a purpose, and served it effectively: to minimize the contact that professors and students might risk with conservatives like myself.

That was no doubt why the little reception with faculty he arranged for me before my talk was confined to the handful of older professors at Bates who shared my views, or at least were not ideologically repelled by them and who were protected by tenure. I admired their courage, nonetheless, in attending my event, while cognizant of the fact that even in the darkest days of the McCarthy era, Communist faculty were not so threatened with ostracism by their peers as politically incorrect academics were by the reflexive McCarthyism of the tenured left.

I gave my speech to about 60 students, among whom seven or eight formed a very unhappy contingent of campus leftists. Had I not been officially invited, it is more than likely that even these few would not have been there. I spoke about the religious ideas that had led to the destruction of 100 million people in our century, killed by progressive missionaries in order to realize their impossible dreams. Revolutionary leftists were modern Manichaeans, who believed that the world was ruled by alien powers of darkness. Even democracies were not free societies but were dominated by these powers, which Marx called "ruling classes" against whom all those who believed in social justice were at war.

Even though these Marxist fantasies had led to unprecedented ruin for all the societies that eventually came under their sway, their currency was evident throughout the curriculum. Now the alien powers were called the "patriarchy" or the "white male oligarchy," or more obliquely "institutional racism." But they were just as fantastic, and belief in them inspired passions potentially as destructive as the passions of classical Marxists themselves. No one, I said, was oppressed in America (except perhaps children by their abusive parents). To even suggest as much was to enter the realm of the absurd.

I give the leftist students credit for waiting until the end of my talk to vent their outrage over the blasphemies I had uttered. One young woman got so emotional she decided to leave the building to save herself from further contamination. Another young woman stood up, and with tremendous urgency sputtered "But what about the hierarchies? You didn’t mention the hierarchies!"

She was referring, of course, to the hierarchies of race, gender, and class that were the staples of her Bates education and the modern-day equivalents of the Marxist Satan. Her politicized professors had undoubtedly schooled her in the idea that these hierarchies oppressed people of color, women, and wage-slaves in America. In America! In the year 1999!

Of course I had actually "mentioned" the hierarchies (though not by name) to dismiss them as left-wing illusions, no more substantial than the idea that somewhere behind the Hale–Bopp comet a space ship was waiting to take the enlightened to heaven. So I tried another tack. "Let me ask you this question," I said. Where do you put Oprah Winfrey in your hierarchies?" I knew that Oprah Winfrey was at the bottom of any oppressive hierarchy conceived by leftists. As a woman born in Mississippi to a black sharecropper, who had been sexually abused, she was the oppressed of the oppressed. But Oprah had risen by dint of her own intelligence, effort, and talent to become a mother-confessor and authority figure to millions of lower-middle-class white females who had never passed through a sensitivity-training course. The fortune she was able to amass through these efforts cast her among the super-rich of America’s ruling class as one of the Forbes 400, with a net worth of $550 million before the recent stock-market boom.

"She’s a token," the young woman said.

"Sorry, she’s not a token," I replied. "Cornel West is a token."

I chose Cornel West, as an intellectual of modest talents, whose skin color had catapulted him into academic stardom with a six-figure income at Harvard. Cornel West was a token because the university is a feudal institution run somewhat like the Communist Party, where the elect raise people up the heights by exercising the same kind of arbitrary droit de seigneur that was the privilege of rulers in pre-democratic and pre-capitalist times. There was no tenure committee or central committee, however, to lift Oprah out of the societal mud—to say, for example, to Phil Donahue, "Move over, Phil, we need a person of color to put in prime time for diversity’s sake." The power Oprah Winfrey has been able to accumulate refutes every cliché of the political left. Her psychological power over her mainly white audience has made her the first individual in history able to create a best-seller by fiat and the millions in revenues that go with it. She is a film-making industry in herself. She has shown that the barriers of race, class, and gender are not insuperable obstacles to advancement in America, any more than residual anti-Semitism or prejudice against the Irish create impenetrable "hierarchies" of oppression to bar those groups’ ascent.

But, of course, such a perspective is politically incorrect at places like Bates, so dangerous that the faculty commissars are constantly on guard to prevent students from too much contact with such dangerous ideas. The relative good behavior of my audience at Bates is not always in evidence. The campus norm is a kind of intellectual fascism (reserved of course for conservative speakers) which makes any dissenting discourse improbable, and often impossible. On the same trip, I spoke at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. When I got to the line "Nobody is oppressed in America," a very large African American student stood up and began ranting in my direction, "You’re a fascist! I can’t listen to this anymore." Then he thrust his hand into the air in a Nazi salute, shouted "Sieg Heil," and walked out.


David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.