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Writer's Crusade Incites NCSU Faculty By: Tim Simmons
North Carolina News & Observer | Thursday, October 14, 2004


David Horowitz stirred up the crowd in a manner of minutes when he visited UNC-Chapel Hill three years ago.

This time, the conservative author and commentator didn't even get to town before faculty at N.C. State University made their feelings clear.

Horowitz, who will speak Saturday at the McKimmon Center on the NCSU campus, is touting a document called the Academic Bill of Rights. He says it is needed to keep the views of conservative students from being stifled on college campuses.

Members of NCSU's Faculty Senate beg to differ -- so much so that they approved a resolution this month to underscore their opposition.

"When this issue first came up, it seemed almost like a frivolity," said Robert Bruck, chairman of the Senate's Academic Policy Committee. "But I have come to appreciate that this is serious business -- as serious as this body can undertake."

At the heart of the faculty's concern -- and the push by Horowitz -- is the question of who should be in charge of making sure campuses welcome a full range of views on any topic. To give his effort more teeth, Horowitz has enlisted the help of sympathetic lawmakers throughout the nation.

Insulated by design to encourage independence, faculty members have harshly criticized Horowitz's efforts even as they have defended his right to speak. They see it as a sophisticated power-grab timed to take advantage of a growing conservative presence on many campuses.

Given the immense scope and size of higher education throughout the nation, NCSU faculty say some mistakes by instructors are inevitable. But they also think abuses are isolated.

When a UNC-Chapel Hill student, for example, was accused by his teacher in February of promoting hate speech because of comments he made about homosexuals, the repercussions rippled for months. But it was still one incident, faculty members say.

Horowitz responds to this by rattling off other examples from a well-rehearsed list. He likes to talk about a professor who announced to his class that the "R" in Republican really stands for racist. He tells of attending a class at Bates College in Maine a few years ago in which the sole text "was a 500-page tract put together by the editors of New Left Review."

Past controversy

He knows how to deliver these lines for maximum effect. A former radical activist, he is now a mainstay among conservative authors and commentators. "I'm the kind of guy who actually likes an argument," he said.

Underscoring his reputation as the outsider on campus, Horowitz was accompanied by bodyguards during a speech at UNC-CH in 2001. There was no violence, but it wasn't long before more than 100 students walked out, angry over newspaper ads he purchased earlier titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea -- and Racist Too."

Such conflict isn't likely when Horowitz joins several speakers at Saturday's full-day conference, "Freedom and the American Campus." The event is sponsored by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a politically conservative organization based in Raleigh. Registration for the conference is $20.

Although NCSU is not sponsoring the event, Faculty Senate members say they think it makes no sense to let the conference pass without comment.

"These are outright challenges to the function and structure of universities," said Bruck of the Faculty Senate. "For us to be arrogant and say no mistakes have ever been made ... would be the greater error in the scheme of the politics of this situation. But we have internal mechanisms to take care of them, and we do take care of them."

Horowitz does not agree. He said he thinks university professors do a poor job of policing themselves and that many incidents go unreported by students who fear retribution by teachers.

He has taken his fight to various state legislatures where he has asked lawmakers to approve non-binding resolutions supporting his Academic Bill of Rights. His most notable successes have come in Colorado and Georgia. He would be happy to work with legislators in North Carolina, he said.

On this point, the two sides agree.

"I'm sure he would be happy to introduce something here," said Cat Warren, an associate professor of English and a member of the Faculty Senate. "This is not a time for complacency. We are in a fight for the public opinion."


Tim Simmons is a North Carolina News & Observer staff writer.


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