His talk of 'academic freedom' stirred up a hornet's nest of debate on the campuses of Colorado's public universities. It seems the argument is clear -cut on both sides.
Renowned conservative, author, critic and syndicated columnist David Horowitz, who is leading a national campaign to a rebalance of academic ideology in higher education institutions, will make his first appearance in Colorado at 1 p.m. today, at the Tivoli Center at Denver's Auraria Higher Education Center. He appears at the invitation of the Office of Student Life at CU-Denver and the Office of Student Activities at Metropolitan State College of Denver. This will be his first appearance in the state since the announcement of legislation that would further his proposed "academic bill of rights."
But, a press conference to take place 20 minutes earlier than Horowitz's speech, has been organized by the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network (RMPN,) on the eastside of the Tivoli Center with a line-up of speakers who strongly oppose the kind of legislation being proposed for Colorado.
Those speakers include former State Sen. John Donley (R-Greeley) CU regent Jim Martin, Metro State College of Denver Faculty Senate President Joan Foster, and Lisa Calgarone, a representative of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.)
The proposed academic bill of rights is being sponsored by State Sen. John Andrews (R-Centennial,) who says rather than introducing a quota system, he wants to set some ground rules for "fair play."
Horowitz, who met with Andrews and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens this summer, has a different tact.
Reportedly, he instructed students to seek out the political affiliation of their professors by checking local voter registration documents.
Michael Huttner, executive director of the RMPN said that despite his appearance as an 'extremist' and a 'whack,' Horowitz poses a serious threat, given the attention he is commanding from high ranking state legislators.
"The more people learn about it, the more alarming it becomes,' said Huttner. "The (Horowitz) meeting with the top Republican leaders was a secret meeting."
Huttner cited the Colorado Sunshine law, which states that when more than two elected officials meet, public notice must be given.
"I don't want to underestimate him, he has a serious agenda for Colorado, and that is to harass the current faculty by having students report on them," added Huttner.
According to Huttner, Horowitz wants students to have the power to report faculty members for violating the rules, if they don't think the professor is giving a conservative viewpoint.
"I would like to tell you (Horowitz) is just some crazy. But he is meeting with some of the key conservative policy makers of our state, so this is not to be taken lightly," said Huttner.
Brad Jones, chair of the CU-Boulder College Republicans, said that although he was aware of today's event, it clashed with his classes so he will not be able to attend.
Jones said the value is in Horowitz's ideas.
"Whatever legislatively could happen here in Colorado is going to be a product of Colorado thought," said Jones. "I think the biggest thing that Horowitz has to give is the benefit of his research and his work nationwide."
But Huttner said that Horowitz and his supporters have yet to present hard facts supporting their claims of ideological discrimination on university campuses.
Jones said he has heard anecdotal evidence of discrimination among students on the Boulder campus.
"There is a large body of knowledge in the conservative student community here and also in other student communities- because this is not just about liberals and conservatives," said Jones. "In particular, I know a lot of Christian groups on campus (that agree with the ideology)."
Jones added that he met last year with Todd Gleason, dean of the CU-Boulder College of Arts and Sciences, who told him that the college did not have more conservative ideas in the classrooms because "conservatives are not attracted to service professions."
He added that Republican students feel that, occasionally, professors have singled them out to engage in classroom debates because of their political affiliation.
Jones believes that there needs to be some kind of "fair treatment of ideas" direction from the legislation to universities.
"This is the crux of the public debate right now, but the bill hasn't been written yet," said Jones. "So when liberals scream McCarthyism and accuse us of trying to establish affirmative action for conservatives, they are not speaking in an informed manner."
Travis Leiker, president of the CU College Democrats said he would not be attending the Horowitz speech, adding that he does not support the proposed bill.
Chair of the CU-System intercampus faculty council Mark Malone, said he is unaware of any specific faculty members planning to attend Horowitz's talk.
"I view this whole thing as a distraction from the important things we are working on," said Malone, a science education professor. "In some sense, this is a lot to do about nothing-there is really nothing to respond to. Horowitz has made some kind of outrageous statement, and the chances of the things he's saying actually working their way through legislation-I can't imagine what the legislation would be like."
Malone said he had no idea how such proposals could be implemented on the campuses.
But he added that he has spent a lot of time digging through CU's rules and policies.
"Actually, if you really go through all the rules, all the protections that (Horowitz and Andrews) are claiming don't exist are already quite clearly in the current (Board of Regents) laws," said Malone. "There's not much left to do, it's already done. It's a big firestorm in the press, but I really don't think it's a story."