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Political Correctness, the Academy, and The New York Times By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, November 29, 2001

THE AMERICAN COUNCIL OF TRUSTEES AND ALUMNI, (ACTA) headed by Jerry Martin, has been for the past few years one of the major academic groups dedicated to fighting political correctness in our nation’s universities. It also works on the front lines of those groups whose members insist upon the preservation of high academic standards, opposition to the rampant politicization of higher education, and the necessity of adhering to a basic core curriculum, including the mandatory teaching of American History and Western Civilization in our nation’s institutions of higher learning. Two years ago, ACTA got some press when it released a report called "Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century," which proved that some of our leading institutions of higher education have all but abandoned any history requirement.

This month, ACTA once again enters the fight with a new report written by its head Jerry Martin and its vicepresident Anne D. Neal, titled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." Almost immediately, our newspaper of record issued its highly skewed "report" about the new ACTA release, which it called "An Organization on the Lookout for Patriotic Incorrectness," a title which was a dead giveaway for the Times’ obviously hostile take on the issues the report raises. Reporter Emily Eakin describes the ACTA report as "a list of 117 antiAmerican statements heard on college campuses," and she describes ACTA as a "conservative nonprofit group devoted to curbing liberal tendencies in academia." This is similar to a description you will never see in the paper such as a hypothetical one calling the ACLU "a radical group devoted to curbing rightwing views in the media," rather than what the organization calls itself, a group dedicated to the preservation of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. (One can argue, of course, that the ACLU has strayed far from its original intent, but that is another issue.) Nowhere does the Times give the reader ACTA’s view of its own intent, which as is clear from its own literature, is a group "dedicated to academic freedom, quality and accountability." As ACTA says, its goal is "to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophicallybalanced, openminded, highquality education at an affordable price." Given that the Times article promotes a picture of ACTA as a neoMcCarthyite group trying to institute a new witchhunt, quoting from their own belief about the necessity of safeguarding the free exchange of ideas on campus, is a point that simply cannot be left out.

More to the point, the Times’ story parodies and ridicules the ACTA report, by making it appear as a 21st century McCarthyite tract, and it quotes Todd Gitlin a leftwing academic who in fact is supportive of the war against terrorism as condemning ACTA for taking the remarks of professors "out of context" and thereby producing a document that is "misleading and offensive." Gitlin asserts that the report is "a hodgepodge of erratically gathered quotations, few of which are declarations of heartfelt opposition to American foreign policy." And to strengthen his bona fides, the story tells us that Gitlin "is a longtime leftist who said he has draped an American flag across the balcony of his Manhattan apartment and published an essay denouncing antiAmerican sentiment abroad." It is alright, evidently, for leftwing scholar Gitlin to condemn antiAmericanism among the intelligentsia, but not for ACTA, one of whose founding members was none other than Lynne V. Cheney, the wife of our VicePresident. That somehow puts its criticisms beyond the pale. Moreover, it enables ACTA’s opponents to use Cheney’s past participation with the group as fodder for their charge that ACTA is trying to impose a secret rightwing agenda on the academy.

Others on the Left, as expected, were more vehement in their condemnation. Hugh Gusterson, an MIT professor, told the Times that the ACTA report "has a little of the whiff of McCarthyism," and of course, Columbia University’s leading leftwing historian Eric Foner gets into the fray as expected, condemning ACTA for trying "to enforce a particular party line on American colleges and universities," and for trying to "suppress the expression of alternative points of view." Foner, whom this writer has taken up previously, is of course no stranger to party lines and "alternative" points of view, since he has been a charter member of those who in fact have done everything possible to make his favored party line the accepted truth among mainstream historians. And although Foner is at one of our nation’s top institutions of higher learning, former president of the major historical association in the United States, and holds a chair in history he seems to think he and those who think like him are being threatened by a new McCarthyite assault led by groups like ACTA and The National Association of Scholars.

Indeed, one would never know from the Times story that, in fact, ACTA seeks not to suppress antiwar opinion with which it disagrees. The report states its real point: "Although most faculty presumably shared America’s horror and condemnation of the terrorist attacks, some did not. And while professors should be passionately defended in their right to academic freedom, that does not exempt them from criticism." It is clear, reading the report, that it is that stinging criticism that really upsets leftwing scholars like Foner, Gusterson and Gitlin, and not any nonexistent campaign to suppress opinions with which ACTA’s supporters do not agree.

So let us turn to the report itself. One will quickly find, as columnist Jonathan Yardley wrote in The Washington Post (Nov. 26) that the report is a needed antidote "to the tidal wave of leftist insanity that has washed over the professoriat for the past three decades," and is part of a movement that among other things, oppose "the suppression of dissent against leftist orthodoxy." And it is this orthodoxy, ACTA vicepresident Neal told the Times, that they are criticizing: "the dominant campus orthodoxy that so often finds that America and Western Civilization are the source of the world’s ills."

Readers of this website already know how warped a view of the United States so many academics hold. Readers of both The Weekly Standard and The New Republic also have been privy these past two months to a regular "Idiocy Watch," in which the editors of those journals regularly post the most egregious and outrageous statements from our nation’s intellectuals, writers and journalists. Now ACTA has done us the favor of cataloguing the most complete compendium available of how our nation’s faculty has either "refused to make judgments," "invoked tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil," and "even pointed accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself."

Many of their examples will already be familiar, since readers no doubt have spotted the examples earlier in various newspaper and magazine articles, which already cited them as a representative example of the rampant antiAmericanism existing on our campuses.

If there is any quarrel I have with ACTA’s report, it is their failure to identify by name those whose words they quote. Perhaps because they wanted the citations to serve as an example, and not to single out for opprobrium the individuals whose words they cite, quotations are simply presented as, for example, "speaker at Haverford college," or "Professor of English, Brown University." What sense does it make for the report to cite Eric Foner as simply a Professor of History at Columbia University, when it quotes the words he wrote in an article appearing in The London Review of Books, which has been cited already in both The New Republic, The Weekly Standard and in these pages as a prime example of academic stupidity? After all, the words they cite accurately are those uttered by scores of different faculty members throughout our country, and since they obviously proudly believe what they say, shouldn’t they be held accountable and be publicly identified? To leave their names out, I think, lessens the impact of the ACTA report.

Nevertheless, the report gives us in one place as complete a list as possible of what has been going on in institutions of notsohigher learning since September 11. Here we can learn that Duke University shut down a faculty member’s website because he promoted strong military action against terrorism; that the Vice Provost of Penn State University told a faculty member that his web page advocating military action was "insensitive" and "intimidating." We could go on and on, but simply download and read the report for yourself.

Fortunately, the Times story ends by noting that Professor Foner, citing a Harvard poll, said that there was firm support for the Bush administration’s response to the terrorist attack on the campuses. "If our aim is to indoctrinate students with unpatriotic beliefs," he said, "we’re obviously doing a very poor job of it." Thanks to the wisdom of our student body, whose members are obviously smart enough to reject the advice of their leftwing professors, and groups like ACTA and The National Association of Scholars, we can be thankful that perhaps the lost sanity in academia is soon to be fully restored.

Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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