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"Political Indoctrination and Harassment on Campus: Is there a Problem?" By: FrontPage Magazine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 23, 2007


“Political Indoctrination and Harassment on Campus: Is there a Problem?”

Participants:

David Horowitz, Founder & President, Horowitz Freedom Center

Cary Nelson, President, American Association of University Professors.

 

Moderator:

Scott Smallwood, senior editor The Chronicle of Higher Education

 

[Editors' Note: The transcript of this debate has been minimally edited for clarity and to put some of the comments into grammatical prose].  

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  Good afternoon. We’d like to get started with today’s -- the final event of today's conference, a debate between Cary Nelson and David Horowitz. The title for today's debate is “Political Indoctrination and Harassment on Campus: Is there a problem?”

 

I’m Scott Smallwood. I’m an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’d like to welcome our participants today. Everybody here obviously knows David. He's the reason everything is going on here. In 1988 David created The Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which was renamed last year The David Horowitz Freedom Center to institutionalize his campaigns against the left and its anti-American agendas.

 

The Center’s mission is to defend the principles of individual freedom, the rule of law, private property and limited government; and it further seeks to defend free societies in the war against their enemies, and to re-establish academic freedom in American schools.

 

David is the author of numerous books. His latest is Indoctrination U: The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom.

 

Let me introduce Cary Nelson as well.

 

Cary is the President of the American Association for University Professors. He is also   Jubilee Professor of the Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Among his 25 books and 150 essays are a number devoted to modern poetry, the Spanish Civil War and the politics of higher education. He wrote the Manifesto of a Tenured Radical: Higher Education Under Fire; Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education, and Office Hours: Activism & Change in the Academy.

 

For today’s debate, the two have agreed to the following format:  First we'll hear 10-minute presentations from each of them and then we'll have 5 minutes of rebuttal and then I’ll ask a series of questions with about 2 minutes to respond to those, and then we'll take questions from the audience. And finally, we’ll give each of them a few minutes to offer some concluding remarks.

 

We’re going to start by hearing from David Horowitz.

 

David.

 

DAVID HOROWITZ:  Thank you.

 

Welcome everybody. I want to thank Professor Nelson for agreeing to do this debate.

 

Up to now the debate over the issues of academic freedom, intellectual diversity and academic fairness have been bitterly divisive. In fact, they've reflected the kind of bitterness that unfortunately has infected our entire political debate in this country. There really is no reason why this should be so.

 

As Americans, we disagree about many things, and some of them bitterly. If the nation is engaged in war, that's likely to be one of those times. But we also have institutions that bind us as a community and that we all share in as Americans, and about which we can find a common ground of agreement. Elections are one of those institutions. Most of us believe that elections should be secret and that their results should be as valid as possible, that elections should be fair, and that all American citizens should have equal voting rights.

 

Educational institutions are similar. We believe that education should be fair to all students, and that students should have equal rights to an education. It's been a common  understanding of our democracy that in a democracy, it is the function of teachers to teach students how to think, not to tell them what to think.

 

I have been distressed by the tenor of the academic freedom debate. From the beginning, I wanted this to be a non-partisan issue based on that idea that educational institutions are institutions of our common culture and that we should be able to find a common ground in academic freedom principles and academic standards that are nearly one hundred years old.

 

I believe we are going to surprise people and start a new page in the debate today and that is because I had the pleasure of meeting Cary Nelson, who is the President of the American Association of University Professors, for the first time yesterday and spending an hour-and-a-half with him. That conversation showed me that Cary Nelson is a fair-minded individual and that we share certain views of the university. These include the importance of its independence, the importance of maintaining a teacher/student relationship (i.e., that is it not a relationship of equality) and that all students should be treated fairly, whatever their political or religious persuasion or their ethnicity or gender.

 

If Cary Nelson and I were up here debating the war in Iraq or any number of issues, like the presidency of George Bush, you would find that we are pretty much at different ends of the spectrum. I don't know if we're quite at the ends of the spectrum, but definitely on different sides of it. We would have very strong disagreements. And I suspect that we might have some over the university as well. But I listened to Professor Nelson describe the way he teaches his courses, and even though he has a politics which is very different from mine, I think that he is a responsible educator and I have no problem with the way he teaches those courses, even though I might have a problem with his choice of the poets he includes in his canon and doesn't.

 

So, on that note, I will say what I think has been a part of the problem here. Up to now, the opposition to the Academic Bill of Rights has attempted to redefine academic freedom as “free speech” and thus to confuse the two issues.

 

Academic freedom, as defined by Professor Nelson's organization over nearly a hundred-year period, has never been about free speech. It has always been about free inquiry under a professional discipline.

 

If professors had the license to say anything they wanted to in the classroom, and were governed in their classroom discourse by the First Amendment, then professors of astronomy could teach astrology as scientific fact. Professors of geography could teach that the earth is flat. Professors of English could rant against the Iraq war in an English class. And professors of Women’s Studies could conduct courses in globalization, the evils of globalization and how it economically oppresses people.

 

Unfortunately, professors of English do rant against the war in Iraq in English classes, inappropriately and unprofessionally. And professors of Women’s Studies do conduct courses on globalization in which the only texts are Marxist tracts on the evils of the free-market, corporate system. “International feminism” is the non-academic, political rubric under which they discuss globalization. These Women’s Studies professors more often than not have PhDs in Comparative Literature or English literature, and have no professional qualifications whatsoever for teaching about the global economy.

 

I’ve described this as a form of consumer fraud. Students often pay $30,000 or $40,000 a year, and $10,000 even in state schools (which I think is a shame, since state schools should be free) to hear the uninformed opinions or quasi-ignorant opinions of people who are qualified as professionals to teach English literature, but are amateurs at best when it comes to the global economy. Why pay that kind of money when you can get amateur opinions for free on talk radio or in the campus quad?

 

What we have attempted to do in the academic freedom campaign, which has been greatly misrepresented and misunderstood, is to get universities to enforce their own professional standards. It’s almost as simple as that. We conducted hearings, or I should say the Pennsylvania legislature, inspired by the Academic Bill of Rights, conducted hearings on academic freedom. What they examined was the academic freedom policies in place at Pennsylvania universities. What they discovered was that there are no academic freedom protections for students.

 

Penn State University has a perfectly fine academic freedom policy, which I'll just read a bit of. It says:

 

It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his or her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.

 

I dare say there are very few people who would argue with that. Yet that is what my Academic Bill of Rights basically says. Students should be given texts on more than one side of an issue if the issue is controversial, as many issues are - for example the nature/nurture argument, which is a very central argument for Women’s Studies. Students should be made aware that there is an argument and they should be given professional texts, scholarly texts on both sides of this argument. That’s the way a person learns. They should not be required to believe one side of the argument.

 

As I’ve pointed out, for example, at the University of Arizona, there is a Women’s Studies course whose catalogue description begins “Because gender is socially constructed…” such and such will be our course of study. In other words the course assumes as an uncontroversial fact that “gender is socially constructed.” 

 

For those of you who have not been in a university for awhile, what that means is, apart from anatomical differences, everything we associate with the masculine gender or the feminine gender, whether it’s aggression or a nurturing tendency, every aspect of that has been determined by social structures, usually a patriarchal ruling class that imposes passivity on women so that men can oppress them.

 

I have no quarrel with people who want to advance those ideas as a theory in an academic classroom. I do have a quarrel, and the Penn State Academic Freedom regulation has a quarrel, with professors who will present one side of this argument as a fact, a scientific fact, and not include any materials that would provide students with the means to think for themselves on this controversial issue.

 

What the Pennsylvania hearings disclosed was that that Penn State policy was articulated in the employee handbook. But students are not employees. Therefore while professors were obligated not to indoctrinate their students, students did not have any right not to be indoctrinated. Moreover, there was no grievance machinery specifically designed for them to defend such a right. At the same time, administrators from Penn State and other Pennsylvania universities claimed in testimony that their universities fully protected students. That just was not the case. There was no university in the State of Pennsylvania that had such a student specific policy defending students’ academic freedom.

 

Last May, in response to the hearings and our campaign, the faculty senate at Penn State passed a resolution to apply the existing Penn State academic freedom policy to students and to provide them with a grievance machinery to defend that freedom.

 

Such a student-specific policy is crucial because there is an atmosphere of intimidation university campuses - and I know this because I have talked to literally hundreds of students who have told me as much – which causes students to be afraid to lodge complaints against their professors and risk retribution.

 

What I am hoping is that we can turn a corner in this debate and persuade forces inside the university - faculty forces, perhaps someday the American Association of University Professors – to take up the cause of fairness in the classroom, to be concerned about whether professors observe a professional discipline in their discourse, about whether they present both sides of controversial issues, about whether they insist on respect for all students whatever their political views. When the professional academic associations see this as a problem and take it up seriously, we can fold our own tents in this campaign.

 

CARY NELSON:  I want to thank David for inviting me and Sara and the other staff members who helped make the trip possible. My voice is not perfect. I am recovering from a cold. It’s probably nothing more serious than bird flu so don't worry about it.

 

I did get to drop in on last night’s event, thought of giving Rick Santorum a hug and a kiss but decided to prove that the left can be responsible and not seek to pass my cold onto him.

 

I did realize as I looked around the audience last night that my last chance to have seen so many young men with short hair and suits and ties would have been my 1963 high school prom. But I missed my high school prom so last night was an occasion to fulfill that dream. I also apparently missed last night’s news because David partly celebrated the liberation of Baghdad and I didn’t know that Baghdad had been liberated. So I rushed upstairs to turn on CNN but they weren’t covering it.

 

I did have a really good conversation with David yesterday for about an hour and a half and I think that actually, although we are on opposite side of a few issues, we do have a basis to talk with one another.

 

One of David’s staff members, however, reminded me that there are sort of two David Horowitz’s. There's the rather engaging conversationalist and there’s the polemicist. And when they asked me to respond to David’s work today, they asked me in particular to look at Indoctrination U and respond to the more polemical David rather than the one you’ve just heard.  So I am going to respond to the book and also to The Professors a bit which is a book I’ve reviewed. I am going to start by doing so in the form of a kind of little dialogue.[1]

 

All across America K-12 of education is dominated by leftists. In California the teachers are all Stalinists. David, historically and today as well, the primary form of K-12 indoctrination is religious not political. Perhaps you should protest the presence of religion in public school classrooms, though I am not sure all of your conservative funders would welcome that.

 

“In Pennsylvania, an undergraduate named Al Smith or something was forced to write an essay attacking the Iraq war and flunked the course when he refused.”  David, there just isn’t any such student enrolled in any Pennsylvania college.

 

“I can’t be expected to check every story. I don't have the money.”   David, your work is handsomely funded; $14.5 million from right-wing foundations through 2004 alone plus private donations. You have the resources to conduct responsible investigative reporting if you choose to.

 

Out in Colorado the radical leftist Professor Ward Churchill admits he simply looks for evidence supporting his pre-existing beliefs. That’s not responsible research.”  But, David, your entire right-wing career has been based on looking for evidence supporting your own point of view. 

 

It's unbelievable the way The Left resorts to attacking me rather than dealing with the issues I raise.”  David, your book The Professors consists of 101 personal attacks. You’ve made yourself the issue by inaccurate reporting, by changing your positions, and by your continuing penchant for ad hominem attack.

 

If state legislatures don’t start passing laws to mandate balance on university faculties, our campuses will be the last refuge of world communism.”  David, your legislative efforts have consistently failed.

 

“We never really wanted to pass legislation; we just wanted higher education to reform itself.”  David, if you had succeeded in getting legislation passed, you would have followed that agenda. You didn’t. But instead of admitting failure you've rewritten your personal history and claimed a different purpose.

 

“I'm not trying to get rid of leftists; I'm just trying to get rid of idiots.”  David, it’s hard to watch you being an irresponsible polemicist in the morning and credit you as a rational colleague in the afternoon. With all your recent laments about your mistreatment, I fear you are fast becoming the poster child for a new breed of attack dog -- the pit bull who feels sorry for himself.

 

I thought I did see quite a few pit bulls in last night’s audience, the large audience of 200 plus people. I didn’t see many vulnerable pups needing protection from anyone. The day of the vulnerable, weak, impressionable undergraduate who's unschooled and politically un-opinionated is well past.

 

As radio was followed by television, and television was followed by the Internet, the student population had mostly already been in the big city before they left the farm. My young students are prepared for political debate and they’re well stocked with opinions.

 

Now since there’s a certain fondness for quoting out of context, let me give you an opportunity by offering you a personal definition of academic freedom in the classroom, my own definition, in the form a sentence with a beginning and an end and see if you can take both halves of the sentence.

 

What academic freedom in the classroom means to me is the opportunity to do as I please within a complex system of ethical, moral, disciplinary, professional, and curricular constraints -- which is another way of saying none of us can really imagine doing as we actually please. My pedagogical ethic also means honoring my students’ intellectual freedom, which means they're free to raise any subjects they wish and offer any opinions they can, with extra praise and extra credit for disagreeing with me since that's what makes my classes interesting: getting a debate going. I treat all their opinions with respect because that’s part of my professional and human ethic.

 

Students don't quite possess academic freedom because that implies a disciplinary expertise that they don’t yet really have. But they need intellectual freedom. That's something the AAUP asserted back in 1967 when David himself was arguing for the Black Panthers.

 

My own classrooms have always been political, for really two reasons. First, because I believe the purpose of education is not just to teach subject matter, but rather to prepare for informed, thoughtful, critical citizenship. That means being able to evaluate and participate in political debate. That means having -- experiencing thoughtful advocacy in an atmosphere open to differing opinion. I believe that all culture is fundamentally political and that all politics is historically contingent.

 

My academic specialty happens to be modern American poetry. I began teaching contemporary American poetry in 1970 in the midst of the Vietnam War. I suppose I could have pretended that hundreds of American poets were not writing anti-war poetry, but that would hardly have been responsible; it wouldn’t have been to represent my subject matter fairly.

 

I found I could add a bit of color to my classes by describing what it was like to hear Allen Ginsberg read his poetry at an anti-war rally at the United Nations and before 10,000 armed bayoneted troops at the Pentagon. He read the poem Pentagon Exorcism Chant in front of the Pentagon with troops all pointing their bayonets at him on top of a flatbed truck, and I stood beside the truck. I didn't hide the fact.

 

I now teach a week on September 11th poems where the poets’ political points of view are all over the map. But I have no problem telling my students when they read Imiri Baraka’s poem about September 11th that I think his belief that Israel knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand is nothing more than paranoid nonsense. I guess that’s a political opinion. I offer it.

 

When I teach 9/11 poems, they inevitably lead to poems about Afghanistan and Iraq. I have no problem letting my students know that I supported the war in Afghanistan because I felt we faced a mortal enemy there, and I oppose the war in Iraq because I didn’t think it served a practical political purpose.

 

My own difference of opinion on those two wars successfully opens up space for discussion without demonizing anyone or anyone’s different opinion. You cannot take politics out of my classroom anymore than you can take it out of life. It’s built into my subject matter and it’s been built into my subject matter for the whole 37 years in which I’ve taught.

 

I agree with David because it’s been an AAUP position since 1967 when we issued a detailed Bill of Rights for students - a really fine document that’s available online - that students need to appeal on unfair treatment, they need the right to appeal judgment based on prejudice or politics, they need the right to appeal improper grades. All of that.

 

I don’t, on the other hand, believe we need a system to investigate classroom content or classroom speech or that we should be in the business of imposing an external notion of balance on particular courses. 

 

The AAUP believes that balance in university life is achieved over the course of time. In the course of a year, various speakers are invited. Students take courses on one side of an issue, and they hear opinions on the other side of an issue. We don’t believe academic freedom can survive the effort to micro-manage courses, lectures, speeches and all other forms of campus life and guarantee balance occasion by occasion, event by event, and course by course. At that point, true intellectual freedom vanishes.

 

We don’t need a complaint system to investigate professorial speech or classroom content. But if students want to complain to department heads, those problems can be dealt with at that local level.

 

I am not claiming that there are no abuses. In human life there are always abuses. I am claiming that there is no systemic problem and, thus, no need for a systemic solution. We don’t need a fix for a system that’s not fundamentally broken. In fact, this isn’t about the excesses of higher education at all. This whole debate is about the far right trying to take over yet another institution in American life. It’s a takeover effort that needs to be resisted.

 

Thanks.

 

DAVID HOROWITZ:  Maybe I spoke too soon, when I said we’ve started a new page in the debate. I think we’ve turned at least half a page back already. If there’s a genial conversationalist who’s also a polemical attack dog on this platform, it certainly hasn’t been me.

 

You might not know it - because Professor Nelson’s quotes were presented as if they came from me – but I have never in my life said that “all professors are Stalinists.”  I don’t know any student named Al Smith, and I’ve not advanced his case. [The student whose case I have taken up in Pennsylvania is named John Boyer, and he does exist. Anyone interested in the controversy and how Cary Nelson arrived at his mis-understanding can read an account here: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=26981 ] I have never called for legislatures to balance university faculties or curricula. In fact, I never use the word “balance” just as I try never to use the word “bias,” because everybody has a bias. I don’t believe in any artificial imposition of balance. What I have said, is that on controversial matters, students need access to the materials that will allow them to think for themselves.

 

As I said, at Penn State and other universities such provisions are already in place. The problem is that with the exception of Penn State they do not apply to students and are not enforced. One of the statements in the AAUP pronouncements on academic freedom is that professors should not persistently introduce controversial matter into their classes that’s irrelevant to the subject matter.

 

Right now there’s a case at Idaho State where a student dropped out of a course because her professor every day came into class, which was not about the Presidency and not about the war in Iraq, attacking George Bush and attacking republicans until he said, “it would be a good thing for the world if all Republicans were killed,” and the student finally had enough, and is now suing the university for her course money. 

 

Now, what’s going to happen over this statement is that since I don't know what the word-for-word quote is, somebody at the AAUP will find it and find a tiny discrepancy and use that to accuse me of being factually inaccurate.

 

While Cary Nelson accused me of being a tool of the “far right,” I didn’t call anybody a “far leftist” or part of a leftwing plot. To accuse us of trying to takeover the university through the Academic Bill of Rights is preposterous. The first principle of the Academic Bill of Rights is that you can’t fire professors or hire them for their political views. So how could our intention be to use the Academic Bill of Rights to take over the university?

 

From the beginning, ours has simply been a campaign to get the American Association of University Professors and university administrations to enforce their own rules. When I see the American Association of University Professors calling for the discipline of that professor in Idaho or any other professor who has persistently and consistently intruded political issues into the classroom, I'll be satisfied.

 

“Take politics out of the classroom” does not mean take the discussion of politics out of the classroom. It means we don’t want professors who consider themselves political activists using the classroom to indoctrinate their students and recruit them to their causes.

 

At DiscoverTheNetworks.Org, I have posted 13 “Indoctrination Studies” documenting more than 100 courses in which students are required, in order to get credit, to ascribe to radical views of controversial issues and where the texts assigned in the course are all to the left on these issues.

 

In my book, Indoctrination U, I discuss Kansas State University, which has a social welfare course in its Social Work Program which is devoted to a lesson-by-lesson reading of Howard Zinn’s, A People's History of the United States, starting with Christopher Columbus. Howard Zinn is a far-left professor, who has called the United States “the greatest terrorist state.”  He is, in my view, a Stalinist and has always been. Fine. You can assign such a text in history course. But this is course in the Social Work Program. Students have signed up for the course and paid $8,000 a year tuition because they want to become social workers. What does the Vietnam War or whatever Christopher Columbus was alleged to have done to the natives in this hemisphere, what does that have to do with learning how to be a social worker or about social welfare programs?  The answer is nothing. And this professor is a professor of social work who has no qualifications whatsoever as a historian.

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  David, your five minutes are up.

 

DAVID HOROWITZ:  This is the kind of abuse we're talking about and as soon as I see universities doing something about it, I’ll go on to other and better things.

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  Cary, five more minutes for you.

 

CARY NELSON:  Let me try to run through quickly several issues.

 

I’ve published five books about the Spanish Civil War. I’ve published five books about higher education. I wasn’t trained in my doctoral training about either subject. I educated myself about them by reading books, by talking to people, by conducting hundreds and hundreds of interviews. I eventually became expert in those subjects, published widely about them and am certainly recognized world-wide for having some authority to speak in those areas, not just in my original area of modern poetry.

 

So if you look at academic careers, they include a certain amount of development and change. People’s interests vary and they become expert in a variety of new areas as their lives move on. So you can’t judge expertise of a faculty member just by what he or she studied as a student. Expertise changes over time.

 

The AAUP’s 1940 statement about academic freedom and tenure was clarified in 1970 when we added the phrase “persistent intrusions of material not in the official course description.”  We recommended against faculty members’ letting extraneous material get in the way of their actually teaching the course, but we recognize that things happen.

 

Most schools by the afternoon after the September 11th attacks had cancelled classes and were immediately providing special teach-ins and memorial services on campus because of those terrible events. But actually, all around the country there were schools where the 8:00am or 9:00am class the day after on September 12th still took place. It was a rare chemistry course or physics course that on the morning of September 12th did not find itself devoted to the events of September 11th. And it would have been insane and destructive for those faculty members to suppress their students’ need and desire to talk about those events.

 

Things happen, which means that you have to temporarily set aside your official subject matter and let political and social issues have a place in the classroom. Once that's happened, the students have the intellectual right to bring up those same subjects later in the semester.

 

And if your students bring it up again two weeks later in chemistry class, you can’t say, “No, we’re back to chemistry. We can’t talk about September 11th again.”  That’s the students’ intellectual freedom. It gives them the right once those subjects have been broached to address them again.

 

In the end, it has to be the faculty member’s decision about what counts as “persistent intrusion” and what counts as an acceptable addition to the course.

 

Some people teach so that they can’t spare five minutes in a whole semester. Others teach so that from time to time you have five or ten minutes to devote to other topics that concern the students and that indeed are peripheral to the official subject matter of the class, but that have to do with subjects that are pressing and that are very much on people’s minds.

 

It’s okay for the classroom to be a space that also opens itself to other matters if both the students and the faculty members are comfortable about that and need to do it.

 

So our definition of politics in the classroom allows for subject matter occasionally to be brought in which is not part of the official course content. And we don’t need a system whereby every time you mention something like that in a classroom, that’s not officially part of the subject matter, the student gets to lodge a complaint, you get to have a surveillance system set up, and you get to have the course and the faculty member investigated. Nothing would be gained by that except the loss of a sense of intellectual freedom on campus.

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  Cary, that’s your five minutes there.

 

We’re going to move to asking some more questions. I’ll start by asking a couple and we’ll give each of our participants two minutes to respond, and then leave some time to take some questions from the audience.

 

I am going to start with a question for Mr. Nelson.

 

Mr. Horowitz often talks about how professors and others in the Academy aren't willing to engage him seriously on these issues. When you reviewed his book, The Professors, you wrote:

 

Please ignore this book. Don’t buy it. Don’t read it. Try not to mention it in idle conversation. If I have erred in reviewing it, I do so only to persuade you that just this once less rather than more speech may be the cure for the disease. The well-funded industry, that is, David Horowitz, would like the book’s biased, shoddy imitation of scholarship to enter the national consciousness.

 

Given that, why agree to be here at all today?

 

CARY NELSON:  Well, the fact that I’m here means that I’m willing to have a conversation. What most upset me about the 101 Professors volume and still does -- I don’t know everyone covered in that book, but a number of the people I’ve known for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, a long period of time and I am familiar with a whole range of work that they’ve produced as scholars.

 

When I attempt to evaluate their careers, when I attempt to evaluate their contributions to higher education, I’m concerned with the whole range of things that they’ve done. What’s their life work?  Where does the main weight of their intellectual professional and moral commitments lie?  What’s the full range of things that they’ve done? 

 

That’s largely a book in which for many of those people their primary works of scholarship are simply set aside and ignored. Occasional political comments are taken out of context sometimes, letters to the editor, you know, occasional political interventions and their entire lives -- and their meaning and their presence in American culture is evaluated on the basis of those occasional statements. That to me, as a scholar, was a fundamental violation of fairness.

 

I expect to look at the full range of someone's work and to evaluate their careers in their entirety.

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  David?

 

DAVID HOROWITZ:  The Professors was not a book about the full range of these academics’ work. It was about very specific problems, which were identified in the 15,000 word introduction I wrote to the book, which nobody on the left seems to have read. The main point I was trying to make was that there are professors that either regard themselves as activists and their activism as integral to their scholarship, or they support the idea that activism can be integral to scholarship.

 

Scholarship should be a disinterested inquiry into the truth or knowledge. That’s how scholarship has been defined in the academic profession and that’s what “academic” means. The very word “academic” means that you don’t have a specific end in view, that you are going to take your inquiry wherever it will take you.

 

My book is filled with statements of professors saying how their activism is integral to their work, as it is to their lives. That is their agenda and my book is an argument that this is at odds with academic freedom and academic standards.

 

The reference that Professor Nelson made to my claim about Ward Churchill that he said he looks for evidence to support his pre-existing beliefs is something that Ward Churchill actually told the faculty panel that investigated him. Churchill actually said this; I didn’t make it up. In describing his research method, he told the panel something like “I know what I want to prove and then my research is finding the proof of it.”  That’s not scholarly method. I think we all recognize that.

 

I have no problem with a class being devoted to an event like 9/11 after an event like that. Any class. The question is whether professors treat their classes as political platforms regularly. It’s not that hard to find out. But it takes university resources to do it – and that is where my statement that “I don't have the resources to do it comes from. A given school can have 35,000 students, even more. Every one of those students gets a teacher evaluation form from the university. How difficult would it be to put on the teacher evaluation forms a question like “What is your teacher’s attitude towards intellectual diversity?” These forms will have such questions about gender diversity, ethnic and racial diversity, and sexual orientation. How about adding: “Does the teacher treat students who disagree with them respectfully?”  How hard is that to do?

 

The American Association of University Professors should advocate that every university administration put that on question on the evaluation forms. This argument would be over.

 

SCOTT SMALLWOOD:  Mr. Horowitz, question for you. Last year the AAUP conducted a public opinion survey to see what the public felt about a number of things related to professors and higher education, including some questions that were related to your campaign. Certainly those results can be spun by different sides in various ways. I’d like to talk about one result.

 

Most people in the survey didn’t think political bias in the classroom is the most important issue facing higher education. More than 40% chose a much more basic worry, the high cost of tuition. Even binge drinking beat out political bias, which just 8% cited as the top issue.

 

Is this campaign a tempest in a teapot?

 

DAVID HOROWITZ: Oh, I don’t think so. Of course, the cost of higher education is important. And politicization of the university which concerns us is pretty well confined to liberal arts faculties.

 

When you’re talking “higher education,” the majority of resources go into biology courses, the hard sciences generally, and departments like Economics, which happens actually to be a field which is generally taught in a professional manner. Only a segment of the university, the liberal arts segment which includes new interdisciplinary fields like Women’s Studies and Peace Studies, contains seriously problematic courses.

 

Most people are just unaware of what goes on in these courses. That they just do not know. So my campaign really has been to try shine a light on these problems.

 

In my view, there is  a problem if one student in one course, like Bradley Alexander whom we heard from this morning, has inflicted on him what Bradley reported. Bradley wanted to be a history major at the University of Georgia. He signed up for a history course about the first and second World Wars. On the first day of class the professor went into a class-long rant against the war in Iraq, George Bush and Dick Cheney, used obscenities and attacked the President and Vice President as cowards. This passionate outburst caused Bradley Alexander to believe that he could not get a fair grade in the course and that it was not going to stay on the subject he signed up for. He withdrew and wrote article about his experience Frontpagemag.com. The entire history faculty responded by signing a petition supporting the professor against the student, who had to give up what he wanted to study, which was history, and change his major. This case alone would justify the campaign I’m waging.

 

Notes:

 

[1] As my tone was meant to emphasize, these are partly satiric imitations, not direct quotes.

 

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