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Horror on the Left By: Terry Cowgill
TriCornerExtra | Monday, April 28, 2008

In watching David Horowitz’s transformation from lefty radical, confidant of Huey Newton and the son of communists, all the way to conservative Republican, I have always marveled at how deeply the hard left despises him — more so than they do most right wingers.

I suppose it’s because he is seen as a turncoat — someone who used to be one of them, but has peered through the fog and rejected heroes of the left such as Howard Zinn, whom Horowitz condemned last night as “a Stalinist fraud.”

Once Nancy Johnson country, the Northwest Corner is now solidly blue. Still, about 75 people turned out see Horowitz at the Elfers music hall at The Hotchkiss School [see photo at left]. Before he began, Horowitz worked the room, introducing himself to everyone there. I chatted briefly with him about being a community journalist — a job he professed great respect for because “you really get to know the people you cover.”

The appearance was sponsored by the Hotchkiss Republicans and Young America’s Foundation, a conservative young people’s organization Horowitz has supported for years.

Horowitz, a nationally know author and activist who appears regularly as a guest on cable news shows, has long been a champion of academic freedom and has lamented the extent to which academia has been dominated by the left, especially on college campuses, but also in settings such as Hotchkiss.

In her introduction, Natalie Boyse, a junior at the school and a member of the Hotchkiss Republicans, lionized Horowitz in a way that would probably even make the Heritage Foundation blush.

“You are an inspiration to all of us who cherish academic freedom,” Natalie said.

Rather than potificate from the ornate-looking lectern that had been set up for him, Horowitz got ahold of a wireless microphone and walked back and forth on the stage, delivering a 50-minute sermon on academic freedom, which he emphasized again and again, was not the same thing as freedom of speech.

“When was in college and graduate school I never once heard an instructor make a political statement, never tried to persuade the class of a political point,” Horowitz, 69, said to the audience, some of whom were visibly nodding their heads in approval. “They were professional teachers. Today at least 10% are political activists rather than scholars.”

Although I’m 18 years younger than Horowitz, my experiences are consistent with his. I attended a school much like Hotchkiss in the 1970s and then on to a Canadian university in the 70s and early 80s. Political statements by my teachers were rare, as were attempts to state opinion as fact.

But by the time I got to Wesleyan as a grad student in the late 80s, political pontifications by professors were more commonplace — and in literature class, no less. I’d say 20 to 30% of my instructors occasionally lectured us how on close-minded Americans were or how pervasive racism and sexism were. My literary theory prof, Jim Stone, was an avowed Marxist — although, ironically (and in between his wrongheaded political statements), he was also the best teacher I had while in Middletown.

Horowitz, who is the author of an Academic Bill of Rights, recalled the story of a student who told him his French professor at Penn State took up valuable class time with a showing of “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s scathing indictment of the U.S. healthcare system. Horowitz likened it to going “to your doctor and getting a lecture on Iraq.”

Evidently someone at Hotchkiss had told him a teacher there had likened President Bush to Hitler, causing Horowitz to go off on a another riff: “If people are allowed to use their classrooms as political soapboxes, then they’re destroying the mission of the institution.”

Another student asked him what he thought of censorship and suggested she had been warned by school officials against using a politically loaded phrase — to which Horowitz replied: “I would not like to see you censored for the use of the word Islamofacism, but it’s a private school. It doesn’t fall under the first amendment.”

One student, whom others identified as Alex, asked Horowitz a lengthy question about the Middle East. When the answer did not satisfy him, Alex asked another argumentative question and another until John Virden, the school’s assistant headmaster, attempted to shut the affair down and have the students make their queries privately with the guest speaker. But Horowitz insisted on taking a few more questions and then the event adjourned to a small reception out in the hall.

I thought the man made a very compelling case against bias in the classroom. You would think that even the left could agree with him that bringing a heavy political agenda into the classroom (be it left or right) is simply wrong. But no, many in the academy see Horowitz’s crusade as an attack on them, when in reality if they were simply doing their jobs, they would have nothing to worry about.

I must admit I had half expected some mild protests, since Horowitz has attracted his share of them in the past (and since there were already lefty protesters ready to spring into action the next day during Bush’s visit to Kent). Students have in the past tried to shout Horowitz down and prevent his voice from being heard. He’s even been the victim of a pie throwing.

But I felt proud to be at that lecture and reassured that, although I’m sure many on the Hotchkiss campus can’t stand him him, Horowitz was allowed to be heard, just as his detractors are. And there were no pies … what a country and what a school!

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