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Indoctrination U Revisited By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 10, 2009

The following is a new preface to David Horowitz’s book Indoctrination U, which has just been published in its paperback edition. Horowitz’s latest book (co-written with Front Page Magazine’s Jacob Laksin), is One-Party Classroom, a survey of indoctrination courses offered at 12 representative schools across the county. Starting this week, Horowitz has embarked on a nationwide campaign to protest those courses, which will take him to the schools examined in the book, including the College of DuPage, the University of Texas, the University of Arizona, Arizona State, Temple University, Penn State and Columbia University. -- The Editors

I had three goals in writing Indoctrination U. The first was to describe the campaign I launched in the fall of 2003 for an Academic Bill of Rights at American universities; the second was to provide case studies of the classroom abuses the Academic Bill of Rights was designed to correct; the third was to document the bare-knuckle tactics of the opponents of the bill, who have conducted themselves in a manner more appropriate to a political brawl than to a discussion of academic issues.

From its inception, the proposal for an Academic Bill of Rights inspired fierce controversy. A recently published book, The Academic Bill of Rights Debate, summarizes its impact: “Few academic topics have created such a furor in so short a time…. By November of 2006, it had already generated 74 articles in major newspapers, at least 143 articles in all newspapers nationwide, 54 television and radio broadcasts, 47 newswire articles, 20 articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 73 articles in InsideHigherEd.com, dozens of articles in major magazines, and some 154,000 hits in the obligatory Google search.”[1]

The Academic Bill of Rights Debate sets out to present the controversy in an academic manner but instead joins it in a partisan attack. Except the author of the bill himself, every contributor to the volume manifests extreme hostility to the reform proposal, which is a liberal measure based on long-standing academic tradition. The extreme nature of some of the attacks is reflected in a contribution by Professor Joan Wallach Scott who describes the Academic Bill of Rights in these words: “It recalls the kind of government intervention in the academy practiced by totalitarian governments (historical examples are Japan, Nazi Germany, China, Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union) who seek to control thought rather than permit a free marketplace of ideas.”[2] In point of fact, the Academic Bill of Rights calls for no government intervention in the academy and is an effort to protect students from thought control. It was specifically designed to thwart faculty attempts to indoctrinate students by presenting professorial opinion as scientific fact and by failing to assign texts critical of faculty orthodoxy.

The discussion as presented in The Academic Bill of Rights Debate is so one-sided that even its editor, a professor of education at the University of Akron, joins the assault. Instead of providing a dispassionate summary, Stephen Aby’s introduction indulges in tendentious attacks on the bill and its author. Although the Academic Bill of Rights is explicitly designed to articulate long-established principles of academic freedom, the debate is introduced with the following statement: “…The Academic Bill of Rights is a recent and controversial attack on traditional notions of academic freedom…” which is the very opposite of the truth. [3]

Another text with a focus on the academic freedom campaign has been written by John K. Wilson, publisher of the webzine Illinois Academe and a member of the American Association of University Professors. According to Wilson, “The Academic Bill of Rights is the story of how David Horowitz, pretending to stand up for ‘student rights’ and moral conduct by professors, led a crusade to have legislators force every college in the country to adopt the most coercive system of grievance procedures and investigations of liberal professors ever proposed in America.” [4]

Despite Wilson’s claims, the ”Academic Bill of Rights” contains no provision for a grievance machinery and I have never asked legislators to force colleges to do anything. Nor have I ever asked for legislation that would apply to “every college in the country,” since even the non-binding resolutions I have sponsored address only public universities. In crafting my proposals for academic reform I have been careful to respect the independence of academic institutions. I have consequently regarded the problem of enforcement better left to university faculty and administrators to devise. I have not proposed a single piece of legislation to “force” colleges to adopt any reforms, and have never proposed legislation to create academic grievance procedures. Nor have I ever called for “investigations of liberal professors.” In fact, I have opposed making the point of view of professors a subject for remedial measures. I have said publicly (and repeatedly) that “bias” is not an issue, that every individual has a “bias” and professors have a right to express theirs in the classroom so long as they do so in a professional manner, and in accordance with the principles of academic freedom. What faculty may not do is to impose their bias on students through coercive grading, or by failing to provide them with critical reading materials, or by presenting their personal prejudices as established wisdom.

The unprincipled campaign against the Academic Bill of Rights has been conducted almost exclusively by two left-wing teacher organizations – the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations represent less than 10% of all professors at institutions of higher learning but they are able to present themselves as the voice of faculty because the vast majority of academics have chosen to maintain a discreet silence on these matters -- perhaps to avoid becoming targets of similar unprincipled attacks.

The influence of this aggressive political minority should not be underestimated. In a situation where there is widespread misrepresentation of an argument, it is difficult for more disinterested parties to get the facts straight. This problem can be seen in the third book to appear since the publication of Indoctrination U, which discusses the Academic Bill of Rights. Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities is a publication of the Brookings Institution, and is the only one of the three texts that attempts to provide a reasonably balanced view of the issues.[5] Written by three academics, including a former university president, Closed Minds is promoted by a blurb that praises its “solid empirical research, historical breadth and sober impartiality.”

While a far cry from the preceding polemical caricatures, however, Closed Minds’ account of the controversy is often untrustworthy: “[Horowitz’s] proposals included funding for legislative ‘watchdog’ staffs, investigating student complaints of classroom bias, and imposing annual reporting requirements on public colleges and universities.”[6] This statement is wrong on two of three agendas mentioned. I have never supported a legislative watchdog staff or an annual reporting requirement.[7] Both of these have been elements in “diversity” legislation proposed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which I have not supported.

A section of Closed Minds focuses on a project that I did put my efforts behind, one central to my campaign. Unfortunately, Closed Minds misrepresents this as well and in a manner that compromises the academic freedom campaign itself. In 2005, the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the creation of an Academic Freedom Committee and a series of hearings about the academic freedom policies of public universities in the Commonwealth. These hearings led directly to the most significant achievement of the academic freedom campaign to date -- the creation at Penn State and Temple University of the first academic freedom regulations for students anywhere in the United States. As a direct result of the hearings, Penn State and Temple also created the first (and only) grievance machineries for handling student complaints related to academic freedom.[8]

These events are discussed in Indoctrination U but the authors of Closed Minds overlook this text and the achievements it records.[9] Instead, Closed Minds’ account of the Pennsylvania hearings follows closely the script of the teacher unions and their legislative allies, which was designed to conceal what the Committee actually accomplished in order to deny the very existence of the problems it addressed.

The inaccuracies in Closed Minds begin with a false account of the origins of the Pennsylvania Committee on Academic Freedom, and the legislation which authorized it. According to Closed Minds “the precipitating event” that led to the creation of the Committee was an erroneous claim originating with me, namely that Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 was shown in a Penn State biology class prior to the 2004 presidential election. Both of these alleged facts are used by the authors to discredit the hearings. Following the teacher union script, the authors of Closed Minds conclude that the hearings were a “solution” in search of a problem that didn’t exist, and that I was the promoter of a false claim that it did.

But, as the public record reveals, these allegations are false. The event that actually inspired the authorizing legislation had nothing to do with a showing of Farenheit 9/11 in a biology class. The accurate account of these origins was reported in a New York Times article “Professor’s Politics Draw Lawmakers Into The Fray,” which appeared on December 25, 2005, shortly after the hearings began. The article, written by reporter, Michael Janofsky, identified the “precipitating event” as a Republican Party picnic attended by Republication state legislator Gibson Armstrong. At the picnic, Armstrong was approached by one of his constituents, an Iraq War veteran named Jennie Mae Brown, who complained that she had been subjected to rants against the military by her physics professor at Penn State.[10] This episode inspired Armstrong to begin drafting legislation and also to consult me as an academic reformer for advice on how to proceed. I have re-told this story twice for publication– in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times a month after the Janofsky article appeared, and also in the text of Indoctrination U, so there is little excuse for the three authors of Closed Minds to get this wrong.[11]

Not only is Closed Minds in fundamental error in stating that a claim about Farenheit 9/11 provided the inspiration for Armstrong’s legislation, it is wrong in claiming that the charge originated with me. In fact the claim was made by a member of Representative Armstrong’s legislative staff and I heard it from Representative Armstrong himself. I then casually referred to it on a couple of occasions as one of many other classroom examples of professorial abuses that suggested such hearings were needed. At the same time, I provided scores of other cases of similar faculty behavior – all ignored by the Democratic legislators, the teacher unions and the authors of Closed Minds. Months before the Pennsylvania hearings began a biology professor at Penn State protested to Armstrong’s staff that the charge was groundless and asked the legislator to provide a source for the charge. When members of Armstrong’s staff could not substantiate the claim, I stopped referring to it and never did so again.

Notwithstanding these facts, the authors of Closed Minds make the Farenheit 9/11 episode –wholly incidental to the Pennsylvania reform effort – the focus of five pages of their book, almost half the space they allot to their entire discussion of the hearings.[12] They do so not because this claim was important either to the testimony before the Pennsylvania Committee or to the reform effort itself, but because it was the centerpiece of the attempts by opponents of reform -- the teacher unions and the Democratic members of the legislative Committee -- to discredit the hearings and the man they held responsible for them.

The attacks were led by co-chair of the Committee itself -- Representative Lawrence Curry – described as a “moderate” by the authors of Closed Minds. Curry had voted against the legislation that created the Committee and that authorized the hearings, and he attacked the proceedings throughout. Nor did he confine his opposition to the Committee chambers and the hearing room. Curry was the keynote speaker at two protest rallies organized by the teacher unions, at which the hearings – which were then ongoing -- were denounced as a “McCarthy witch-hunt,” a patent absurdity since the Committee focused on policies and institutions not individuals and no individual names were used.[13] None of these facts is mentioned by the authors of Closed Minds, although subject bizarre attacks by the Committee’s co-chairman would seem to warrant notice.

I was the last witness to testify at the hearing sessions which were held at Temple University on January 9 and 10, 2005.[14] In my testimony I introduced the signed statement of a pro-life student at Penn State named Kelly Keelan.[15] Keelan described a Women’s Studies class she had taken in which her professor instructed students that women should be “proud” of their abortions and then made them all stand and chant “abortion, abortion.” Keelan testified that she was reduced to tears by this demonstration because she felt there was no place for her in the class. Nor did such a demonstration have anything to do with the academic study of women. It was clearly about hectoring the students with the aim of persuading them to adopt the professor’s political prejudices.

This was precisely the kind of abuse the Academic Bill of Rights was designed to prevent. Curry and his Democratic colleagues showed no interest in Keelan’s complaint or in the testimony of Temple student Logan Fisher who provided similar examples of faculty abuse. Nor did any of the Democratic legislators (or the authors of Closed Minds) show any concern about the thirty students who filed complaints with Representative Armstrong but asked that their names be withheld out of fear of faculty reprisal. Instead, in order to distract attention from these abuses and to create the impression that they did not exist, the Democrats waited until the very end of the hearing session to focus their attention on the erroneous claim about Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11, which had been no part of my testimony or that of any other proponent of academic reform during the ten hours of the proceedings.

When it was his turn to question me, Curry wanted to know if I had retracted the statement about the Moore film. I pointed out that the claim did not originate with me and was no part of my testimony and was, in any case, irrelevant to the proceedings. Moreover, I had not repeated the claim once the Penn State professor challenged it. But Curry was uninterested in anything I had done, and persisted in pressing me to say then and there whether I “retracted” the statement.

It was a “when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife?” question. If I admitted to “retracting” statement, the presumption would be (and was) that it was material to my case for reform, which it was not. If I refused to answer, and thus failed to concede that it was false, I would be guilty of making up stories to establish the need for reform. Curry’s intent in hectoring me over the issue was to stigmatize me for the benefit of a hostile education media covering the hearings who would be sure to repeat the charge and make it the centerpiece of their account of the hearings themselves – which they did. The headline for the lead story appearing the next day in InsideHigherEd.com was “Retractions From Horowitz.” In the article that followed, editor Scott Jaschik ignored my testimony and that of other witnesses supporting the need for an Academic Bill of Rights. Instead Jaschik focused relentlessly on the “retraction.”

In their version of what transpired, the authors of Closed Minds elevate this political sideshow into a defining moment of the proceedings. This fiction is made to seem plausible in their account because it is prefaced by the false claim that the alleged showing of Michael Moore’ film was the “precipitating event” that led to the creation of the academic freedom hearings, which it was not. In drawing their own lessons about the hearings, the authors of Closed Minds follow the Committee’s final report, written by the Democrats, which concluded that academic freedom violations on Penn State campuses were “rare.”

The authors of Closed Minds fail to mention that the Committee’s final report was the product of an eleventh hour coup by the Democratic minority, who had opposed the hearings and aligned themselves with the teachers’ unions from the beginning. The result of this coup was an evisceration of the original report and a rewriting of its recommendations. The coup was the work of a coalition of Committee members – five Democrats and two Republicans -- who had manifested their displeasure with the Committee and its work from the outset. One of them, Representative Dan Surra, on the hearings’ opening day described the hearings as “a colossal waste of time”.[16]

The two Republican members of the coup had defected from the Committee majority after the Democrats won control of the Pennsylvania House in an election that occurred while the hearings were in session. This created a new Committee majority whose members were on record opposing its mandate. After the completion of the original Committee report, the anti-reform coalition was able to block a vote of the Republican caucus which would have ratified the draft. This vote had been scheduled to take place a week before the final report deadline, but the two Republicans failed to show up depriving the caucus of a quorum.[17] Days later, on the eve of the final deadline, the new coalition took control and gutted the report – eliminating its summary of the evidence. The new majority then rewrote the report’s conclusions.[18]

The original draft which had been submitted to the Republican caucus contained a lengthy “Summary of Testimony,” which reviewed the ten months of hearings and reported their findings.[19] On the basis of the summarized evidence, the draft concluded that there were no academic freedom protections for Pennsylvania students in place at Pennsylvania’s public universities when the Committee began its hearings. It found that the existing academic freedom provisions were contained exclusively in employee handbooks and teacher-union contracts and did not apply to students. The original draft therefore recommended that “student-specific academic freedom rights” be adopted these universities: “Public institutions of higher learning within the Commonwealth should review existing academic freedom policies and procedures to ensure that a student-specific academic freedom policy, which ensures student rights and a detailed grievance procedure are readily available.”[20]

This draft failed to be ratified because when the two Republicans failed to show up. The Democrats staged their coup days later, on the evening before the final deadline. The coup leaders did not bother to write a new report. On the other hand, they could not leave in place the “Summary of Testimony” in the original, which demonstrated the need for student-specific academic freedom policies. They resolved the dilemma by simply gutting the report and removing the entire section.

Demoralized by their electoral defeat and facing a new majority on their Committee, the remaining Republicans agreed to sign on to the final result, which expressed the position the Democrats had maintained throughout the hearings -- that there was no problem and the hearings were essentially a waste of time. It was a depressing display of government in action.

In producing the Committee’s final report, the aim of the new majority was to eliminate the key recommendation of the draft -- that universities adopt “student-specific academic freedom policies.” This would have been to admit a problem existed. Their goal was accomplished by dropping the phrase “student-specific” from the result. In a new brief section called “Findings” – which replaced the missing “Summary” -- the authors wrote: “Concerns regarding the effectiveness of academic freedom policies were raised during the four public hearings. However, at institutions with academic freedom policies in place, it appears the policies are effective at resolving disputes.”[21] But there were no such policies in place at Pennsylvania’s public institutions of higher learning, and thus the statement was meaningless and -- worse -- a subterfuge.

The “Findings” also reported: “The Committee received testimony from each sector of public higher education and determined that academic freedom violations are rare.”[22] But the committee did not investigate “academic freedom violations” – it merely accepted the testimony of university officials that under their existing academic freedom regulations complaints were rare. But the existing regulations did not apply to students. Nor was any grievance machinery in place at any Pennsylvania university for handling student academic freedom complaints.[23] At Penn State, to take one example, documented in the now eliminated “Summary of Testimony,” there was indeed an existing academic freedom policy -- HR64. But this policy could only be found in the university’s Employee Handbook and obviously did not apply to students. Its grievance procedure specifically stated that it was only available to faculty members.

This defect in the Penn State regulations was recognized and then remedied in May 2005 by the passage of Faculty Senate Resolution 20.00. This resolution applied HR64 to students and created a grievance machinery for them. The Faculty Senate Resolution was a direct response to the hearings and showed that creating “student-specific” rights was both necessary and also a non-partisan issue. The Penn State measure was followed by an action of the Temple University trustees to adopt a similar policy.[24] But this left approximately fifteen public universities in Pennsylvania without academic freedom protections for their students. There were also problems with the new grievance machinery that would become immediately apparent.

In the fall of 2008, a Penn State student named Abigail Beardsley attempted to take advantage of the newly created grievance machinery at Penn State. Beardsley had enrolled in a French class described in the college catalogue as a course in the French language – French vocabulary and syntax. During one of the classroom sessions, the professor had showed a portion of Michael Moore’s film Sicko. Like Moore’s other “documentaries,” Sicko is a political propaganda film, making a case for socialized medicine. Abigail Beardsley regarded the showing as a violation of Penn State’s new student academic freedom policy. Here is an excerpt from her complaint:

According to the syllabus for French 112, the course objective is to develop students’ skills in reading, writing and speaking the French language. The catalogue description defines the course goal as not only that the student should “acquire new knowledge of the French language, but …also build upon what you have already learned as a student of French. The focus of the course is on real-life language use, the integrations of language and culture, and the development of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

The clarity of these objectives is admirable. But during the spring semester of 2008, Nate Sebold, the instructor for Section 1 of French 112 took valuable class time to show the controversial Michael Moore propaganda film Sicko, which is an attack on the free market health care system in the United States and an endorsement of socialized medicine in England, Canada, France and Communist Cuba. The section of Moore’s film praising France’s socialized health care system was shown to the class on March 19th. No critical evaluations of the film or contrary views of socialized medicine were provided by the instructor, which would have allowed students to think for themselves on these controversial matters. Penn State Policy HR64 explicitly requires instructors to “provide [students] access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.” It further instructs professors not to introduce controversial materials that are irrelevant to the class subject and outside their area of professional expertise. The showing of Sicko in French 112 was a clear violation of both these principles and of Policy HR64 and is the gravamen of my complaint.[25]

When Abigail Beardsley filed her complaint with the chairman of the French Department, as the regulation required, the chairman rejected the appeal and supported the instructor’s decision to show Moore’s propaganda film in class. Without the prospect of support from other members of the Penn State faculty Beardsley became discouraged, and decided not to pursue her case. Another Penn State student, A.J. Fluehr had filed a previous complaint under the new regulations, which was successful. But Fluehr was discouraged by the process which dragged over 11 months and pitted him against the department chair and faculty members who clearly regarded his concerns as frivolous and himself as a nuisance. Fluehr was only able to obtain a positive resolution to his complaint after he submitted it to the college dean. The dean rejected a second Fluehr complaint and a third fell by the wayside.[26]

There are no visible conservatives on the faculty at Penn State and no significant support among liberal faculty for students such as Abigail Beardsley and A.J. Fluehr. The difficulty of filing student complaints in a hostile environment with uncertain repercussions from faculty members came up at the Pennsylvania Committee hearings but could not be seriously addressed in the partisan atmosphere. For all intents and purposes, efforts to institute what ought to be a simple policy to protect students continues to be stymied.

Widespread classroom showings of Moore’s films Bowling for Columbine, Farenheit 9/11 and Sicko – without critical commentary -- provide a useful index of the decline of intellectual standards documented in Indoctrination U. These showings are naked attempts to persuade students of the correctness of the instructors’ personal views and could not occur without the similarly widespread acceptance of political agitation as a suitable form of classroom instruction. These and other events described in this preface provide a benchmark of the success achieved by the entrenched opponents of academic freedom. As Indoctrination U. documents, and as books such as Closed Minds demonstrate, the denial that there is even a problem remains the prevailing attitude in the university community. In the bitterly contested atmosphere created by the opponents of reform, little progress is likely to be made, and the decline of academic standards will continue, which is unfortunate for both liberal and conservative students alike, and is why Indoctrination U was written.

Los Angeles

November, 2008


[1] Stephen H. Aby, editor, The Academic Bill of Rights, 2007, p. 1.

[2] Aby, op. cit., p. 197. See pp. 39-45 of the present text for a discussion of Joan Wallach Scott

[3] Ibid.

[4] John K. Wilson, Patriotic Correctness, 2008, p. 70

[5] Bruce L.R. Smith, Jeremy D. Mayer, L. D. Fritschler, Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities, Brookings, 2008

[6] Closed Minds, op. cit. p. 96

[7] The legislation which I am associated with can be found here: http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/documents/?c=Legislation-Texts

[8] Confusion on this matter has arisen because most universities do provide grievance machinery for students who feel they have been unfairly graded. Administrators who testified at the Pennsylvania hearings played on this confusion to claim that their students’ academic freedom was already protected and did not require an Academic Bill of Rights. But the matter of grading is only one area affecting the academic freedom of students. The templates for the existing grievance procedures do not include statements defining academic freedom and consequently do not provide guidelines to students, or a framework for academic freedom complaints. One of the issues brought before the Pennsylvania hearings was that students were unaware of the academic freedom statements of their universities (which in any case did not apply at the time to students). Students would therefore be unaware of any rights they might have. One of the Committee recommendations was to make students aware of their rights.

[9] Pp. ­17-18; 71-80­

[11] Indoctrination U., pp. 17-18

[12] Closed Minds, op. cit., pp. 129-133

[13] Indoctrination U., op. cit. p. 80. The hearings were deliberately designed to be as far from a McCarthy witch-hunt as possible. They specifically excluded the mention of any professors’ or students’ names, precisely to avoid the abuses for which McCarthy was famous. On the first day of the hearings, the Committee chairman, Tom Stevenson laid down the hearings guidelines: “This Committee’s focus will be on the [academic] institutions and their policies, not on professors, not on students.” The Committee strictly adhered to this directive, which didn’t dissuade Curry from making his irresponsible attacks.

[14] Most of this testimony is reprinted in Chapter 4 of Indoctrination U, pp. 71-80

[15] This part of my testimony is not included in the present volume, but can be found here: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.aspx?GUID={093DA6DC-A6C5-4269-86C7-89E28BD8BFA6} .

[16] Indoctrination U., p. 79

[17] One of Republicans, Lynn Herman, who represented a district containing Penn State University, reported that he had a doctor’s appointment as an excuse for missing the caucus. This fiction was designed to prevent the Republican majority from realizing that a coup was in progress.

[18] I was the author the original draft report which was then revised by the majority counsel.

[19] The text of the original report before it was gutted and its recommendations rewritten by the Democrats and Republican legislator Lynn Herman can be found here: http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/2324/pennsylvanias-academic-freedom-reforms. The official report -- gutted and revised by the Democrats -- can be found here: http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/2656/final-report-of-the-select-committee-on-academic-freedom-in-higher-education

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] The original draft, cited in footnote 19, documents the absence of student-specific academic freedom policies at all of Pennsylvania’s public universities at the time of the hearings. See “Summary of Testimony,” which is the section of the original draft that was eliminated by the Democrats.

[24]Indoctrination U, pp. 122-3.

[25] A copy of the complaint was sent to me by Abigail Beardsley.

[26] I advised AJ Fluehr throughout the process. A record of his complaints is available at: http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=522.

David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.

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