In this final part of the debate, I have broken Steinberger’s commentary on “The Idea of Academic Freedom” into several sections to make it easier for the reader to follow the arguments. The exchange is particularly illuminating, in my view, in the way it reveals Professor Steinberger’s instinctive bias against conservative thought. I think the existence of this attitude on the part of a serious and seasoned academic liberal makes it easier to understand the exclusion of conservatives from university faculties --DH.
For those just joining the debate, Peter Steinberger is Professor of Political Science and Dean of Faculty at Reed University.
4. The Idea of Academic Freedom
The main part of your response concerns the concept of academic freedom. Again, I find your comments to be – in some combination – unresponsive, confused, and self-contradictory.
To begin with some preliminaries: you say that faculties must, in the end, be accountable to some authority, e.g., governing boards, trustees or legislatures. Yes indeed; but that utterly begs the question. You yourself acknowledge that “how this authority is used is another matter.” But in fact, that’s the matter that counts; and it’s a matter that you dodge completely.
Faculties are indeed accountable in the sense that they must demonstrate that their actions are professional, responsible, conscientious. But when you slip from this into suggesting that governing boards, trustees or legislatures should be involved in the process of exercising academic judgment – who gets hired and why, what gets taught, what faculty can and cannot say in the classroom – then you are violating academic freedom, pure and simple. Governing boards, trustees and legislatures may not like how faculties exercise their academic judgment. But the whole idea of academic freedom is that academic judgment must be respected even if people aren’t crazy about the results. Without this, academic freedom would mean absolutely nothing.
If boards, trustees and legislatures were happy with – or were indifferent to – everything that faculties do, then academic freedom would never come into play. There would be no need for such a notion; it would be a meaningless idea. The conclusion is plain: respecting academic freedom means that authorities should intervene only when basic levels of professionalism are not met. And however much you may protest, the fact is that you have presented no evidence of which I’m aware to show widespread unprofessionalism. You’ve presented plenty of evidence to show that you don’t like some of the things that are going on in academia, some of which I don’t much like either; but again, that’s a completely and entirely different question.
These comments are based on a misunderstanding of the Academic Bill of Rights. I have never proposed that legislatures, trustees or governing boards manage university curricula or hiring policies. This misrepresentation of the Academic Bill of Rights originates with the American Association of University Professors and has been repeated ad nauseam despite the many occasions on which I have pointed it out. Similarly, I deliberately did not specify any authority to oversee these matters not in order to “beg the question” as you suggest, but to leave the designation and design of such authorities to the university community. In other words, the Academic Bill of Rights has been designed specifically to protect the independence of the university and the academic freedom of its faculties.
The real question is this: If professors do not observe academic standards, who will hold them to account? The best solution to the current situation in which disregard for professional standards and student rights is widespread would be for faculty bodies to step forward and propose a solution. Such a solution might be the enforcement of existing standards by expanding the mandate of existing grievance machinery. So far no faculty group or individual has proposed such a solution.
On the contrary. The American Association of University Professors and other academic organizations have simply denied that any problem exists. And you are all too typical in joining this denial. In your previous responses you have even stated – and in no uncertain terms -- that if professors imposed their political agendas on their classrooms (a clear violation of professional standards) you had no problem with that. It is this general faculty denial and abdication of responsibility for maintaining professional standards and protecting students’ academic freedom that has created the problem that needs to be fixed. In promoting the Academic Bill of Rights, I have confined my proposals to remedy this situation 1) focusing attention on the fact that a problem exists; 2) reviving the principles of academic freedom that should guide a solution; and 3) asking legislatures to pressure the university community to come up with a solution. This all seems pretty mild and uncontroversial but it has elicited a veritable storm of faculty opposition.
You worry about “the exclusion of conservatives” from faculties. But where does that notion come from? You’ve presented no evidence about that. Remember: a relative absence of conservatives does not show that conservatives have been “excluded.” Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no such exclusion. The large number of non-conservatives in (especially) elite institutions is almost certainly attributable not to any conscious or even unconscious regime of exclusion but to the simple fact that trained academics – strongly committed to notions of evidence and rational argument, hence innately hostile to claims based primarily on mere faith – are simply less likely to adopt conservative, especially socially conservative, viewpoints. Now I might be wrong about this; but to repeat, you haven’t shown otherwise. So when you blithely talk about the “exclusion” of conservatives, you once more make a severe accusation – indeed, a wild and sweeping broadside – without any evidence that I can see. Intellectually, this is unacceptable.
Where to begin? Here is a link to a dozen studies that demonstrate not only that conservatives are a preposterously small minority on university faculties but that their numbers have been steadily dwindling over years in which the number of conservatives in the general culture have been steadily increasing. One study, in particular, by Professor Daniel Klein and Andrew Western, shows that while registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans overall on the faculties of Stanford and Berkeley by factors of 8- and 10-1, the ratio rises to 30-1 among junior professors.
(http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/reports/FacultyStudies.htm.) In other words the problem is getting dramatically worse, while the numbers “suggest that the selection mechanisms work in ways that eliminate Republicans.”
Your response that this does not constitute evidence and is “intellectually unacceptable” is a show-stopper. How does one proceed when one party to an argument refuses to even look at the evidence (and this not personal to you, since it has been the general response by the academic left to these studies). This is actually stronger evidence than has ever been provided to justify affirmative action programs for women and blacks where no argument other than a statistical disparity has even been attempted to my knowledge. No case had to be made that women and blacks were systematically excluded from university faculties, for the university world to be turned upside down to include more of them. The disparities alone justify an effort which has upended principles and structures of university governance and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is is good reason why no evidence was presented of actual racial or sexual discrimination in the hiring process, since search and hiring committees are secretive bodies whose deliberations are hidden even to the departmental faculties themselves. Nonetheless, there is a considerable literature on the intrusion of political factors in faculty hiring, and the ease with which a political blacklist could be implemented including my book The Professors and a seminal article by Professor Mark Bauerlein that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=t1eexv08oc0e5san12cit3ctkr1xkf8c.
Your own attitudes, moreover, which I have learned from my debates on this issues are widely shared, would explain the academic blacklist of conservatives all by themselves. You have stated that leftwing views – e.g., on sexism, classism, etc. – are unarguable; they are just the conventional wisdom of reasonable people. This displays such a disrespect for the conservative viewpoint that it is hard to imagine that you yourself would agree to the hiring of a conservative, at least one whose field involved the expression of conservative views on contemporary issues.
If leftwing views are indistinguishable from reason itself, then someone with conservative views would hardly be suited for an academic hire. In fact, this is exactly what you claim: “The large number of non-conservatives in (especially) elite institutions is almost certainly attributable not to any conscious or even unconscious regime of exclusion but to the simple fact that trained academics – strongly committed to notions of evidence and rational argument, hence innately hostile to claims based primarily on mere faith – are simply less likely to adopt conservative, especially socially conservative, viewpoints.”
This is an expression of extreme prejudice against conservatives and their views. It is also absurd. And it is also widespread. In fact there is an academic study by four (leftwing) Pitt professors that explain the relative scarcity of conservatives on university faculties in precisely these terms. (An astute analysis of the Pitt study by University of Maryland professor Art Eckstein, can be found here:
The existence of such academic attitudes towards conservatives, coupled with the statistical evidence of the pathetically small and rapidly dwindling conservative minority on university faculties, is prima facie evidence that there is systematic exclusion – i.e., a blacklist – of conservatives from those faculties.
I also do not agree that philosophically-based differences – e.g., between Adam Smith and Karl Marx, or between Hayek and Foucault – “create a chasm that no argument can bridge.” Thus, your claim that liberals and conservatives are so different that “there are whole dimensions to any given problem” that one or the other “will not see,” and that this explains why differences between leftists and conservatives are “as profound as they are,” seems to me just wrong. Certainly the last claim is fallacious. It is utterly plain and obvious that liberals and conservatives can understand one another very well indeed and still disagree vehemently. Your entire approach here – involving what might be called “psychological blinkers” – suggests a kind of extreme epistemological skepticism or relativism that seems both dubious and dangerous, and that also puts you, ironically, inth close company with some of the very same post-structuralists whose work you often ridicule.
I think this discussion is conclusive evidence that such a chasm exists and that is very for liberals like yourself to see the problems that confront conservatives. You have just identified commitment “to notions of evidence and rational thought” with the liberal point of view, and also with academic thinking. Yet you deny that conservatives are discriminated against in academic hiring. How can you say there is no chasm? Let alone that there is no exclusionary process which keeps conservatives from being represented on university faculties in reasonable numbers?
You have described academics as “innately hostile to claims based primarily on mere faith,” which you identify with conservatism. Does it not occur to you assomeone disposed to look at the evidence, and as an expert in political theory that conservatives regard Marxists and feminists as essentially religious types, whose ideologies are matters not of evidence but of faith? Are you unaware that entire academic fields are based on mythical ideas that only leftists believe – for example, the existence of race, gender and class hierarchies in market democracies, which outlaw discrimination based on race, gender and social class? Do you not think the mere existence of academic studies of “institutional racism” (e.g., the text Racism Without Racists – which is required in many sociology courses) in a society which has a constitutionally-based equal protections clause is evidence of faith-based thinking in the present leftwing academy?
What you have demonstrated unwittingly is the impossibility of conservatives receiving a fair hearing from academics like yourself and -- since you are among the more reasonable academics who have argued these issues -- the professoriate as it is currently constituted.
The most basic problem with your account of academic freedom concerns the alleged distinction that you propose between “political” and “philosophical” diversity. I just don’t see that this gets you anywhere at all. There are three points to be made in this respect. First, I don’t see why the idea of, say, an interdisciplinary program on “free societies” based on “philosophical individualism” would be any more or less objectionable than the Feminist Studies program at Santa Cruz or the Women’s Studies program at Kansas State. You say that you can’t think of a reason why such a program would violate the canons of academic freedom. Neither can I. But in that respect, it’s exactly and precisely the same as the very programs that you criticize. You profess to endorse – as I do – a traditionalist curriculum; but if a feminist program departs from such a curriculum, then so does your proposed freedom curriculum, and in exactly and precisely the same way. Why is the one okay and the other not? I’m afraid that in your eagerness to justify an Academic Bill of Rights that speaks not at all to academic freedom but to what you happen to like and dislike, you’ve tied yourself up in a tangle of self-contradiction.
The difference between the program I am proposing, which would study the moral, economic and political foundations of free societies and the program of Feminist Studies at Santa Cruz, lies not in the subject matter but in the academic approach to the subject matter. My point about philosophical individualism wasn’t that a program to study free societies and institutions would be based on it, but that free market societies are. The program I am proposing would examine market societies in an academic way;, i.e., it would necessarily include critiques of free market societies as well. Feminist Studies is ideological and insists on a feminist viewpoint. It is not the study of feminism but a schooling in feminism. There is no contradiction in what I am proposing. You have just misunderstood it.
Second, from the perspective of academic freedom, there is nothing inherently problematic about programs – e.g., academic departments – that have strong ideological or theoretical or other one-sided tendencies or identities. Historically, I think of the economics department at the University of Chicago; or at one time, the English department at Duke, as a center of post-structuralist thought; or the rational choice emphasis for which the political science department at Rochester has been justly famous; or certain other political science departments presumed to have strong Straussian orientations. I myself don’t much like this way of organizing academic programs. But it’s a legitimate way of doing so, it has certain putative advantages – creating critical masses dedicated to the pursuit of a particular line of inquiry – and it certainly doesn’t violate anyone’s academic freedom. If this works for Chicago economists or Rochester political scientists, why not for Santa Cruz feminist theorists? Again, not my cup of tea; but again, certainly not something for you or a governing board or a legislature to get involved with.
First, there are no Straussian departments that I am aware of. Second, Rational Choice theory is a methodology not an ideology. Feminism, on the other hand, is an ideology. There’s a big difference. Feminism is incorporates a political agenda. This makes it impervious to empirical evidence that would refute its assumptions. In fact, most academic departments do promote methodological diversity. But these days it is mainly of the left. Thus most English Departments will try to have a post-modernist, a Marxist, a feminist, a deconstructionist, etc. I would just like to see this diversity include, say, a traditionalist, a Thomist, an Arnoldian.
As for your refusal to see a problem in the Santa Cruz department of feminism, would you see one in the creation of a Department of Christian Fundamentalism or a Department of Neo-conservatism? And if not, how do you explain that none exist?
Third, your attempt to resist “creeping politicization” is in fact directly undermined by your own position. Indeed, your presentation completely concedes a major argument of my original criticism, namely, that the Academic Bill of Rights would actually increase the politicization of the classroom, exactly what you claim to oppose. In this respect, the distinction between the “philosophical” and the “political” is just specious.
As someone who opposes the politicization of undergraduate education, I myself don’t think a one-sidedly “Marxist” classroom is any better than a one-sidedly “Democratic” classroom, or that a one-sidedly “Hayekian” classroom is any better than a one-sidedly “Republican” classroom. In all such cases, I believe the quality of teaching is likely to be less good, simply because one-sidedness is pedagogically less effective than multi-sidedness. Of course, it should also now be abundantly clear that this has nothing to do with academic freedom, and that the decision to pursue one-sided teaching is a professionally legitimate decision that I think must be protected, even if I myself don’t much like it.
But as I argued in my original criticism, the basic thrust of the Academic Bill of Rights would be to encourage – indeed require – the ever increasing politicization and one-sidedness of classroom teaching; it would make one-sidedness of one kind or another a virtual necessity; and it would communicate to those academics who, like me, abjure one-sidedness that we are doing something very, very wrong. If you are really opposed to the politicization of the classroom, then you should be fighting tooth and nail to put an end to the Academic Bill of Rights, since it would produce exactly the opposite of what you purport to want.
In sum, I’m afraid that you have not at all corrected my impression of what you mean by academic freedom. To the contrary: I think that the Academic Bill of Rights – and your response to my criticism – reveal a wholesale lack of understanding of academic freedom. Indeed, it is a misunderstanding of the very worst kind. It involves – wittingly or otherwise – an effort recklessly to invoke a venerable, distinguished and honorable concept in the interest of pursuing a wholly extrinsic goal, and doing so in a way that directly subverts and sullies the very meaning of that concept.
Inventing concessions for me understandably makes it easier for you to argue your case, but it does little to advance the discussion. The Academic Bill of Rights does not politicize the university; it does not propose any political intrusion into the curriculum or hiring process. It does not propose setting up ideological departments committed to sectarian political activism. The distinction I made between the philosophical and political is just that – a distinction.
In my day philosophy departments were careful to hire professors with a diversity of views – idealist, materialist, Aristotelian, pragmatist, analytic, continental etc. I see no problem with this. Exposing students to different viewpoints is basic to a liberal education. What I wrote in connection with my hypothetical department was: “Why in developing such a curriculum and staffing such a program would a faculty not seek to hire a Hayekian social theorist? a Burkean political theorist? an economist of the Austrian school, a follower of Oakeshott?” The point I was making was that iif a department is not committed to a political agenda, it is possible to hire professors with particularist viewpoints without making this an affirmative action program for those viewpoints. I could have added, that one could hire for such a program in the study of free societies a follower of Durkheim, or Weber or John Rawls. This is not the same as the Department of Feminist Studies which is designed create a platform for feminist ideologues and to exclude their critics.
5. The Tactics of the Academic Freedom Campaign
I’m no tactician, but here again much of what you say seems to me dubious at best. I have no idea who Tom Egan is [chairman of the regents of the State University of New York], and I have very little knowledge about Lawrence Summers [former president of Harvard]. I must say, though, that I’m strongly inclined to think that your gloss on the Summers situation must be grossly simplistic to the point of caricature. I myself have witnessed up close what many would regard as an unsuccessful and aborted presidency; based on that experience, I’m pretty confident that any such circumstance is apt to be far, far more complex, indeed by many orders of magnitude, than your account – “look what happened to Larry Summers at Harvard when he asked Cornel West to do some scholarly… work” – would suggest. I also wonder about your description of Mr. Egan. Did he “lack the nerve,” or did he come to realize, after reflection or perhaps consultation with faculty, that the Academic Bill of Rights is a lousy idea? Since it is, in my view, a lousy idea, it’s hard simply to rule out such a possibility.
My point about Summers was not that he was fired because he attempted to make Cornel West accountable for his failure to perform his professional duties, but that when he asked Cornel West to do some scholarly work – as opposed to serving in political campaigns and performing rap music – he was accused of racism, forced to make a public apology to the Harvard community and then humiliated by rival Princeton who rewarded West for his academic absenteeism by offering him a hugely prestigious position (“University Professor”) and picking up his equally bountiful check. This incident in my view showed the difficulties that even the most powerful university presidents encounter when they try to enforce academic standards.
I do know Tom Egan, and I can assure you the issue for him in not implementing the Academic Bill of Rights was entirely the political opposition of a radical faculty. William Scheuerman, a political science professor and the head of a faculty union representing 30,000 SUNY employees denounced the Academic Bill of Rights once it became public as “crazy,” “Orwellian,” and “our witch-hunt.” So much for academic rationality and respect for the facts.
Similarly, why did the college presidents in Ohio and Colorado ask “your” legislators – do you really “have” legislators? interesting notion, that – to withdraw the legislation? Perhaps they too understood that the Academic Bill of Rights is, in substance if not intent, an attack on rather than a defense of academic freedom. In Pennsylvania, your committee asks “why aren’t you enforcing” academic freedom policies and professional standards? But such a question presumes a fact. Is it fact?
Again, what’s the evidence? If the evidence is of a sort that you’ve presented in your response to my original criticism, then I’m afraid it’s no evidence at all. You acknowledge that legislatures might be tempted “to do more” than pass a resolution, then ask if that’s a reason not to do anything at all? Well yes, it certainly is a reason, and a pretty darn good one! In general, if you know that X, which may not be so bad, will very possibly lead to Y, which is awful, then this fact certainly counts against X. It may not be decisive, but surely it has to be taken into consideration.
You are beginning to employ pretty low methods of debate. “My” legislators obviously referred to the legislators I asked to sponsor the bill, not legislators I claim to have in my pocket. The university presidents in Ohio and Colorado asked legislative sponsors of the bill -- Larry Mumpers and Shawn Mitchell -- if they would withdraw their resolutions on condition that the university presidents would institute the policy themselves. In other words, the proposed legislation was the inducement to the university administrators to do what they should have done in the first place. The fact is that I went to them in the first place with the proposed bill of rights and they blew me off. This incident demonstrates why legislation is necessary. Radical faculties intimidate university administrators a la Professor West and dissuade them from addressing the problems that do exist (whether you want to acknowledge them or not).
The episode also proves that I have no desire to impose legislative solutions. I am using the legislation to get university administrators to do the right thing themselves. When they agree to act, I am ready and willing to have them do it under their own authority, and according to their own prescriptions, not the dictates of legislatures. This refutes your entire critique of the Academic Bill of Rights as an attempt on my part to politicize universities. My goal is to de-politicize them.
I must say, finally, that your argument about legislative interference with respect to affirmative action and sexual harassment is really hard to take seriously. There is simply no analogy with the Academic Bill of Rights.
Race and gender are protected categories, and are so for the very good reason that people should not be discriminated against because of characteristics that are (1) entirely irrelevant to the enterprise in question, e.g., being black or white or female has no connection with being a good student or good scholar, and (2) inherent features of individuals, i.e., features that individuals do not choose but simply have in virtue of who they are. To protect such individuals does absolutely no violence to the academic enterprise; it is to uphold very basic notions of decency. Of course, one can certainly disagree about whether, say, affirmative action is the correct way to do this. That, however, is a question not about the legitimacy of governmental interference but, rather, about the particular form of interference. Academic freedom, on the other hand, is completely and entirely unconnected with any of that. One protects academic freedom by not interfering with the professional judgment of scholars and teachers. To be sure, and as indicated above, there is nothing wrong with holding faculties accountable in the sense of ensuring basic standards of professionalism; but again, that’s utterly different from attempting to determine or influence who gets hired, who gets fired, what gets taught, how it gets taught, and so on.
These comments about affirmative action avoid looking at the point I was making. The point was that no objection was raised by academics like yourself to the massive intrusion of the state into hiring and admissions policies and university governance by sexual harassment and affirmative action laws. Your answer is that the justification for the policies are different. This concedes that massive political interference hiring practices and university governance is all right with you if the cause is just. Since we’re apparently degree in that case and not principle, why the near hysterical objection to legislative resolutions – with no statutory teeth – which merely ask universities to do the right thing?
Let’s pass now to your objection that discrimination on the basis of creed is qualitatively different from discrimination on the basis of gender or race. When the two of us were young men this country had a mantra to the effect that all citizens were equal “regardless of race, color or creed.” The left has added gender to this list, but dropped creed. Why do you think that is? Do you suppose it might have any connection to the innate totalitarianism of the left’s agendas?
Your first point is that being female or black has no connection to being a good student or scholar. Are you arguing that being conservative or religious does? Your intolerance is showing again. When I think of the religious men of science from Newton and Pascal to Einstein and Descartes I wonder on what you base this prejudice.
Your second point is that race and gender are inherent features of human beings while politics and religion are not. Are you aware that there are entire academic fields – including in particular Women’s Studies – that are based on the presumption that gender and race are not innate or inherent but “socially constructed?” What kind of argument is this anyway? Should we discriminate against students who like chess or are vegetarians? Alternatively, do you think that religious belief or political commitments, or fundamental social values, are not integral to human identity and can just be discarded at will? So why is discrimination by one political faction, which happens to have gained control over search and hiring committees and classroom lecterns, not problematic? And what do you think it portends for a democracy like ours if one party has control of the publicly financed educational system and is given license to discriminate against students who disagree with its views?
Let me conclude by noting that your response to my original criticism is especially disappointing in being silent on some very fundamental points. Among other things, I proposed a certain analogy between academic freedom and religious freedom; I suggested, in effect, that a legislative resolution instructing or even encouraging, say, the Catholic Church to adopt certain doctrines and to reject others, or a resolution requiring or even advising Catholic priests to preach one way rather than another, would be a gross violation of religious freedom; and I suggested that this is strongly similar to what you are proposing with the Academic Bill of Rights. I still believe such an analysis to be correct. To my mind, it clearly illustrates why the Academic Bill of Rights is wrongheaded. Once again, you have every right to criticize what you don’t like. But when your criticisms and accusations are based on nothing that could be called plausible evidence, and when you use the notion of academic freedom in such a way as to undermine real academic freedom, then surely I have right to point that out as well. (I should add, as a kind of addendum, that the claim that many colleges and universities are state institutions and, as such, are fully eligible for the kind of legislative interference that you have proposed is surely a red-herring. If a state wants to establish and support a college or university, it should do so properly, and this means providing the same kinds of academic freedom protections that all other institutions of higher education enjoy.)
I hope you do not find the tone of this letter strident, offensive or uncollegial. If you do, I’m sorry, and I want to assure you that that wasn’t my intent. As always, my goal has been to provide an honest and frank analysis, presented respectfully but without sugar-coating. Again, I believe the analysis shows the Academic Bill of Rights to be a very bad idea, something that should be profoundly unattractive to serious observers from all sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative alike. I imagine that you have invested a great deal of time and energy in your proposal. In such circumstances, it’s always particularly hard to do a one-eighty. But if you are, as you claim, truly interested in academic freedom, then I would urge you to scrap the whole thing. When you use the rhetoric of academic freedom to undermine – intentionally or otherwise – academic freedom, you have a chance to do some real harm.
What is substantive in these final comments is based on a misunderstanding of the Academic Bill of Rights, which is not an attempt to impose political strictures on university faculties and curricula. Since I have I have already responded to these objections, I will refrain from doing so again.
I’d like now to make a summary statement about three points that came up in these exchanges.
First, when faced with evidence from the Kansas State Social Work and Santa Cruz Women’s Studies Department websites, whose obvious import is that these are not academic courses but political training programs you simply denied the obvious. You even proposed that the students in the Kansas course might have been expected by their professor to criticize the main text assigned for the course, which was itself not an academic text but a political diatribe written by Howard Zinn. Having denied the obvious you then put to me the question “How do you know?” (i.e., that the professor did not intend the students to simply absorb the Zinn lesson, or that the professors of feminism were not actual addressing the subject of feminism in a skeptical, scientific manner. This evasive response (evasive of the obvious) is unfortunately typical of the defenses that liberals have made when presented with the evidence that there are ideologues in university classrooms – which is actually something they already know. How many professors at the University of Colorado and in the Ethnic Studies field validated Ward Churchill’s academic credentials even though he had none? By my estimate thirty or forty – his entire department voted to hire, promote him to tenure and elect him chairman knowing he had no PhD and his MA degree was in a field unrelated to Ethnic Studies. Twelve experts in the field outside his department wrote letters of recommendation after reviewing his work which an academic panel has found rife with “falsification,” “fabrication” and “plagiarism.” The panel noted by the way, that these charges against Churchill’s scholarship were made by other academics for ten years. In fact, the only apparent credential Ward Churchill had to be elected to his academic positions was his leftwing politics.
Yet, the attempt to state the obvious in these matters is met, almost invariably, by the retort “How do you know?” Does the fact that conservatives are outnumbered thirty to one in politicized fields like anthropology an indication that they are actually being excluded? How do you know? Are the hundreds – perhaps even thousands -- of students who have complained about inappropriate political comments by professors in the classroom telling the truth? How do you know? How do you know that they’re not all lying? This was the principal theme sounded by representatives of the professor unions and professional associations and by Democrats on the committee at the Pennsylvania hearings on academic freedom. They and you both rationalize your skepticism of the obvious as a demand for “intellectual rigor” on my part. In fact this charge is little more than special pleading in defense of the indefensible.
Secondly, I am puzzled by your failure to take personal responsibility for upholding the academic standards which you know to be proper. You believe that it is bad pedagogy to engage in overt politicizing of the classroom, and it is something you would never do. But you are willing to allow it to take place on the grounds of “academic freedom.” But you know that this is actually a violation of academic freedom, which is not the license to say anything in the classroom, but is clearly defined as freedom within a professional discipline, and only under its strictures. Otherwise professors would be licensed to lie to their students and their lies would be protected by “academic freedom.” Your refusal, as a “dean of faculty” to see that professional discipline is maintained by your faculty is the reason that some outside authority – trustees in the case of Reed – should step in to see that professional discipline, and therefore the academic mission of the university is maintained. The alternative is declining public support for the university itself.
Third, I am dismayed by the intellectual bias you display against conservatives for being conservative. Your explanation of why there are so few conservatives on university faculties is that conservatives by nature don’t qualify for the job. You equate left-thinking with reason itself. In your view, to be conservative is in itself to fail the test of respect for evidence and scientific method which is the presumed basis of all academic disciplines (I say “presumed” because quite obviously the Santa Cruz feminists and the Social Work disciples of Howard Zinn are ideologues who exclude critical texts and sources from the courses they teach and thus don’t respect academic methods.) Doesn’t it occur to you that the bias you exhibit is a sufficient explanation for the exclusion of conservatives from university faculties like Reed’s? How can a conservative qualify if his very disposition is judged to be inappropriate for the academic calling? And, as I have observed before, your attitude on these matters is not idiosyncratic, but is typical of the attitude of liberal academics like yourself.
In closing let me say that I did not find the tone of your letter strident or intentionally offensive or uncollegial. What I did find it is an unwitting proof that a very deep chasm exists between liberals like yourself and conservatives like me. Arguments – as our exchange shows -- don’t seem able to bridge this gap. I think this is unfortunate for ourselves, for our educational system and for our country. I have made a modest suggestion of steps that might be made to help close it. Include more diverse viewpoints on university faculties and in university curricula. That will open a dialogue that needs to be opened. If you have a better solution, I would like to hear it. But don’t tell me there’s no problem.