What follows is the second part of the debate between Peter Steinberger, professor of political science and Dean of Faculty at Reed University, and myself. (A third part will follow.)
The first part was published in FrontPage on June 23, 2006. In my view, this second part of our exchange is particularly revealing about the opposition to the academic freedom campaign and the intolerance of academic liberals towards conservative thought. As I see it, the attitudes reflected in Steinberger’s comments go a long way towards explaining how an academic blacklist, which has virtually eliminated conservatives from university faculties, could have taken place. This is because Steinberger would himself play no conscious part in any blacklist, but as this exchange shows would not recognize such a blacklist against conservatives unless it manifested itself in a very crude form. Moreover, as the exchange proceeds it becomes more and more difficult to imagine that Steinberger would hire a conservative himself.
Professor Steinberger is a liberal academic trained in the university before it was politicized by Sixties radicals. He has spent his academic career at Reed University, a school with a traditional academic curriculum which has no departments of Women’s Studies or Black Studies, or any of the other the new fields that have transformed important parts of modern universities into political parties of the left. Professor Steinberger, whose field is political science, does not politicize his own classroom. His work – at least from its bibliographical descriptions -- is academic in the old sense, and does not display the tell-tale signs that one associates with political ideologues.
Steinberger has communicated to me in emails that, as a political scientist, he is an admirer of conservative thinkers like Burke, Oakeshott and Strauss. However, these thinkers are obviously all dead and their ideas are no part of any contemporary political debate. (Strauss is not an exception because the word “Straussian” as used by the left does not refer to Strauss’s ideas or his intellectual influence, but is a term employed to establish guilt by association among his former students). Consequently, Steinberger’s intolerant attitude towards contemporary conservative ideas is all the more striking, as is his attitude that the radical ideas of the hard left – e.g., that “classism” is a feature of “social injustice” – are “centrist” and “mainstream.” This is one hugely important reason that, as the ensuing dialogue will show, he does not believe there is a serious problem of political repression on university campuses and in university curricula and regards the Academic Bill of Rights – which is a liberal document based on a liberal academic freedom tradition that has been in place for nearly a hundred years – as a “bad idea.” --- David Horowitz.
Steinberger: I am now prepared to respond to your response of a couple of months ago to my original criticism of the Academic Bill of Rights. Once again I find it necessary to apologize for taking so long to do this. Clearly my work habits or rhythms are very different from yours.
Let me say at the outset that I have considered your response with an open mind. Though certainly skeptical, I can honestly say that I was truly and fully prepared to be persuaded. However, I am not persuaded. Indeed, after reading your response, I’m more convinced than ever that the Academic Bill of Rights is a terrible idea and that you should bag it.
Horowitz: First let me thank you again for taking the time to consider these views and for composing an articulate and intellectually responsible reply. To date, virtually all of the responses to the academic freedom movement, particularly those as uncompromising as yours, have been so much political noise, relying on gross distortions of our positions and ad hominem attacks on its proponents. Yours by contrast is focused on the intellectual issues and makes possible a discussion that can illuminate not only the issue itself, but also the gulf between the opposing sides.
Since your response is quite long I have broken it up into five sections and am responding to each one ad seriatim.
1. Academic Professionalism
Steinberger: It may be useful as a prefatory matter to set out briefly some of my own professional commitments, which will help contextualize the remarks that follow. To begin with: my strong preference is for an undergraduate education that primarily teaches students how to think. I believe that teaching students how to think requires a disciplinary-based education; that this means introducing them to, and teaching them to use, at least some of the disciplines of which the liberal arts are composed; that a discipline is a more or less well defined structure of thought constituted largely by a distinctive conceptual apparatus that has proven to be useful in imposing an intelligible order on what would otherwise be a chaos of impressions and experiences; that an education in the disciplines literally creates a disciplined mind, a mind capable of orderly, systematic analysis; and that one best learns a particular discipline by seeing how it is similar to and different from other particular disciplines.
That’s my view. I think it’s the right view, and I think that other views are wrong. But a view that is wrong is not the same as a view that violates academic freedom. Thus, as you already know, I think that a highly politicized view of undergraduate education is especially wrong, egregiously so. But academic freedom absolutely demands that those who disagree with me about this be allowed to pursue their approach. Academic freedom means that I can and should try to convince them otherwise, using arguments and analysis, but also that neither I nor anyone else should be allowed to impose upon them any sanction because of the approach they’ve taken. Academic freedom means that sanctions should be imposed only for work that is unprofessional or that fails to meet standards of excellence established by the particular institution in question; and those standards should be neutral with respect to the full range of reputable political, scholarly, and pedagogical opinion, generously interpreted.
Horowitz: We agree one hundred percent on the matter of what academic standards ought to be, and that they ought to include political neutrality in the classroom, and a strict self-discipline on the part of the teacher not to impose his or her prejudices on controversial issues on students. In other words, the purpose of undergraduate instruction is to teach students how to think, not what to think.
We disagree one hundred percent on whether this violates the tenets of academic freedom as they have existed in this country since 1915 when the American Association of University Professors published its “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” These principles, as you know, have been incorporated into the academic freedom policies of most universities and define academic freedom as it is generally understood. The clear meaning of these principles is that professors will observe the distinction between indoctrination and education and will not use the authority of their position to impose their doctrinal prejudices on their students.
The “Declaration” is quite clear in stating that a teacher should avoid “taking unfair advantage of the student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters in question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.” In 1940, the AAUP amplified its original position stating that professors should not introduce controversial material into their classrooms that has no relation to the subject.
The Kansas Board of Regents, a typical school authority, has expressed these views in the following academic freedom guidelines: “Thus, it is improper for an instructor persistently to intrude material that has no relation to the subject or to fail to present the subject matter of the course as announced to the students and as approved by the faculty in their collective responsibility for the curriculum.” And again: “Students should not be forced by the authority inherent in the instructional role to make particular personal choices as to political action or their own social behavior.”
Your position that “academic freedom absolutely demands that those who disagree with me about this [meaning political neutrality in the classroom] be allowed to pursue their approach,” is simply wrong. It is a fundamental retreat from the academic freedom policies that have been in place in American universities since 1915. The fact that someone like yourself, who agrees with the basic philosophy of education expressed in the original AAUP statements – and in all the statements of our academic freedom movement – should take such a position on the matter of enforcing these standards is in itself sufficient evidence of the scope of the transformation that political radicals have achieved in the governance of our universities and the magnitude of the degradation in academic standards that they have caused.
2. Evidence that a Problem Really Exists in our Univeristies
Steinberger: In my original criticism, I took you to task for relying primarily on survey data and anecdotes – presumed “horror stories” – in defending the need for an Academic Bill of Rights. I noted that the survey data say nothing about what professors actually do in the classroom and that a few anecdotes hardly constitute good evidence. But now look at what you’ve done in response. First, you’ve jettisoned the survey data, in effect agreeing that it provides no evidence in support of your view. Second, you’ve provided instead nothing but a few more anecdotes, or anecdotal-type cases. I criticize you for relying on a few anecdotes, and you respond by offering a few anecdotes! This is not truly responsive.
Moreover, the anecdotal cases themselves – three in all, one from UC Santa Cruz and two from Kansas State – provide very poor evidence for your point of view. Consider the statement from the Santa Cruz website regarding a major in Feminist Studies. There is nothing in the statement itself that supports your criticism. The statement does indeed describe a focus on racism, sexism, homophobia, classicism, and you take this to be evidence that the program is committed to indoctrination and advocacy. But the conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premise.
To begin with, no one could possibly deny the existence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Similarly, no one could possibly deny the existence of “power relationships and injustice.” I repeat: no one. To assert that there is racism in the world is no more controversial than to assert that there is nitrogen in the world. Of course, people disagree about what racism exactly is, how pervasive it is, what its causes are, whether it’s ever justified, how serious a problem it is, whether the bad effects of a form of racism could ever be outweighed by putative benefits, and the like. Here is where conservatives and liberals part company. These are important and difficult issues, but they have nothing to do with whether or not racism exists. I have never met a (serious) conservative who thought there is no racism; such a thought would be ludicrous. I have, of course, met many conservatives who think that racism is far less important today than it used to be, or that focusing on racism distracts us from more serious problems, or that we have no idea how to combat racism and therefore the effort to do so is apt to do more harm than good, or that what is sometimes taken to be racism is not racism at all, and so on. But the Santa Cruz statement takes absolutely no position on any of those issues. I repeat: no position. To read the statement as claiming, say, that ours is a fundamentally racist society, or that sexism is so deeply pervasive as to require some kind of “radical” (your word) social upheaval, is to find something that is simply not there. Thus, “understanding” racism, sexism, etc. commits one to nothing, and certainly not to any kind of partisan position. Similarly, being prepared to work with “policy-making and lobbying organizations, research centers,” etc. is no crime; indeed, this is something that could well be said by any good political science program or, for that matter, any traditional liberal program of the kind that I favor. Having a “knowledge about power relationships and injustice” says nothing, in itself, about what those relationships are, how pervasive they are, or what injustice consists of. Providing “skills to change the world” is not a phrase that I would prefer to use, but it’s hard to imagine a serious program of academic inquiry that doesn’t in some sense contemplate producing educated people who might, if they so chose, make the world a better place; and of course, this says absolutely nothing about what is meant by “a better place.”
And so too for the Kansas State blurb on Women’s Studies. You say that the blurb shows that the program is non-academic and partisan. In fact, it shows no such thing. It requires that students be “familiar” with the key Women’s Studies concepts; but surely to be familiar with a concept is, in and of itself, to make no empirical claim about the degree to which, or the way in which, that concept applies to reality. The statement requires students to demonstrate an “understanding” that Women’s Studies is an academic discipline committed to “social action and social change;” but to understand this is not the same as being committed to social action and social change.
The case of the Kansas State course devoted to Howard Zinn’s book is also problematic. Now I myself doubt that a course in which the sole reading is Zinn’s A People’s History could be a good course. But it’s possible. Thus, you don’t say if the course treats Zinn’s book critically. You don’t say if students are encouraged to find both strengths and weaknesses in Zinn’s arguments. You don’t consider the possibility that Zinn’s book is being used not as a kind of biblical text to be believed but merely as an example of a certain genre of thought and literature, hence something to be analyzed and criticized as a rhetorical artifact. But even if none of these things were true, that would only show that it’s a bad course; it wouldn’t show that academic freedom is being compromised. Relatedly, you don’t say if students in the class are required to adopt Zinn’s views. You don’t say if they are punished for advocating different views. You don’t say if students are prevented, through coercion or intimidation, from expressing dissent or if they are pressured into endorsing Zinn’s approach. You don’t say if student grades reflect a kind of doctrinal orthodoxy. These would be serious problems. But you present not one scrap of any evidence about any of this. Again, a bad course is not the same as a course that violates academic freedom.
To be clear: I’m not denying that the Santa Cruz and Kansas State programs are as you describe them. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Rather, my point here is about evidence. I want to be very clear about this: it’s a question of evidence. You have made very harsh, deeply accusatory claims about what’s going on at Santa Cruz and Kansas State. You have attacked the very professionalism of those involved. You have, by insinuation, ridiculed the competence and credentials of the relevant faculties and administrators. But you have presented – in your response to me, at any rate – exactly zero evidence in support those claims. Literally no evidence. This is a real problem. One should never make hard accusations – essentially accusations of gross malfeasance – in the absence of clear and compelling evidence. Rather than a clear and compelling case, you’ve provided no case at all.
I should add that there are other elements of your presentation of these anecdotes that are deeply troubling. You say that 80% of American college students go to schools like UC and K State. Why is that relevant? Why would you say this, other than to suggest rhetorically that 80% of American college students are being subjected to unprofessional indoctrination? But what percentage of all American college students on all American college campuses are taking Feminist Studies courses at UC Santa Cruz or Women’s Studies courses at Kansas State? One-thousandth of one percent? Indeed, what percentage of students on those two campuses alone are taking those courses? You don’t say. You do say that “I assure you that I could find more such departments at these two schools….” Well, could you? I’m not so sure. I’ve now looked at the UC Santa Cruz and Kansas State catalogs. The overwhelming majority of what I see there is meat-and-potatoes stuff. My guess is that the vast majority of Kansas State students – perhaps 95%?, perhaps more? – are taking things like biochemistry or economics or geology or, yes, military science, all of which are taught in the College of Arts and Sciences at K State; and of course, this doesn’t include the great many students who are in K State’s colleges of Business Administration, Agriculture, Education, Engineering, etc.
The notion that the Academic Bill of Rights is designed to deal with an important and widespread problem rather than an isolated and trivial problem – if it is a problem at all – is, at least in your communications to me, based on nothing that could plausibly be called real evidence. Your presentation also uses the word “radical” or “radicals” on four occasions to characterize the programs at UC Santa Cruz and Kansas State. Where on earth does that come from? Even if you’re correct in saying that these programs have a clear partisan bent – and again, you’ve presented to me no evidence in support of that – what makes that bent “radical?” To say, for example, that sexism is so deeply pervasive as to require some kind of serious political action or political reform is, indeed, to take a political position; but in and of itself, it’s hardly a radical position. A deep concern with issues of gender inequality is very much a mainstream position, well within the normal scope of ordinary, even centrist, political discourse. With all due respect: when you employ this kind of rhetorical excess, e.g., when you make fast and loose use of the word “radical,” it’s just hard to take your presentation seriously. My eyes begin to glaze over.
Horowitz: This is a pretty revealing response because it reveals the depth of the chasm between “liberals” and conservatives not only on the academic freedom issue but on every issue that divides our culture. I put quotes around the word liberal because the position I have taken in this entire dispute is liberal – it is what liberalism stood for in 1915 when the academic freedom principles that I am defending were first articulated, and the liberalism that persisted until the last quarter of the 20th Century. What you are defending – and what “liberals” generally are defending in this debate is a species of leftism or radicalism, not liberalism. And this speaks directly to your first responsive point.
I did not jettison the survey data that show conservatives and libertarians – intellectuals not on the left – are a vanishing breed on university faculties. I said it wasn’t directly related to classroom abuses. You are a perfect example. You are on the left but your professional standards, which embrace political neutrality in the classroom, make you unproblematic in terms of students’ rights to be educated rather than indoctrinated. However, as your response to this question shows, the exclusion of conservatives from university faculties – and thus the absence of conservative perspective from the university curriculum – has profoundly negative consequences for the quality of the education students are getting. Your responses to the curricula from the Department of Feminist Studies at Santa Cruz and the Women’s Studies Department at Kansas State and the Social Work course that uses a Stalinist history book as its primary text shows that you equate the leftist worldview (or liberal worldview if you prefer) with rationality itself. This is a profoundly ideological attitude and demonstrates why the absence of conservative professors as revealed in the surveys is indeed evidence of a profound problem in our universities.
The descriptions of the two department and the Social Work are not “anecdotes” as you claim in your preliminary attempt to dismiss them as evidence. An anecdote is an account by a witness, who may or may not be reliable. What we are discussing here is the evidence provided by the subjects themselves. It is evidence of their purposes in designing their courses of instruction. It is your reaction to these descriptions that is so revealing.
I am sure that if we were discussing the University of California’s Department of Religious Fundamentalist Studies, you would have no trouble in identifying it as a problem. Because it is called Feminist Studies you see no problem. Surely you cannot believe for a moment that this department, headed by Communists (card-carrying) like Professor Bettina Aptheker is teaching students to have critical attitudes towards feminism and to question whether in fact women are “oppressed” by a capitalist patriarchy. If you are naïve enough to think this, surely you would agree that some oversight authority should be looking at the reading lists and examination questions and perhaps auditing the courses to see that an appropriately professional – non-ideological – course is being offered. But in the absence of such authorities interested in preserving academic standards, I have provided you with evidence in the Department’s own words.
In answer to the question, “What Can I Do With A Major in Feminist Studies” the Department answers “With a background in women’s and minorities’ histories and an understanding of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other forms of oppression, graduates have a good background for work with policy-making and lobbying organizations, research centers, trade and international associations, and unions. Graduates’ knowledge about power relationships and injustice often leads them to choose careers in government and politics, because they are determined to use their skills to change the world,…”
Your response to this is like that of a good defense attorney who constructs a case based on surface plausibilities whom no one really believes once they look at the defendant in the dock. Does it not even occur to you that the assumption that the graduates of the Feminist Studies programs having understood classism will be “determined to use their skills to change the world” is also an assumption that they are political leftists? Conservatives, as I’m sure you have not forgotten are philosophically disposed to thinking that that is precisely what you cannot do, i.e., “change the world.” (And do think the phrase “change the world” is accidental and not related a radical tradition which proposes not merely to interpret the world, but to change it?)
Do you think there is a a conservative in the universe could write a paragraph linking, oppression, classism and changing the world? Does it occur to you that the use of the suffix “ism” is a reflection of ideological thinking, that referring to racial prejudice as racism, gender differences as “sexism,” class differences as “classim,” and the status of homosexuals under the heading “homophobia” is itself ideological? How about a course in Bushophobia? Why is homophobia a category in a departmental description of Feminist Studies, unless what we are really talking about is world-explaining ideology, not an academic discipline? Is classim or sexism a “form of oppression?” Only a leftist would think so, and only a leftist would think that understanding the nature of these isms would lead to a determination to change the world.
You, on the other hand, evidently think that these views are actually scientific, the equivalent of believing that there is nitrogen in the world, which is another way of saying that to believe them is to be a sane human being. No wonder you have no problem with the exclusion of conservatives from university faculties. It is no more problematic for you than the exclusion alchemists, astrologers and flat-earthists.
Look at the way you have constructed this argument, which is as uncompromising in its agendas as it is absolutist in tone: “To begin with, no one could possibly deny the existence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Similarly, no one could possibly deny the existence of ‘power relationships and injustice.’ I repeat: no one. To assert that there is racism in the world is no more controversial than to assert that there is nitrogen in the world.”
Well, I for one, deny that anyone is “oppressed” in America – which is the clear meaning of the terms “injustice” “racism,” “sexism” and “classism” as they are used in this paragraph. Yes there is racial prejudice and gender prejudice, but such prejudices are endemic to minorities and not just to alleged oppressor classes. Are women actually a minority by the way? Only in the ideological sense. As a Jew I am a minority, as white, a majority, as a male a what? How does my being white trump the fact that as a Jew I belong to the world’s most overtly hated group? Yet here is a department dedicated to treating me as white, male, heterosexual, ruling class oppressor. Since minorities are just as racist in their attitudes as so-called majorities the terms “oppression” and “injustice” used in this sociological form are useless. On the other hand, if we are talking about individual cases of injustice as opposed to group categories of oppression, what need is there for “feminism” or for a department dedicated to training students in feminist ideology, which is an offense both to the idea of a liberal education and to academic professionalism. It is a course of study defined by radical categories of analysis not by the concepts of an empirically established and commonly accepted science.
We are not talking about degrees of racism, sexism, classim or homophobia as you suggest. It is not a question as to whether there is more classism in America or less. It is matter of conception. What does the term “classism” mean, for example, and why would anyone even use such an ugly neo-logism. What it means is that workers are oppressed the way blacks are oppressed, just as the vulgar coinage “sexism” was invented by radicals to appropriate the moral gravitas of the civil rights movement for the “women’s movement.” Classism is just a gussied up version of Marxism for the modern era. Talking about the exploitation of the working class dates you; so let’s call it “classism.” It’s the same claptrap by another name. If homophobia isn’t an ideological agenda in disguise how come there is no reference in this departmental boilerplate to heterophobia? That’s my point of view, which you have casually dismissed (and I’m sure without intending any personal insult) as a form of insanity in your presentation. If I were at student at Santa Cruz, on other hand, my conservative views would disqualify me for a degree in Feminist Studies. This is a violation of my academic freedom as a student, and is a form of injustice to tens of thousands of conservative students in our taxpayer supported educational system which has ostensibly been created to provide educational opportunities for all citizens.
You say I am wrong in suggesting that the “blurb” on the Department of Women’s Studies website at Kansas State shows that is non-academic and partisan. “In fact, it shows no such thing. It requires that students be “familiar” with the key Women’s Studies concepts; but surely to be familiar with a concept is, in and of itself, to make no empirical claim about the degree to which, or the way in which, that concept applies to reality. The statement requires students to demonstrate an “understanding” that Women’s Studies is an academic discipline committed to “social action and social change;” but to understand this is not the same as being committed to social action and social change.” This is the defense attorney again. Look at the defendant. Indeed look at what the defendant actually says.
First, it is wrong to suggest that the statement itself is a “blurb.” It is a statement of the A for a Women’s Studies degree.
To qualify for a B.S. or B.A. degree in Women’s Studies, students will have demonstrated:
1. Their understanding that Women’s Studies is an academic discipline that generates new knowledge about women and gender, reconsiders other disciplines through feminist perspectives, and is committed to social action and social change.
2. Their familiarity with key Women’s Studies concepts such as the social construction of gender, oppression of and violence against women, heterosexism, racism, classism, and global inequality.
I will confine myself to the first two requirements plus a fragment of the third, because they are really self-explanatory. To qualify for a degree in Women’s Studies, a student has to demonstrate an understanding that feminism “reconsiders all other disciplines through feminist perspectives,” that its concepts include “heterosexism” but not (“homosexism” or “heterophobia”) and also “Their understanding of how and why gender inequality developed and is maintained in the United States…” Is gender inequality “maintained” in the United States today? Isn’t this a conclusion rather than, as it should be, an academic question? Finally, according to the degree requirements, Women’s Studies is “committed to social action and social change” and students need to understand that. How can you get a degree in Women’s Studies at Kansas State, then, if you are not committed to that, even though the defense attorney suggests you can? This is not a course about Women’s Studies programs; it is a course in Women’s Studies.
Kansas State’s Social Work course 510 in Social Welfare purports to be a history of social welfare in the United States and features as its principal text Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United State, including an entire class session devoted to “The Impossible Victory: Vietnam,” which is based on the chapter in Zinn’s book with the same title. In addressing this, you become the attorney for the defense again instead of looking at this with a juror’s eye. Your objection? “You don’t say if students in the class are required to adopt Zinn’s views.” Now who’s kidding whom here? The course description warns students: “An understanding of the development of social injustice is a necessary first step toward working for social justice.” Social justice is a term of art for the political left. Zinn’s book is a Stalinist cartoon. The students in this course have signed up in a program designed to credential them as social workers. They have no background in history and their teacher is not credentialed to teach history. If the text for this course was The New World Order by Pat Robertson, along with several like-minded texts, would you understand the issue? Zinn’s book, pathetic as it is, is not even an academic text and is irrelevant to the subject of social welfare institutions -- unless of course you are a Marxist ideologue and you see everything as inter-connected. From the course description: “We will approach history using an ‘ecological systems perspective’ in which everything is connected to everything else, thus there are understandable reasons why things are the way they are.”
You claim that your concern is that I haven’t produced evidence that there is a problem. In my view, you have revealed your own credibility problem. How can one even address problems like this if academics like you insist on turning a blind eye to what is going on? The academic system is set up so that no one can go into a classroom with a concealed video camera and tape the proceedings. And even if they could, they would not be able to present them as evidence – first because no one is going to sit through a term of video tapes, and second because even one did, the method of acquiring the evidence would become the central issue and displace all other questions. Yet short of this method, nothing for you is evidence.
Each of the two departments we have discussed and this tendentious course in Howard’s perverse view of American history – taught by a professor not credentialed in history to students not taking a course in history – is patently problematic. Yet not for you. I have never insisted that you or anyone else accept my judgments on these courses. What I have asked is that universities and academics show some interest in what appear to be problems. Here is a red flag, take a look. Re-assert the academic standards that some courses and teachers appear to be violating; establish some procedures to look into these questions. What I have met from you and others is a stone wall instead. The suspicion is, you know that there are such problems, but you don’t want to do anything about them.
As if to confirm this suspicion you now fall back on the hoary argument that because most of the courses in modern research universities are in subjects like physics and engineering or business or health, this would be a minor problem in any case. But as you well know, all students are required to take liberal arts division courses, and the academic left has seen to it that their ideological programs, usually under rubric of a multicultural requirement are included. And why is that? Because multiculturalism is seen – thanks to the agitation of academic leftists and the munificence of the Ford, Rockefeller and other foundations which pioneered these programs – as part of a civic training. The liberal arts schools of our universities provide the civic educations of our country’s future leaders. That’s what makes them – and the Academic Bill of Rights important – and you know it as well as I do. Yet you insist that my claim that this is so is based on no evidence. It’s my eyes that are glazing over.
Another rhetorical trope that you use and that makes my eyes glaze over is your incessant assertion that your political bias is universal enough that anyone else’s is so extreme that it’s hard to take seriously. “Your presentation also uses the word ‘radical’ or ‘radicals’ on four occasions to characterize the programs at UC Santa Cruz and Kansas State. Where on earth does that come from?” To take one of these cases: Howard Zinn is an old-time Stalinist, and unreconstructed, not to say vulgar Marxist. You want me to call him a liberal? It’s your view which becomes increasingly hard to take seriously when you make assertions like this.
Or let’s take sexism. I happen, as an old leftist, to hate the term itself, because of its provenance which was to steal the moral authority of the civil rights movement for feminism – a movement that was not about social or political oppression. I not only deny that “sexism is so deeply pervasive as to require some kind of serious political action or political reform,” but I assert that anyone who believes this is himself (or herself) a radical, and a radical ideologue at that. You have lived and worked in a university environment that is so insulated from the real world that you are unaware of how peculiar these assertions sound to anyone who is not under its ideological disciplines. What kind of political reform is required by sexism in American society today? The only discriminatory gender laws to my knowledge favor women. If that’s what you’re referring to (and I doubt it) I am certain that that is not what the Women’s Studies departments at American universities have in mind.
“Radical” in my usage refers to people who conceive American democracy as a hierarchical system of oppression. Inequalities are not the same as hierarchies. Hierarchies refer to status; inequalities can result from unequal talents or unequal applications of talent or unequal opportunities based on contingencies like birth into illiterate, poverty-stricken and/or dysfunctional families. Hierarchies are oppressive because they cannot be overcome. Inequalities are not because they can be. There are no hierarchies in America that political reforms can affect. The claim that there are – which is the claim of every Women’s Studies Department in America known to me – is an ideological claim by people who are radicals. They are radicals because they think they change inequalities of talent and application and random circumstance by political means.
3. The Provision of the Academic Bill of Rights that Exempts Religious Schools
Steinberger: Three brief points here. First, the fact that “there’s nothing much [you] can do about the problem” is honest but unhelpful. In effect, it entirely concedes my criticism. Second, the claim that religious schools are not predominantly conservative is deeply unpersuasive. You cite, as counterexamples, DePaul, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Villanova. These are all Catholic schools. As such, they are complex institutions that do indeed have diverse faculties and student bodies. (As a graduate of Fordham – B.A. and M.A. – I know something about this.) However, they also all operate in close connection with Catholic religious orders, which themselves operate under the aegis of the Vatican; and the Vatican has, especially of late, been crystal clear in explicitly requiring that Catholic institutions of higher education support Catholic doctrine, including doctrine pertaining to abortion, homosexuality, church-state issues, etc. The alumni mailings that I receive from Fordham – an institution for which I do harbor great fondness in many respects – make no bones about the institution’s strong commitment to Catholic teaching. Third, if some religious institutions are in fact more careful than others in protecting freedom of thought, the Academic Bill of Rights nonetheless would create a specific license for such institutions not to do so; and again, the overwhelming majority of these institutions would be interested in promulgating doctrines that, in a contemporary context, are decidedly on the right wing – often on the extreme right wing – of the political spectrum. I will, thus, be brutally honest : it’s hard not to see this provision of the Academic Bill of Rights as having a very strong political bias.
Horowitz: Three brief replies. To concede that the Academic Bill of Rights is not about religious schools that make clear in what ways they restrict academic freedom is not to concede your argument at all. If students know in advance that they are surrendering aspects of a free education to get a religious training, that is their privilege, and I have no problem with it. This is hardly the same as providing a state training in the religion of leftism and claiming at the same time that this is not indoctrination and observes the principles of academic freedom.
Second. The claim that universities are big places and thus complex has already been answered. The concern is the liberal arts programs at e.g., Catholic institutions that provide a civic education in the humanities and social sciences for all students.
Third. The Academic Bill of Rights provides no special license to religious institutions. It is the First Amendment to the Constitution that does that, and I do not need to defend it here. The claim that because the Academic Bill of Rights does not propose to amend the Constitution it exhibits a political bias is based on the assumption that religious colleges like DePaul and Georgetown are conservative. They are not. Even if they were, this claim makes no sense.