Introductory note: On November 5, 2005, I debated Peter Steinberger, Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Political Science at Reed University about the Academic Bill of Rights. The Dean used the occasion to attack me personally, causing such an adverse reaction from the Reed community that both he and Reed’s president apologized. I emailed Steinberger afterwards and asked him to re-cast his critique of the Academic Bill of Rights in a manner that would allow to us to confront the intellectual issues without being distracted by personal asides. He did so, and the result is the most elaborate and intellectually substantial critique of the Academic Bill of Rights as I have proposed it. Professor Steinberger’s comments are printed first below; my reply follows.
Peter Steinberger, Professor of Political Science and Dean of the Faculty, Reed University:
There are three primary reasons to oppose the Academic Bill of Rights. But before I get to those, there are also three reasons to be skeptical about the motivation behind the Bill of Rights. Generally, I don’t like to question motives. But in this case, I’m afraid it’s impossible not to:
First, the evidence for widespread bias in the classroom is very poor. The evidence you present in your various writings is basically of two kinds: (1) anecdotes – presented as horror stories – about the gross politicization of teaching, and (2) opinion surveys showing that large numbers of college professors are liberal. As to the first kind of evidence, in the one case that I myself took the time to work through – the case of the Bates class – your account grossly mischaracterized that situation. However much you may protest, any fair reading of your presentation (in Hating Whitey) would agree that you placed great emphasis on the choice of texts; and the fact that the text itself (“Modernity,” edited by Stuart Hall and others) bears virtually no relationship to your description of it – it is about as far from being “an ideological Marxist tome” as one could imagine – renders the whole account unbelievable.
How many of your other anecdotes could survive that kind of close scrutiny? I have no idea. But surely you can see how the credibility of the entire project was compromised in my own mind when the very first case that I examined in detail turned out to be so misleading. As for data showing that college professors are liberal, those data say absolutely nothing about whether the classroom is biased. I repeat, absolutely nothing. For 30 years I myself have insisted on a depoliticized classroom – even thought I am teaching political philosophy! – and my students have no idea what my views are. From an analysis of my own political opinions, one could draw absolutely no conclusions about what I say and do in my classroom. The point is generalizable: to infer from data about the personal political beliefs of professors conclusions about their in-class behavior is simply a fallacy.
Second, as I indicated at the Reed event, the exemption you provide for “creed-based” institutions really sabotages the whole project. With this exemption, you are saying, in effect, that academic freedom is really, really important and absolutely necessary – a fundamental value – unless one doesn’t care at all about academic freedom, in which case it’s perfectly okay for an institution to trash to academic freedom, as long as it says that it’s doing so. Academic freedom is absolutely crucial, but also easily dispensed with. Notice, moreover, the practical political implications. Virtually all religiously-affiliated colleges and universities are creed based, hence are, in principle, exempt from the Academic Bill of Rights. Notice also that the overwhelming majority of such colleges and universities – perhaps nearly all – are formally associated with creeds that are undeniably identified with conservative political positions. Notice finally that we’re talking about a very substantial part of the American academic community, the literally hundreds of colleges and universities, some of the quite large and prestigious, associated closely with one or another church. So basically we have a defense of academic freedom that would make the world safe for conservatives to ignore entirely any considerations of academic freedom. It’s hard to take this seriously.
Third, in your larger views about American politics – the many claims that explicitly connect liberals, the Left, and the Democratic Party to sedition, treason, fellow traveling, subversion, etc. – you clearly identify the American liberal professoriate as having been deeply infiltrated and even dominated by the treasonous “Shadow Party.” I can provide citations from your work, if you like. But if you really believe this, then surely you must be interested not in guaranteeing academic freedom but in actively fighting the enemies of America. If, that is, we are to take your claims seriously about the treasonous influences in American higher education, then it is very difficult not to suspect that the Academic Bill of Rights is simply part of a larger right-wing political agenda that really has nothing to do with academic freedom.
But if these present strong reasons to be skeptical about the motivation behind the Academic Bill of Rights, there are three other reasons to oppose it vehemently on its own grounds. Specifically, the Academic Bill of Rights is (1) utterly self-contradictory, (2) dangerous in its practical implications and (3) conceptually wrong-headed:
You say your primary concern is with the politicization of higher education: professors should not use the classroom to espouse their own political views. As I think you know by now, I strongly agree. Again, this is a principle to which I have devoted my own professional life. However, the central provision of the Academic Bill of Rights – really the only provision that distinguishes it in important ways from academic freedom statements already in place at most institutions – is the insistence that personnel decisions involving hiring, promoting and tenuring be adjusted to ensure that the professoriate reflects a wider range of views – a greater “plurality of methodologies and perspectives” – than is currently case. Now, since you think “currently the case” means too many liberals, the clear implication of the Academic Bill of Rights is that colleges and universities should, as a matter of policy, hire more conservatives. This, however, raises the question: exactly why would they do this? What good would it do to hire more conservatives unless those conservatives were allowed – indeed, encouraged or even required – to politicize their classrooms by espousing conservative views? In other words, hiring conservatives would provide some degree of balance only if those conservatives advocate conservatism in the classroom. Thus, the entire logic and thrust of the Academic Bill of Rights would be to authorize, valorize, and celebrate precisely what you claim to be the problem, namely, the politicization of the classroom. Faculty who are hired (in part) because they are conservative could not but understand that an important part of their job would be to espouse conservativism. Of course, when that happens, then all of those liberal faculty out there who currently strive to maintain a clear boundary between their political views and their pedagogy would be told officially and in no uncertain terms that such a boundary is no longer important, at least as a matter of institutional policy. If, in other words, you think the problem is overly politicized classrooms, then you have proposed a solution that, as anyone can see, would exacerbate that problem many, many times over.
1. The Academic Bill of Rights is self-contradictory; it undermines – indeed, it utterly destroys – its own avowed goal. Stated otherwise, when you say that no one should be hired or fired on the basis of political or religious belief, but only on the basis of competence and expertise, you’ve said all that you need to say; there’s nothing more to be said, IF you’re interesting in academic freedom. But when you go on to say, as the document does, that a college or university should foster a plurality of views – when it says that a faculty should reflect a wide spectrum of political opinion – then this in fact contradicts the first principle, since it insists that, at some point, there is and should be a political litmus test. In other words, it’s not enough that we base decisions on intellectual quality; rather, decisions should be deeply informed by political considerations, so as to achieve plurality. In some circumstances, then, considerations of quality and competence should be trumped by considerations of balance, that is, by political considerations; and that directly contradicts the view – which I endorse – that faculty decisions should not be based on political considerations.
2. But the actual practical results of the Academic Bill of Rights would be even worse than this. For while it would encourage the politicization of the classroom, it would also discourage sound pedagogy. In many cases, sound pedagogy requires making outrageous or controversial statements. I myself teach through a kind of devil’s advocacy. I discover what the students believe, then argue the opposing point of view; and if I argue so well that they begin to believe the opposing point of view, then I turn around and defend the original point of view. The purpose is teach the students to think, to introduce them to the conceptual, theoretical and methodological tools of the discipline by getting them to use those tools everyday in class. The effect of the Academic Bill of Rights, however, would be to make this dangerous, since any outrageous statement, any exercise in devil’s advocacy, any attempt at heterodoxy could be taken out of context and used as evidence of the wrong kind of political bias. In one your articles, you say that a professor at (as I recall) the University of Colorado made an unflattering, gratuitous remark about President Bush. As you presented it, the remark sounded biased indeed, and disturbingly so. But was it? In your article, you took one sentence out of an entire semester’s worth of sentences – how many thousands and thousands of sentences did that professor utter during that term -- and used it to characterize an entire academic experience. How do you know that the sentence was an accurate reflection of what the professor said in general? How do you know that he or she wasn’t devil’s advocating? How do you that he or she didn’t say such things about politicians on the left as well as the right? The point is not to defend the particular professor in question, or to deny that some classrooms are overly politicized. The point, rather, is to reveal the inevitable result of the Academic Bill of Rights. To require that colleges and universities to recruit profs because of their political views is to encourage and institutionalize a kind of ideological score-keeping. We would tend to – or be required to – add and subtract the number of liberal and conservative profs, and this would mean adding and subtracting how many liberal and conservative things are said in the classroom, which could not but have, in turn, a numbing and paralytic impact on teaching. There’s a phrase for this. It’s called a “chilling effect.” And the result would be deeply dangerous to the idea of serious teaching – and real academic freedom – in American higher education.
3. The Academic Bill of Rights also misconceives the very nature of academic freedom. We know that legislation endorsing the Academic Bill of Rights has been introduced in the U. S. Congress and in state legislatures. Why is this a problem? Well, let me draw an analogy between an institution of higher education and a religious institution. Both such institutions are dedicated to pursuing what each conceives of as the truth, to developing doctrines, to formulating and contemplating and promulgating ideas. They do so in radically different ways. But as truth-seeking or idea-promoting entities, they are both protected – religious institutions by religious freedom, academic institutions by academic freedom. In each case, that freedom presupposes that each institution pursues its ideas on terms that it prescribes to itself. It uses its own standards, its own procedures, its own methods, its own values. Religious freedom is nothing other than respecting, protecting, and not interfering with religious institutions as they adopt and implement their own standards, procedures, methods and values. That’s just what religious freedom is. So consider, for example, the Catholic church. There are certainly thousands and thousands of serious, devoted, devout practicing Catholics who dearly wish that official church policy would change with respect to such issues as contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women. They wish that their priests would present a more pluralistic and diverse account of Catholic doctrine. They wish that the Church would embody and present a greater diversity of views. But imagine what it would like be if the US Congress passed a resolution requiring or even urging, as a matter of principle, the Catholic church to do this, to change its teachings, to change its practices. This would be, by definition, a violation of religious freedom. For what goes on internal to the Catholic church is none of Congress’s business. Again, that’s what religious freedom means – the freedom of a religion to make religious decisions on its own religious grounds as it interprets those grounds. I should add, by the way, that I myself happen to have views about orthodox Catholic teaching. I happen to think the priesthood should be more diverse, and that Catholic teachings should be more diverse. But I’m not a Catholic, I’m not part of the church, I’m a complete outsider, and what this means is that my views are literally irrelevant. I’m entitled to have my opinions, but what goes on in the Catholic church is none of my business. If I were a Catholic, that would be another story; but I’m not, and that makes all the difference. The analogy applies precisely to colleges and universities. For Congress or a state legislature to require or even officially to urge colleges and universities to be more or less pluralistic, to teach this or that, to insist, for example, that we offer a certain range of conservative views, that we should teach, say, creationism, or intelligent design, or the social scientific and humanistic equivalent of such doctrines – and there are such things – would, by definition, be a violation of academic freedom. To repeat, I myself hate the idea of a politicized classroom, hate the idea of colleges taking controversial political stands, hate the idea of one-sided, biased, ideologically based education. But academic freedom requires that those are issues to be decided internal to the academic institution. They are issues for academics to decide on academic terms. That’s what academic freedom means. They are none of Congress’s business, they are none of the state legislature’s business; and with all due respect, they’re none of your business either.
Let me put this a different way. Politicizing the classroom is not a matter of academic freedom. It’s a matter of lousy teaching. Now there are all kinds of lousy teaching. If a teacher is unprepared, or doesn’t show up on time, or fails to evaluate student work carefully, or sucks the life out of the material, or is intellectually shallow – all of this can be bad teaching. But the question of good versus bad teaching is a professional question; it is a matter of professional judgment; and as such, it is something to be evaluated and adjudicated according to one or another system of peer of review. In this respect, political bias in the classroom is no different. To the degree that it reflects or embodies bad teaching, to the degree that it compromises pedagogical effectiveness, it is to be treated like any other case of substandard professional performance, namely, through a regular process of professional evaluation and peer review. But none of this has anything at all to do with academic freedom – except insofar as the Academic Bill of Rights would compromise the peer review process, in which case it is, in this respect as in so many others, a direct attack on academic freedom.
With all of this in mind, I would urge you to reaffirm your interest in and commitment to academic freedom by renouncing the Academic Bill of Rights.
David Horowitz, response to Steinberger’s Critique of the Academic Bill of Rights:
Thank you Peter, for providing a thoughtful and interesting challenge. I will deal first with the issue of motives. By describing the basis of your suspicions you have allowed me to understand the ferocity of your response to my presentation at Reed. Although stung at the time, I have never held any ill-feelings towards you in the aftermath of that event. Nonetheless it is very helpful to me to see what led you to regard me as such a sinister presence on that stage.
The first of your suspicions is that my political agendas and a difference between us in our assessment of a textbook serve to make me an unreliable reporter of the problems that the Academic Bill of Rights proposes to address. First allow me to address the intolerance on your part that the minor matter of the textbook reveals. Stuart Hall is a Marxist, however you splice it, and the text Modernity reflects an unrelenting ideological view of the “late capitalist societies” it chooses to analyze (its term of choice -- “late capitalist” -- is itself revealing). You and I may disagree about this, but it would be more appropriate to this kind of discussion if you were able to show respect for those who disagree with you.
You describe the evidence I have assembled as either anecdotal and therefore suspect, or deriving from surveys which don’t convey anything about what actually goes on in the classroom. Why is anecdotal evidence suspect? Evidently, because it comes from me. Of course if you don’t respect the fact that reasonable people can disagree in their interpretation of texts and other matters, and therefore begin by treating people who disagree with you as untrustworthy, anecdotes will be suspicious. But this is not the anecdotes fault. As it happens, these anecdotes as you call them – testimonies as I would call them – come from a wide variety of sources and have been presented before legislative committees.
On the second point – that surveys of professorial politics don’t in themselves prove anything about what goes on in the classroom -- I agree. However, I have never claimed that because a teacher has a point of view he or she cannot be a good or fair-minded teacher. I recall having praised you at Reed for comments you made to the effect that you do not let politics intrude into your lectures. I could also point you to a review I wrote of Kenyon College whose faculty is 90% liberal but which offers what I regard as – admittedly on the basis of a brief visit – an excellent traditional curriculum and a staff that treats its conservative students with the respect they are owed. I praised Reed for its own traditional curriculum after my interviews with students during my visit.
So let’s put our disagreement about Bates and the student testimonies behind us, and I will try to persuade you that a problem exists in our universities, which is not a small problem, by referring to a few departmental self-descriptions taken from university websites. In my view these indicate on their face a systematic bias in the curricula described, and reflect non-scholarly, non-academic approaches to their fields.
At the University of California Santa Cruz, faculty radicals have changed the very name of the Department of Women’s Studies to reflect the overtly ideological nature of its courses. It is now called the Department of Feminist Studies, and is self-evidently a program of indoctrination in the theory and practice of radical feminism, whose agenda is the recruitment of students to radical causes. This is quite openly stated on the official departmental website where under “Career Opportunities” and the heading “What Can I Do With A Major in Feminist Studies?” the answer provided is as follows:
"Employment Opportunities for Feminist Studies Majors:
“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,…”
This is not the goal of an academic curriculum. It is the goal of an indoctrination and recruitment program, which violates the most fundamental professional standards, as well as the existing academic freedom guidelines of the American Association of University Professors. Yet not a single administrator or faculty body in the University of California system appears to be the slightest concerned.
At Kansas State University, the Women’s Studies Department describes its program in the catalogue this way (I am quoting only two points out of many presented by the Women’s Studies Department):
“To qualify for a B.S. or B.A. degree in Women’s Studies, students will have demonstrated:
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. [emphasis added]
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. This statement takes a non-academic and partisan view of issues that are controversial – whether women are in fact “oppressed” in the United States, whether there is “gender inequality” in our society, or whether “heterosexism” and “classism” are meaningful let alone valuable categories of analysis.
I am sure you will agree that this statement of the qualifications for a degree in Women’s Studies does not reflect an academic conception of Women’s Studies, and are not the requirements of a program of scholarly inquiry into the history and sociology of women. These are the requirements of an ideological program frankly designed to indoctrinate students in a radical feminist view of the world, and to recruit them to feminist causes.
Finally let me introduce you to the curriculum for Social Work 510 at Kansas State (forgive the Kansas-oriented examples but I have just testified in behalf of an Academic Bill of Rights resolution before a committee of the Kansas House). In its course description Social Work 510 explains its agendas: “An understanding of the development of social injustice is a necessary first step toward working for social justice.” Again, this is the statement of an advocacy program not an academic inquiry.
And what does the course syllabus for Social Work 510 teach students are the origins of social injustice? The principal required text for the Social Welfare course, which answers this question, is not a text that presents several points of view, nor is it even a text with social welfare as its subject. Instead, it is a well-known political indictment of American history by the Marxist writer Howard Zinn. In fact, virtually the entire “Social Welfare” course in the Social Work program at Kansas State is a chapter by chapter, class by class reading of Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States. One chapter of this book and one entire class of this course are devoted to “The Impossible Victory – Vietnam,” in other words to celebrating the Communist imposition of a totalitarian state in Vietnam. What on earth does this have to with the education of future social workers in “social welfare?”
At this moment, I think you are probably appreciating more than ever the academically privileged environment you inhabit at Reed. And I am willing to bet there is no course or department at Reed like the ones I have just described. Yet 80% of American college students (I believe that is the figure) go to state schools like the University of California and Kansas State. So we do not have a small problem here.
I assure you that I could find more many more such departments and courses at these two schools and at schools all over the country that are both private and public, secular and religious.
Which brings me to the problem of religious schools, and the second objection you raise about my motivations, though I am not totally clear why it belongs in such a category. I guess you think my agenda as a conservative is to empower the religious right. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with my confrontations with the religious right over their attitudes towards gays, or my observations that Intelligent Design Theory is not scientific and has no place in a biology curriculum.
The problem you see in the exemption we have made for private and religious institutions is a problem of our pluralistic society not something that originates with me. If you have a solution for it that does not involve the same contradiction you impute to me, I’m all ears. However, I would not even be able to get a resolution passed through a legislature without making this exemption. Second you don’t give me credit for attempting to end the hypocrisy whereby religious institutions restrict the principles of academic freedom but claim to observe them. The contradiction that irks you is something you might speak to the American Association of University Professors – the chief opponent of my Academic Bill of Rights -- about, since it has not to my knowledge challenged religious colleges and universities which do in fact hire and fire professors according to a religious litmus.
Compelling religious institutions to concede that they restrict professorial attitudes seems as though it would produce a much better situation than the present one where they pretend to observe the canons of academic freedom but actually don’t. I am a practical man not a dreamer, so this small step appears like a gain to me. And I don’t really think it’s fair for you to say that it shows I don’t value academic freedom, just because I can’t move a mountain like this. Nor do I think it “sabotages [my] whole project” as you claim. I am not a miracle worker and my ambition is not to transform the face of American higher education including American religious education. I just want to improve the education of as many American students as possible and particularly those who have been the victims of ideological programs such as the ones described above. Seventy-five percent of college students attended public schools. If I were able to improve the education of that group it would be achievement enough. If that many Americans became educated in the principles of academic freedom as a result of my efforts that in itself would have an impact on the religious holdouts.
By the way, I don’t agree with your view that religious schools are predominantly conservative (or that they represent such a significant proportion of the student population). Some are – Liberty University, Bob Jones and Grove City would be an obvious three. But denominational schools like DePaul, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova etc. are most decidedly not. DePaul is one of the most ideologically left schools in the country. We had the Dean of Faculty at St. Joseph’s testify at our hearings in Philadelphia and if my memory serves me (I can look it up if you care) he said that a student who did not believe in “social justice” would not qualify for a degree at his school.
The third basis of your mistrust is your impression that I associate liberal academia with the treasonous left: “You clearly identify the American liberal professoriate as having been deeply infiltrated and even dominated by the treasonous ‘Shadow Party.’” I’m sure you have reasons for thinking this, but your impression is wrong.
Here is my view of the American professoriate as expressed in my now notorious book, The Professors: “Although such a judgment is beyond the scope of this inquiry, it is a reasonable assumption that the majority of university professors remain professionals and are devoted to traditional academic methods and pursuits. But these scholars are often a silent majority intimidated from expressing their views on subjects like the Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill affairs because of their concern not to be labeled ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ or ‘reactionary’ by their more aggressive radical peers. Still, they are not always so intimidated, and can sometimes be seen standing up to defend academic standards under assault.”
Allow me to indulge myself with one other quote from the same text: “This book is not intended as a text about leftwing bias in the university and does not propose that a leftwing perspective on academic faculties is a problem in itself. Every individual, whether conservative or liberal, has a perspective and therefore a bias. Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their individual points of view. That is the essence of academic freedom.”
In other words, I appreciate the scholarly integrity and disposition of professors on the left like yourself, and have absolutely no quarrel with your presence on university faculties or influence on the university curriculum; nor is it my agenda to produce on the right what radicals on the left have indeed achieved in fields like Women’s Studies, Black Studies and the like.
Nor have I ever called for academic “balance” either in writing or in speeches; nor do I think “devil’s advocacy” as a pedagogic method should be avoided or chilled; nor have I ever criticized a Colorado professor for a single remark about Bush or anyone else. I think it’s inappropriate for professors to inject passionate political attitudes into their lectures or make irrelevant derisory comments about conservative or liberal figures in a classroom. One Colorado professor whom I criticized had delivered a rant in a class which was ostensibly about property law to the effect that all Republicans were racists and then called a student who objected a Nazi. The other professor gave a final criminology exam in an undergraduate course that offered students a choice between two essay topics: Make the case for gay marriage or make the case that the United States invasion of Iraq was criminal. Since the only other essay questions (both required) were designed to make students display their knowledge of feminist theory and power structure theory I don’t think you could construe these as devil’s advocacy points.
Yes I feel that large parts of universities which are not institutionally conservative like Reed have been colonized by political activists with malicious agendas towards the United States. And yes they are leftists. But I certainly draw a sharp line between them and scholars like yourself and Larry Summers, even though we have many points of disagreement. I wish liberals would show the same respect to conservatives.
Now to your substantive criticisms of the Academic Bill of Rights. Let me say first that I think you raise very interesting intellectual questions about the actual content of the bill. Only a libertarian here or there has provided me with a comparable challenge. And let me say at the outset, that I don’t know all the answers. But I also don’t believe that all of the problems you present are peculiar to my Academic Bill of Rights or to your impressions of it.
At least one is a problem inherent in the very idea of academic freedom. This is the idea of faculty self-governance. What happens if a faculty becomes politicized and no longer maintains academic standards? This is what I believe has happened in entire departments and academic fields. When this does happen, the combination of tenure and the autonomy of the faculty merely ensure that the destruction of academic values and standards will be permanent. What are the means for redress in this case? Are faculties unique in our society in being accountable to no one? Of course not. They are accountable to university governing boards and trustees and to legislatures in the case of universities created by the state. How this authority is used is another matter.
Which brings us to the Academic Bill of Rights. I think you would be the first to agree that a proper academic inquiry should proceed from many angles not just one, and therefore that the exclusion of conservatives from a faculty such as Reed presents a problem for anyone who takes academic scholarship and inquiry seriously. The difference between the conservative viewpoint and the liberal viewpoint, between Adam Smith and Karl Marx, between Hayek and Foucault, between Locke and Rousseau is as profound as a difference can be, and pervades their entire perspectives, including their understanding of social institutions and historical events. And I am sure you agree that these differences are philosophically based and create a chasm that no argument can bridge.
Consequently, the absence of faculty members who hold conservative views at an institution like Reed haunts virtually every question that arises in its classrooms. This does not mean that a professor with leftwing views cannot represent the conservative view on a given question. But because he is not a conservative, and is not thinking like a conservative, there are whole dimensions to any given problem that he will not see. If this were not the case, the differences between leftists and conservatives would hardly be as profound as they are or have lasted as long as they have.
So the real question is what to do when confronted with this absence. You are right that any attempt to insert a conservative viewpoint into a faculty that has no conservatives might pose an immediate contradiction. How can you hire a conservative without hiring a candidate on the basis of his perspective? Well, you can’t. But why does this problem have to be reduced to its political dimension? Why does it have to be a political perspective one is looking for when these issues are fundamentally philosophical? And since they are philosophical, what we are looking for is a scholar who holds these views, not a politician who wants to implement them. Let’s take a hypothetical case. Let’s say that a university, noticing that whole departments are devoted to “critical” thought about “late capitalism” and the development of the radical critique of the West, decides to create an interdisciplinary program – a curriculum – around the idea of examining the historical/social, moral/legal, economic foundations of free societies – that is, of free market societies and political democracies based on philosophical individualism. 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? I can’t think of a reason why this would violate the canons of academic freedom, can you? By the way, I don’t think this means that the “conservatives” so selected would be Republicans. I have actually attempted to promote such a curriculum at a major institution and the faculty member I asked to design the curriculum and organize the program is a Lieberman Democrat who is a professor at its law school.
If you look again at the language you object to in the Academic Bill of Rights -- “plurality of methodologies and perspectives” – you will see that it was carefully chosen to conform to existing standards of intellectual diversity in the academy. It is a standard practice in academic hires to seek a plurality of methodologies and perspectives – a historicist, a deconstructionist, a post-modernist, a Marxist, a feminist etc. So why not a traditionalist, an Arnoldian, a Hayekian, a scholar who resists current dominant intellectual fashions – i.e., a “conservative?”
I think it is unfortunate for the movement for intellectual diversity that it has fallen to my lot to be its mover, or at least the catalyst who gets it off the ground. And that’s because my profile is too political and my political temper too hot. But I didn’t seek this role so much as it sought me. Efforts to resist the creeping politicization of the curriculum (again, Reed and Kenyon appear to be academic islands resisting this trend) failed to gain traction and also lacked allies outside the politically conservative ranks. That’s when I stepped in. I may not succeed. But I assure you that what I am trying to do is to revive in the academy the kind of traditionalist curriculum you already seem to have at Reed, only with a more inclusive (and diverse) faculty representation. And just to make this as clear as it can be: the purpose of such diversity would not be to introduce conservative political viewpoints into the curriculum. I would expect conservative faculty to behave as professionally in the classroom as you and leave their politics at the door.
And therefore I hope you will first of all correct your impression of what I mean by academic freedom – which is exactly what the AAUP has meant by academic freedom in all its major pronouncements on the subject until recently. Unfortunately, the leadership of the AAUP has steadily drifted left, and is now composed of political activists who have no real interest in the principles of academic freedom. Just to underscore this point, the head of Committee “A” of the AAUP (until June 2005), Joan Wallach Scott has condemned supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights as “the pro-Sharon lobby” while focusing AAUP concerns on the defense of terrorist professors Sami al-Arian and Tariq Ramadan.
You say politicized teaching is bad teaching and unprofessional teaching; we agree. You say bad teaching can only be corrected by the assertion of academic and professional standards and these can only be imposed by the university community itself; we agree. You say good academic behavior cannot be required and/or imposed by legislatures without destroying the very institutions it would be proposing to reform; we agree.
So why have I turned to legislatures, and how have I turned to legislatures? To answer the second question first, I have not asked a single legislature to pass an actual law with an enforcement mechanism. Every legislative measure has been a resolution. Why are these resolutions necessary and what is their agenda? They are necessary because universities have shown little inclination to enforce their own academic standards. Look what happened to Larry Summers at Harvard when he asked Cornel West to do some scholarly – as opposed to political – work. Where Summers couldn’t succeed, why would any other university president think they could?
When the faculty is the problem, there is only the administration to bring it to its senses. But administrations live in fear of the radical minorities on their faculties. That is the lesson of Summers’ fall. What university president would not be impressed by the termination of the career of the most powerful president in the history of the modern research university because he proposed a scientifically proven fact – that women and men have different aptitudes for mathematics. This is Galilelo vs. the Church all over again, only the church is a secular faculty possessed by a religious idea (feminism).
In any case, in launching my academic freedom campaign I went first to a university administrator with my Academic Bill of Rights. I wrote the Bill of Rights for Tom Egan, who is the chairman of the board of regents of the State University of New York system. He told me not only that he would adopt the Academic Bill of Rights as a university policy (to be implemented and enforced by the university community) but exactly how he would do it. And then he didn’t. As months went by and he asked me over and over if I could get faculty support for the Bill I realized that he was paralyzed by the realization that the faculty would never approve it. And he lacked the nerve to put it through as an administrative measure. So I decided to look for another alternative, for a point of leverage with which to move this immovable object. That’s how I came to legislatures.
My legislation is designed to do one thing: provide university administrators with an incentive to confront their faculties and enforce the existing academic standards that have fallen into disuse in the last decades. In Ohio and Colorado, as soon as my legislation began to go through the process, the presidents of the state universities approached our legislators and asked if they would withdraw the legislation if the universities would institute the policies themselves, or policies like them. In the case of Ohio, they asked if they could implement the June 23, 2005 statement on academic freedom of the American Council on Education. We said yes. Why? Because that was my intent in going to the legislature in the first place. To get the universities to move in the right direction themselves.
In Pennsylvania we have created a Committee of the Pennsylvania House on Academic Freedom in Higher Education. I can send you a pamphlet I put together on the Hearings. You will see that what we asked is: What are your academic freedom policies and professional standards? Why aren’t you enforcing them? What steps could you take to enforce them? This was no imposition. It was just a call to them to do the right thing – i.e., the thing they themselves agree is right.
Of course there is always an implicit threat that once engaged in issues like this, legislatures might be tempted to do more, and might transgress the boundaries that you and I feel are appropriate. But is this a reason not to do anything at all? Here I have a real problem with liberal and leftwing critics of my approach. Why have you not raised a similar hue and cry against affirmative action and sexual harassment policies imposed on universities by governments both federal and local? These legislative measures directly interfere with university governance, dictate who can be hired, what is appropriate behavior inside classroom and out, and what students may be admitted. Not only have the faculty opponents of my Academic Bill of Rights not opposed such intrusion by the state, they have actively supported it. So it is somewhat difficult for me to take objections to the extraordinarily mild measures I have proposed at face value when my opponents are willing to make a concessions like these.
To sum up: In every case, our approach to academic freedom has been to have the universities themselves do whatever needs to be done, in the way that they see fit to do it. And we have never asked them to do anything beyond enforcing policies they already endorse. This is a pretty cautious program of reform, which has been blown way out of proportion and grossly misrepresented by the AAUP and the faculty unions.
Strip away the political noise and my agenda for the university and yours are quite close. The difference between us is that you enjoy a privileged environment at Reed where you do not see problems such as the ones in California and Kansas I have referred to in this letter, which are actually quite typical. Consequently, you regard my methods as unwarranted and drastic and even dangerous. I hope my letter has persuaded you to some extent that your fears are possibly exaggerated. I have enjoyed this exchange, which has been far more pleasurable and informative than our ill-fated encounter last year.