What’s a professor to do, teach facts, or push his personal opinions? David Horowitz and Ward Churchill debated the subject of academic freedom before 300 students of George Washington University on the evening of April 6, 2006. FoxNews and C-SPAN covered the historic event, as truly significant ideas were expounded—ideas which are having an ultimately profound effect on American society.
Radio America’s Alan Nathan moderated the structured debate, and began with the question: Should politics be kept out of the classroom, and is it possible to keep it out?
Horowitz answered "Yes" to both questions, and Churchill answered "No." Their contrasting positions remained consistent throughout the debate. Students were presented with well articulated arguments on opposite sides of the same issue.
Horowitz believes that a professor should teach subjects in which he has been trained, and in which he has expertise. A professor should teach the truth, and teach "about" the subject, objectively, rather than advocate personal opinions or conclusions. The classroom is not a place for the professor’s political advocacy or recruitment of followers. The classroom is not for indoctrination, nor for the preaching of ideological prejudice.
Ward Churchill believes it is impossible for the professor not to advocate his own opinions. Unavoidably, he must "profess." Moreover, Churchill denounces the idea that there is such a thing as truth, about any subject. Truth is merely the opinion of those in power, and such opinion has never been kept out of the classrooms of America. The classroom is a place of advocacy.
Churchill was clearly defensive, though no accusation was made against him. He indicted the idea of objectivity as a current "apologetic" of those opposed to his kind of attacks on America. He implied that the only reason Horowitz advocated the idea of academic freedom was because Horowitz defended those in power. Churchill presented himself as the noble champion of the very kind of objectivity which Horowitz advocated.
Churchill, known for radical Leftism, infamous for condemning America (and who said to Sean Hannity on a post-debate interview that he loved America), claimed that academic freedom had never existed in America, and that his own opposition to the "status quo" represented true objectivity and freedom. Churchill autolytic sophistry lead him to accuse Horowitz of Marxism. Churchill said that Horowitz’ appeal to the government to intervene on the university campus was not freedom, but oppression.
But Churchill also accused Horowitz of capitalism! Churchill said the university was a job-training market, and students were not trained to think at all. They were churned out like products on a factory line. Thus, Churchill attempted to accuse Horowitz of all that which he himself daily practices as a professor, as if Churchill was freedom’s hero, and Horowitz was the oppressor.
The debate was exemplary in that a discourse of radically opposing ideas was presented in the same event. These kinds of exchanges are exactly what David Horowitz and the proponents of academic freedom want: objective data "about" the subject and opinion from opposing points of view.
And Horowitz did not malign universities for their Hollywood approach to hiring faculty. Universities love celebrities, actors, and famous people. Hiring such personnel ups the status of the university, and attracts business (i.e., students). Horowitz did not even mention the fact that this is precisely why Ward Churchill was hired by the University of Colorado (Boulder), and paid nearly 100K, despite the fact that Churchill does not have a doctorate, yet was given the chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. Horowitz kindly refrained from mentioning that Churchill’s Bachelor and Masters degrees are in Communications, and not in Ethnic Studies, nor in American Indians studies—which Churchill "professes." Horowitz did not call attention to the fact that Churchill is an epitomical example of what’s wrong with the university, and that Churchill was the arch-hypocrite for condemning American capitalism while benefiting from its most ironic form—the university campus.
Churchill condemned the American university for advocating status quo, while presenting himself as the exponent of academic freedom. The blind speciousness of his position was apparent.
Horowitz was certainly the moral winner of the debate. With stunning civility in a circumstance of anticipated volatility, Horowitz showed remarkable restraint. He could have embarrassed and thoroughly discredited Churchill, but for the sake of decorum he stuck to the debate topic and presented his own position on academic freedom.
In the end, their debating styles illustrated their positions as much as their philosophical (or in Churchill's case, sophistical) arguments. Horowitz was satisfied to take part in the non-volatile presentation of intensely opposing opinions. But Horowitz did not accuse. Churchill did. Horowitz was not personal. Churchill was. That's part of the reason David Horowitz won the debate and his measure should win the day in one state legislature after another.