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Attack of an Academic Zero By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Michael Vocino is a full professor of media and film studies and of political science at the University of Rhode Island. Vocino is profiled in my book, The Professors and is in an apparent lather over what I have written about him. Two weeks before The Professors’ official publication date, Vocino was in a more playful mood, posting a mash note entitled, “Horowitz and Me: Thank You, David!” The note explained: “People have been calling me for two days, congratulating me….And for someone like me, to be included among the great names on the Left…it’s like winning the Nobel. My department chair was among those offering congratulations and another of the many e-mails I’ve received from colleagues suggests that I include the book mention by Horowitz under ‘Awards and Honors’ on the University’s dossier forms.”

That was Vocino then. This is Vocino now: “What Horowitz has said about me that is correct is that I am an out and proud queer who wants to see the U.S. economy based on Marxist principles and an end to that shameless imperialist war in Iraq. Everything else David Horowitz has said about me is a not so creative mix of fiction, lies, and distortions. He is a man without ethics, morality, and is the Master of the Big Lie.” In short, Horowitz is Hitler. (I’ll bet he says the same about President Bush.)


Vocino sent this post to Illinois Academe, the newsletter of the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors, in response to a query asking him for his reply to The Professors. Vocino’s response is to be part of a series of such responses solicited by Academe editor by John K. Wilson, who is himself the author of a book called The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education. 


Even in his earlier February 1 post, despite the saucy tone, Vocino described the profile I had written as a case of having “one’s academic record distorted and lied about by the omissions of truth.” (Note that construction: the lies consist of omitting “truths” that Vocino prefers to mine.) In several additional outbursts since then, Vocino has continued his venting, posting them on his artfully URL-ed blog –  Vocino69.blogspot.com.


The attack Vocino sent to Academe claims that the author of The Professors “lied, misrepresented, and distorted my classroom activities, my academic record, and my professional standing at the University of Rhode Island.”


One of the classroom activities I am alleged to have “distorted” is Vocino’s sexual harassment of his male students: “David Horowitz’s first charges against me were that I am a homosexual who pushes for gay rights, sexually harasses students for doing so, and that I treat Christian students unfairly,” tactics of “a man without morality [or] ethics.”


I didn’t accuse Vocino of being a homosexual. How can you accuse someone of something that he trumpets (loudly)? “My name is Michael Vocino and I like dick!” is his first day of class greeting to new students – a fact, reported by his students, which Vocino has never once denied.


Considering the slanders I am said to have published about him – which are now nearly eight months old, readers may wonder why Vocino has not threatened a libel suit or demanded a formal retraction. After all, to lie about a man’s professional credentials in a way that discredits him, and to accuse him falsely of sexual harassment, not to mention religious bigotry, would easily justify recourse to legal measures. Moreover, Vocino was not a public figure when all this began, and consequently the threshold for a libel suit is significantly lower for him than for those who are public figures, like me. He does not have to suffer the slanders of thousands of character assassins as I do, without access to legal remedies. Yet there has been no such remedy sought by Vocino; no attorney’s letter; not the hint of a protest to my magazine or my book publisher demanding a retraction.


And why is that? That is because such options are available to Vocino only in the event that my statements about him are false. In fact, they are true. This is also why in the half a dozen attacks on me that he has posted on Vocino69, he has failed to specify one actual sentence or phrase from my profile which is untrue.


According to Vocino, I falsely maintain that he “treat[s] Christian students unfairly.” But I  don’t actually make this claim in my text – there are no words of mine to that effect. What there is in my text is a classroom remark that Vocino made to one of his students and that I simply quoted: “Nathaniel, Why do Christians hate fags?” Vocino has never denied making this statement, nor does he do so in his current attack on me. Nor could he, since the statement was made and was witnessed by his entire class. I leave the reader to judge whether this is unfair treatment by Vocino of one of his Christian students or whether he is the one who has a problem with the truth.


Near the outset of his attack, Vocino warns readers: “Remember we are talking about a man who made up a department at Wellesley College and then attacked it because it was ‘too liberal,’ at the beginning of his career as a rightwing [sic.] operative.” In other words, I am alleged to be a person so lacking in respect for the truth that in the absence of a real target I would invent an entire academic department out of whole cloth just for the purpose of attacking it. Vocino’s source for this claim is another professor profiled in my book, Michael Berube.


Before I respond to the specific charge, may I point out that I have never in my life accused any individual or any institution of being “too liberal.” Anyone even slightly familiar with my work would know that I don’t like the term “liberal,” because it is used as a fig leaf behind which leftists like Vocino hide their radical agendas. In fact, I regard myself as a liberal, which is why I am promoting an Academic Bill of Rights that supports intellectual diversity and inclusion. People like Vocino, who deny that there is even a problem of intellectual diversity on university faculties, are not liberals. They are leftists – even Marxists, as he identifies himself –  who are happy with the failure of university officials to enforce academic standards and academic freedom principles that would prevent them from using their classrooms as platforms for their political prejudices.


Vocino’s claim about my invention of an academic department for the purpose of attacking it is a mangled repetition of a 14-year-old charge made in a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the magazine Heterodoxy, which Peter Collier and I published in the 1990s. A 100-word squib in Heterodoxy had reported that the Women’s Studies Department at Wellesley sent e-mails to students planning to major in a Modern European History course, accusing them of “perpetuating the ‘dominant white male’ attitudes and behaviors that have been oppressing women for generations.”


The Wellesley Women’s Studies Department criticized in the Heterodoxy squib did (and does) actually exist, so Vocino’s accusation against me is simply false on that count. No department was invented in order to attack it. The error the writer made was in regard to a Modern European History major, which did not exist but was not itself the target of the criticism. Considering that this was written at the height of the political correctness obsession with “Eurocentrism” and that such an e-mail was entirely plausible and may have been written about a different course, this is really a molehill of a case. And that assumes that I even wrote the squib that appeared in Heterodoxy.


But I didn’t. Nor did I edit it. In fact, I had absolutely nothing to do with the squib, which appeared in a regular column written by Heterodoxy’s editor, Peter Collier, or the error, which Vocino has inflated into a Machiavellian plot (Horowitz invented a department in order to attack it) and a proof positive that I have no regard for the truth.


These facts were pointed out in the comments appended the Berube post from which Vocino lifted the charge. So not only does Vocino base his accusation on Berube’s erroneous claim rather than on the Heterodoxy squib which is readily available on the web, but he is not even aware that Berube’s accusation has been refuted by someone who actually took the time to look the reference up. It is Vocino, then, who is unconcerned about the facts in this matter. Everything he has managed to say about this episode in order to discredit me is false. May we conclude that this is an example of the “scholarship” that elevated him to a full professorship?


As footnote, Berube retrieved this entire episode from his 1994 book Public Access, where he described Peter Collier, me, and Heterodoxy this way: “Combining the right’s financial clout with the aging Hitler Youth hijinx [sic] of Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Heterodoxy makes no bones about….” Just so we are straight on who took the plunge into the sewer in the first place.


The phony Wellesley story is only part of a string of smears that Vocino casually casts in my direction: “[Horowitz’s] most recent accusations against professors in Colorado, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois among many others have all proven to be lies or misrepresentations.” Vocino does not provide any specific detail about these cases    it is just a blanket smear. But the two I recognize as previously made charges against   me I have already proven to be based on false presentations of the facts by my critics. Readers (not to mention myself) are minimally owed an examination of these arguments before Vocino repeats them again. Other troubled academics with equally lax intellectual standards and journalistic ethics have also invented and repeated false accusations like this, even after they have been refuted. The Brock-Soros website, MediaMatters, even has an archive of lies about statements I have made (without providing readers with my refutations of their claims) for easy reference by zealots like Vocino. My only puzzlement over the sentence in Vocino’s text is why he didn’t throw in the other 46 states while he was at it.


Even before examining the evidence concerning Vocino’s charge that I attacked him for being a homosexual and falsely accused him of being a sexual harasser in his own classroom – one might ask why a well-known defender of gays and their rights would attack him for promoting gay rights. As it happens, I have not only defended gays against right-wing attacks, I have employed gays (and in executive positions) to assist me in this and in other causes. Why would I do this if my agenda was really to attack gays like Vocino for standing up for themselves? In fact, there is not a single anti-gay remark in my book or in my profile of Vocino for that matter, or in anything that I have ever written that Vocino might invoke to support his charge. Which is another reason he carefully avoids – in this, as in all cases – any reference to actual words that I have written.


As with his false claim about Wellesley, none of the alleged “lies,” “misrepresentations,” and “distortions” in my book originated with me. All the aforementioned complaints about Vocino come from his students, specifically from an article written by Nathaniel Nelson, the principal in-class target of Vocino’s harassment. Nelson’s article was published in FrontPagemag.com on August 1, 2005, and is cited in my profile. The article was entitled “My Name Is Michael Vocino And I Like Dick” – harassment enough since, as noted, it is word for word Vocino’s self-introduction to his students on the first day of his class. In the eight months since it was made, Vocino has never challenged the claim that this is the way he introduced himself to his class.


The fact that the charges of sexual harassment were published in FrontPage Magazine more than a year ago is pertinent to any assessment of who is lying about whom and about what in this matter. First, Vocino did not file a complaint with the administration of his university about Nathaniel’s article when it appeared; nor did he send FrontPage a demand for retraction. If the charges Nathaniel Nelson made in his article about Vocino’s classroom behavior were false, why was Nathaniel not brought up on disciplinary charges, or sued? Not only did Vocino not sue, he did not even deny the specific charges that Nathaniel had made when I sent him an e-mail challenging him to do so. In fact I published the letter Vocino wrote on August 4, 2005, complaining about Nathaniel’s article (but without challenging its specific allegations). I also published my letter to him reiterating the specific allegations and challenging him to say they were not true.  (Both of these can be read in my post, “A Confession of Guilt?” Vocino never replied. That was because the charges I published were and are true.


Vocino’s account of the administrative inquiry into this matter, which he claims exonerated him, is worse than fanciful. I am appending the passage from Nathaniel’s August 5 FrontPage article which recounts what took place. Nathaniel reported Vocino who was disciplined, and then relented when it came to formally pressing the harassment charges, because felt Vocino had been punished enough. Evidently not, since Vocino has taken advantage of Nathan’s benevolence to lie about what transpired and defame his student on the internet.


Professor Vocino appears to be most upset by the charges I have made about his lack of credentials to be a full professor with tenure and his incompetence to teach courses in politics and political theory. This speaks to a central argument in my book, which is that radicals like Vocino have corrupted the academic process. “Now Horowitz moves to my credentials and as he has done with a number of the 101 Most Dangerous, he charges that we are not qualified to teach those subjects we have been assigned by the University to teach…As an academic professional my record stands for itself in that rigorous review system and I have consistently been promoted and reached the apex of the professorship with a promotion last July to Full Professor III.”


This is how my profile of Vocino in The Professors deals with his academic credentials:


Currently in his fifties, Vocino is still merely a Ph.D. candidate in his chosen field of “Cultural Studies.” [My researcher called the University of Rhode Island to check that Vocino still has no Ph.D. – DH.] An enthusiast of the off-color cable series South Park, Vocino has made this cartoon show the subject of his uncompleted dissertation, which at this point is entitled “They’ve Killed Kenny! Popular Culture, Public Ethics and the Televisual.”


Professor Vocino’s scholarly work is most notable for its absence. Aside froma short book on ethics for public administrators (1996), Professor Vocino has practically no original work to his name. Most of his publications are simply descriptive bibliographies of journals and newspapers already available in libraries – i.e., they are lists. [This makes sense because Vocino is really a librarian; his main graduate degree is an M.A. in Library Science – DH.] His work in Film Studies consists of a 1998 conference paper on the film The Titanic. With his glaring paucity of both graduate training and independent scholarly achievement, Professor Vocino does not even qualify for the position of an assistant professor, let alone associate professor with tenure rank, let alone a full professor. That has not prevented Professor Vocino from posturing as an expert in all the many fields he teaches – which run the astounding gamut from “Film Theory” and “Film History,” to “Political Ideologies,” to “Political Philosophy: Plato to Machiavelli,” to “The American Presidency,” to “Contemporary Italian Politics.”


Vocino’s response to this damning summary of his academic resume is the only element of his attack on my book that contains a sliver of honesty. For example, he doesn’t claim here that he actually does have a Ph.D. – although his site did just that, until we checked with the university and reported that he didn’t – only that he has “three degrees, a certificate in graduate studies” and spent three months in a Ph.D. seminar in film studies [Wow!]. He also claims he has a life membership in Phi Beta Kappa, which means he did well as an undergraduate. I have a Phi Beta Kappa membership too (which I haven’t thought of boasting about once in the 47 years since I acquired it), and I also spent three months in a Ph.D. seminar when I was a graduate student. So what? Does this qualify me to receive a full professorship, lifetime tenure, and authority in a classroom devoted to “Political Philosophy: Plato to Machiavelli?”


In fact, Vocino does not himself claim to have written any scholarly article that is about political theory and not about films or that would qualify him to teach a course in “Political Ideologies,” “The American Presidency,” or “Contemporary Italian Politics.” But in Professor Vocino’s univers,e my refusal to regard a Phi Beta Kappa B.A. and a three month graduate seminar as Ph.D. equivalents, or to regard an expertise in library work on films as a qualification to teach political theory amounts to “misrepresentation” and, of course, lies.


Such is the state of academic standards and academic discourse at the University of Rhode Island today.



Appendix 1: Excerpt from Nathaniel Nelson’s August 5, 2005 article in FrontPagemag.com:


I was often advised that I should confront Professor Vocino with my concerns. Since I was extremely apprehensive about the entire matter, I did not confront Professor Vocino for quite some time. It was not until I received the e-mail about the ‘den of iniquity’ that I decided to approach him. I worked in a law office to finance my education. I was advised by the lawyer I worked for to write a letter putting Professor Vocino on notice that I was very uncomfortable with his behavior and requested that he only speak to me on matters dealing directly with the course subject matter. Professor Vocino refused to sign the letter, as he felt that he did nothing wrong. When he received the letter, he apologized for making me feel uncomfortable and stated that he would honor my wishes.


Yet, this newfound respect was brief in duration. When he resumed his usual provocations, I decided to go to the Chair of the Political Science Department. I took along the other conservative student who was sometimes criticized with me. I was pleased to learn that she was appalled by Professor Vocino’s behavior. As my friend and I were uncomfortable dealing with the matter before the conclusion of the class, we met with the Chair immediately following the last day of class. Following our meeting, we were assured that Professor Vocino would be spoken to and that his teaching in the Political Science Department would be suspended. To my knowledge, this promise has been met. I was greatly impressed with how the Department handled the matter.


At the beginning of the next semester, I was contacted by the Discrimination/Affirmative Action office at the University. At their request, I explained my concerns with the director of the office. I was advised that I was entitled to file an official complaint with the University. Should I have chosen to file a complaint, an official investigation would have followed.


At the time, I chose not to file an official complaint. My reason was that I merely wanted Professor Vocino to know that his actions were wrong. I felt that it was only fair to give Professor Vocino a ‘second chance.’ I hoped that he would possibly learn from his mistakes. I was informed that the office would be speaking with Professor Vocino. I was advised that should Professor Vocino contact me again, I should contact the office.


Thus, Professor Vocino is still teaching and very active at the University of Rhode Island as he is associated with the Film Studies Department and the University Library. I have been told by numerous students that Professor Vocino still teaches in the same fashion as he did in my class.


Recently, Professor Vocino and a fellow colleague responded harshly to a column that I wrote for the student newspaper. The reason for such criticism was due to a comment made based on statistics from The Center for Disease Control.


As a columnist, it is understood that I open myself up to public criticism. Even so, Professor Vocino’s criticisms were unprofessional and threatening.


Though previously advised of his actions against me and, to my knowledge, being advised not to contact me, Professor Vocino once again vehemently attacked my beliefs. In his public response to my column, Professor Vocino described me as the ‘face of hate’ and stated that columns such as mine ‘cause murder, beatings, humiliation and more for LGBT community members.’ (LGBT is an acronym for the Lesbian Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender community.) He also reiterated his slander that I believe homosexuals “should be punished…as [instructed in] Leviticus where the prescription is that gays should be stoned.” The backlash among the general student population at the university against my misrepresented beliefs was harsh.


Distressed, I went again to the Discrimination/Affirmative Action office. But this time I was advised there was nothing that the office could do.


Read the full article here.


Appendix 2: Vocino’s response to The Professors for Illinois Academe, posted on vocino69.blogspot.com:


March 13, 2006


                                    Illinois Academe and David Horowitz


                                                By Michael Vocino


I just sent this in reply to an e-mail from James K. Wilson, editor of the Illinois Academe founder of the www.collegefreedom.org and author, of The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education in answer to his request for "some kind of statement you wish to make public" in response to the Horowitz book The Professors: the 101 Most Dangerous Academics:

David Horowitz's first charges against me were that I am a homosexual who pushes for gay rights, sexually harasses students in doing so and that I treat Christian students unfairly. When I heard that those charges were brought by two students (the President of the College Republicans at URI and his vice president) to the chair of my department, it was I and not the students who demanded a full investigation by the Affirmative Action Officer at the University and, of course I was vindicated.

Failing at these charges, now Horowitz moves to my credentials and as he has done with a number of the 101 Most Dangerous, he charges that we are not qualified to teach those subjects we have been assigned by the University to teach.

Remember we are talking about a man who made up a department at Wellesley College and then attacked it because it was "too liberal," at the beginning of his career as a rightwing operative.

His most recent accusations against professors in Colorado, Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois among many others have all proven to be lies or misrepresentations, but I am sure you've done your homework for this article and I don't need to tell you that. What he has done to these victims, he has also done to me: lied, misrepresented, and distorted by classroom activities, my academic record, and my professional standing at the University of Rhode Island. And why? He has done so because I support full rights for all GLBT people, I advocate a Marxist political/economic perspective as a way to end many of the country's many problems, and because I see the Iraq War as nothing more than an opportunity to expand American corporate culture at the expense of the lives of America's young and their Iraqi equals.

What Horowitz is pushing in his attack on me and other professors is that Universities aren't ideologically standing with him and the rightwing conservatives he represents and those conservatives who are financially supporting him to do their "dirty work."

Professors are judged each and every year or every other year at the higher ranks by peers, deans, the provost and finally the president of the University in a very rigorous review system to insure the quality and quantity of their output. As an academic professional my record stands for itself in that rigorous review system and I have consistently been promoted and reached the apex of the professorship with a promotion last July to Full Professor III.

Among my accomplishments in academic life are three degrees, a certificate in advanced graduate studies from one of Europe's most prestigious Universities (where I spent a year and several months studying film theory and film history with one of the world's most prominent names in cinema studies) and yet an additional 3 years attending Ph.D. seminars at the same University on a monthly basis, a life membership in the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society for academic excellence, nearly 600 thousand dollars in grants from the U.S. government, private foundations, and the University (and all those were highly competitive) along with the publication of 3 monographs, chapters in books, published articles, three merit raises from the University (based on my academic record in scholarship, professional service, and service to the community), and a term as a grant reviewer of the U.S. Department of Education's highly competitive Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education indicate that Mr. Horowitz has either not don't his homework when it comes to my record or deliberately has overlooked and lied about most of my many accomplishments that clearly indicate my ability and qualifications for University service. He's done it before to many others who have dared to disagree with him and no doubt he will do it again, and again, and again, because he is highly paid to do so by the most conservative foundations in the country, all of whom support the rightwing agenda Mr. Horowitz champions for money.

What Horowitz has said about me that is correct is that I am an out and proud queer who wants to see the U.S. economy based on Marxist principles and an end to that shameless imperialist war in Iraq.

Everything else David Horowitz has said about me is a not so creative mix of fiction, lies, and distortions. He is a man without ethics, morality, and is the Master of the Big Lie.

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

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