This is an excerpt from the introduction to David Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, which will be officially released on Monday, February 13.
Trials of the Intellect in the Post-Modern Academy
In January 2005, Professor Ward Churchill became a figure of national revulsion when his impending visit to Hamilton College was linked to an article claiming that the victims of 9/11 were “little Eichmanns” who deserved their fate. Churchill’s article produced an outcry of such force that it led to the removal of the faculty head of the host committee at Hamilton and the resignation of the president of the University of Colorado where he was Professor of Ethnic Studies and Department Chair. As a result of the uproar, Churchill himself was removed as head of the Ethnic Studies Department and university authorities began an investigation into how he had acquired his faculty position in the first place.
Far from being a marginal crank, Ward Churchill was (and at this writing a year later still is) a prominent personage at the University of Colorado and in the academic world at large. A leading figure in the field of Ethnic Studies and widely published, his appearance at Hamilton in January 2005 would have been the 40th campus that had invited him to speak in the three years since 9/11. The opinions expressed in his infamous article were themselves far from obscure to his academic colleagues. They had first been published on the Internet in October 2001 and reflected views that were part of the intellectual core of his academic work, familiar both to university authorities in Colorado and to his faculty hosts at Hamilton. These facts made the scandal an event whose significances extended far beyond the fate of one individual to implicate the academic culture itself.
In the course of these events, several facts about Churchill’s academic career were brought to light to provide other grounds for questioning his university position. Although Churchill was a department head who received an annual salary of $120,000, he had no doctorate, which was a standard requirement for tenured positions, not to mention chairs. Moreover, his academic training had been in Communications as a graphic artist rather than an academic field related to Ethnic Studies. The Masters degree he held was from a third-rate experimental college, which did not even give grades in the 1970s when he attended. He had lied to qualify for his affirmative action hire, when he claimed on his application that he was a member of the Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee tribe. In fact, his ancestors were Anglo-Saxon and the Keetoowah Band had publicly rejected him. An investigative series by the Rocky Mountain News also maintained that he had plagiarized other professors’ academic work and had made demonstrably false claims about American history in his own writing, literally making up American atrocities that never happened.
Despite these revelations, hundreds of professors and thousands of students across the country sprang to Churchill’s defense, signing petitions in his behalf and protesting the “witch-hunt” of academic “liberals.” At the Indiana University Law School, Professor Florence Roisman took around a petition in Churchill’s behalf. When law professor William Bradford, a Chiricahua Apache with a stellar academic resume refused to sign the petition, Professor Roisman retorted “What kind of a native American are you?” and launched a campaign to have Bradford fired. The American Association of University Professors ignored the Bradford case, but issued an official declaration of support for Churchill, invoking “the right to free speech and the nationally recognized standard of academic freedom in support of quality instruction and scholarship.” Churchill made a public appearance in his own defense to a cheering University of Colorado audience of 1,500, and went on to tour other campuses where he received a similar hero’s welcome from large university crowds. These events further revealed to a troubled public the extent to which radicalism at the very edges of the American political spectrum had established a central place in the curriculum of American universities.
How could the university have hired and then raised to such heights an individual of such questionable character and preposterous views as Ward Churchill? How many professors with similar resumes had managed to acquire tenured positions at Colorado University and at other institutions of higher learning? How pervasive was the conflation of political interests and academic pursuits on university campuses or in college classrooms? Why were the administrations seemingly unable to assert and enforce standards of academic excellence? Such were the issues the Churchill scandal raised.
The present volume examines a hundred university and college professors and attempts to provide a factual basis for answering these questions. The method used is similar to the scholarly discipline known in the historical profession as “prosopography,” which was defined by one of its creators and best-known practitioners, Lawrence Stone, as “the study of biographical details of individuals in the aggregate.” The purpose of this exercise, as Stone explains is “to establish a universe to be studied,” in this case a universe of representative academics who use their academic positions to promote political agendas. A further purpose of prosopography is to establish both patterns of conduct and patterns in careers through a study of the assembled profiles.
When viewed as a whole, the hundred or more portraits in this volume reveal several disturbing patterns of university life, which are reflected in careers like Ward Churchill’s, but are neither limited to him or his specific university or his particular academic discipline. These include (1) promotion far beyond academic achievement (Professors Anderson, Aptheker, Berry, Churchill, Davis, Kirstein, Navarro, West, Williams and others in this volume); (2) teaching subjects outside one’s professional qualifications and expertise for the purpose of political propaganda (Professors Barash, Becker, Churchill, Ensalaco, Furr, Holstun, Wolfe and many others); (3) making racist and ethnically disparaging remarks in public without eliciting reaction by university administrations, as long as those remarks are directed at unprotected groups, e.g., Armenians, whites, Christians and Jews (Professors Algar, Armitage, Baraka, Dabashi, hooks, Massad and others); (4) the overt introduction of political agendas into the classroom and the abandonment of any pretense of academic discipline or scholarly inquiry (Professors Aptheker, Dunkley, Eckstein, Gilbert, Higgins, Marable, Richards, Williams and many others).
Not all of the professors depicted in this volume hold views as extreme as Ward Churchill’s, but a disturbing number do. All of them appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena, and that scholarly standards can be sacrificed for political ends; others are frank apologists for terrorist agendas, and still others are classroom bigots. The dangers such individuals pose to the academic enterprise extend far beyond their own classrooms. The damage a faculty minority can inflict on an entire academic institution, even in the absence of a scandalous figure like Ward Churchill, was recently demonstrated at Harvard, when President Lawrence Summers was censured – the first such censure in the history of the modern research university in America -- because Summers had had the temerity to suggest in a faculty setting an idea that was politically incorrect.
One of the professors profiled in this text, Columbia University’s Todd Gitlin, explained the achievements of faculty radicals in an essay that appeared in 2004. After the Sixties, Gitlin wrote, “all that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked ‘political correctness’ of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost – we squandered the politics – but won the textbooks.”
Because activists ensconced in programmatic fields like Black Studies and Women’s Studies also teach in traditional departments like History and English ,and influence them as well, the statements by Rorty and Gitlin may actually understate the ways in which a radical left has colonized a significant part of the university system and transformed it to serve its political ends. In September 2005, the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting, for example, featured a panel devoted to the question, “Is It Time To Call It Fascism?” meaning the Bush Administration. Given the vibrant reality of American democracy in the year 2005, this was obviously a political rather than a scholarly agenda.
To identify one hundred radical professors for this volume, it was not necessary to scour university faculties. This sample is but the tip of an academic iceberg, and it would have been no problem to provide a thousand such profiles or even ten times the number. The faculty members of the entire Ethnic Studies Department which Churchill chairs, for example, share views similar to Churchill’s and have declared their solidarity with him throughout the crisis. Yet only the new chair of Churchill’s department, Elizabeth Perez, has been selected for inclusion in these profiles. None of the nine professors participating on the just described Political Science Association panel – or many others like it – are included. Out of the more than 250 “Peace Studies” programs whose agendas are overtly political rather than scholarly, this collection includes only half a dozen professors. The same is true for other ideological fields like Women’s Studies, African American Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies Post-Colonial Studies, Queer Studies, Whiteness Studies and Cultural Studies.
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. But they also have professional obligations as teachers, whose purpose is the instruction and education of students, not to impose their biases on their students as though they were scientific facts. The professorial task is to teach students how to think not to tell them what to think. In short, it is the responsibility of professors to be professional – and therefore “academic” -- in their classrooms. This includes the duty not to present their opinions and prejudices as fact, and not to require students to agree with them on matters which are controversial.
The privileges of tenure and academic freedom are specifically granted in exchange for this professionalism. Society does not provide tenure to politicians – and for good reason. To merit their privileges – and specifically their tenure privileges -- professors are expected to adhere to professional standards and avoid political attitudinizing. As professionals, their interepretations should be tempered by the understanding that all human knowledge is uncertain and only imperfectly grasped; that such knowledge must be based on the collection of evidence, evaluated according to professionally agreed on methodologies and standards. As teachers they are expected to make their students aware of the controversies surrounding the evidence, including the significant challenges to their own interpretations. Hired as experts in scholarly disciplines and fields of knowledge, professors are granted tenure in order to protect the integrity of their academic inquiry, not their right to leak into the classroom their uninformed prejudices on subjects which are outside their fields of expertise.
Therefore, professors must be careful to distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of fact, between what is in the end a subjective reading of the data and the data itself. Professors have a responsibility in their classrooms to respect both the standards of research and inquiry of their profession and the still unformed intellects of their students, who are their charges. Their teaching must not seek the arbitrary imposition of personal opinions and prejudices on students, enforced through the power of the grading process and the authority of the institution they represent.
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. A prominent member of the academic left and a distinguished Milton scholar, Stanley Fish, has written an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he stresses the importance of drawing the line between political attitudinizing and scholarly discourse. His article was titled, “Save The World On Your Own Time,” and in it, he cautioned academics about getting involved as academics in moral and political issues such as the war on terror. In a paradoxical summary statement he warned: “It is immoral for academics or academic institutions to proclaim moral views.” The reason, according to Fish, was provided long ago in a faculty report to the president of the University of Chicago. “The report declares that the university exists ‘only for the limited…purposes of teaching and research,’” Fish wrote. “Since the university is a community only for those limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.”
The conclusion Professor Fish drew was straightforward: “Teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or anti-nationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host. Of course they should teach about such subjects, something very different from urging them as commitments – when they are part of the history or philosophy or literature or sociology that is being studied. The only advocacy that should go on in the classroom is the advocacy of what James Murphy has identified as the intellectual virtues, ‘thoroughness, perseverance, intellectual honesty,’ all components of the cardinal academic virtue of being ‘conscientious in the pursuit of truth.’” (emphasis added)
This was once the prevailing view among academic professionals. But now it is under significant challenge by radicals firmly entrenched in departments in the liberal arts fields. Organizations like “Historians Against The War” or the “Radical Philosophical Association” directly challenge the idea of academic neutrality on controversial political issues. In 2002, Columbia University hosted a conference of academic radicals called, “Taking Back The Academy: History of Activism, History As Activism.” The published text of the conference papers was provided with a Foreword by Professor Eric Foner, who is a past president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and a leading academic figure. Far from sharing Professor Fish’s view that a sharp distinction should be drawn between political advocacy and the scholarly disciplines, Professor Foner embraced the proposition that political activism is essential to the academic mission: “The chapters in this excellent volume,” wrote Foner, “derive from a path-breaking conference held at Columbia University in 2002 to explore the links between historical scholarship and political activism….As the chapters that follow demonstrate, scholarship and activism are not mutually exclusive pursuits, but are, at their best, symbiotically related.”
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