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Objectivity Begins at Home By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 03, 2006


The current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review carries an article by Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, entitled "On Balance." Lemann's article is a critique of Representation of Ideological Perspectives in Law and Journalism Faculties, a recent study of leftist bias in Law and Journalism Schools by David Horowitz and Joseph Light. The essay below is David Horowitz's response to Lemann's article. -- The Editors.

Dear Dean Lemann:

I have read your books, The Big Test and The Promised Land, both of which were written with a liberal bias, and both of which I found informative and worth the read. The discipline of objectivity, which you rightly respect, is what made this seemingly contradictory achievement possible. Like the rest of us you have a bias, but in submitting your bias to the discipline of objectivity you were able to achieve a valuable and informative result. I applaud your commitment to teaching Columbia Journalism students the importance of this discipline, and would do the same were I a professor on your faculty (which would need, as predicates, my interest in an academic career and the openness of your faculty towards hiring a conservative, which now is at the very least an open question).

 

Our concern in publishing the study “Representation of Ideological Perspectives in Law and Journalism Faculties,” was not that Columbia lacks an artificially imposed balance. Our concern was that because conservatives are effectively excluded from the Columbia faculty the standard of curricular objectivity you are able to achieve is unnecessarily (and regrettably) low. Because Columbia sets the standard for other schools of journalism, this is a matter of general concern as well.

 

Your response to our study (and my academic freedom campaign), which you have pointedly titled “On Balance,” misrepresents my concern. In doing so, it reflects a bias so institutionally entrenched in the academic world that even an honest reporter like you is unable to correct for it. Consequently your article is uncharacteristically bad reporting, both in regard to my study of faculties at journalism schools and my campaign for academic freedom.

 

The import of your article is that the effort to achieve ideological balance through affirmative action hiring quotas for conservatives would be harmful to the very cause of objective journalism. I agree. Contrary to your article’s main point, I have never called for “balance” on academic faculties. I have never, to my knowledge, even used the word “balance” in articulating the goals of my campaign. The word “balance,” thus, does not appear in our study. We avoided it precisely because “balance” could be read to imply an artificial standard of intellectual diversity, which would conflict with other important, merit-based considerations. To demonstrate, as we have, that there is an absurd and (to my mind) crippling scarcity of conservatives on your faculty is not the same as saying you ought to have an equal number of right-wing professors to balance those on the Left, let alone that there should be a political litmus in hiring so that the politics of a candidate would be checked before or in place of any other factor.

 

I don’t want to belabor the point, but this is a pretty big error to have made, since it is the substance of your case. On the other hand, I would bet that if your faculty had a conservative colleague or two with whom you could have vetted your article you might have saved yourself this embarrassment. Alternatively, if someone in the circles you moved in also moved in conservative circles, they might have said to you, “I know Horowitz and he is a subtler thinker than the liberal media culture gives him credit for. This doesn’t sound like a mistake he would make; you ought to check out his writings on this subject carefully before you jump to such a conclusion.”

 

The immediate presence of conservative viewpoints would provide a system of checks and balances that you don’t have now at Columbia generally. I didn’t have to do a study to know this. I have been writing articles and books for 45 years. I edited the largest magazine of the New Left, was at or near the center of some of its pivotal events, and have written (or co-written) the most celebrated critiques of its movements and ideas. Yet I have only twice in 30 years been asked to an academic event, or conference, or seminar (one of them a conservative event in Virginia), or been interviewed by a scholar or doctoral candidate interested in this history (let alone the history of conservatism itself).

 

I don’t know any conservative faculty member at Columbia, nor has any non-conservative faculty member sought out my acquaintance even though I have spoken at Columbia three times and am a Columbia alumnus (Class of ’59). If I were a leftist of comparable intellectual standing, you and I both know that by now I would have met a dozen friendly Columbia faculty and been interviewed, as a literary personage and historical artifact, dozens of times.

 

Of course, there are members of your journalism faculty – Todd Gitlin and Victor Navasky – who know me well, but who for political reasons do not want my presence at Columbia on academic occasions, and are even reluctant to engage my intellectual arguments. My last book, Unholy Alliance, included an intellectual portrait of the Left from the 1930’s to the present, including an analysis of Gitlin’s perspective on the Iraq War, without response from Todd or any other left-wing intellectual. (I solicited for my own internet magazine a commentary from Timothy Burke of Swarthmore.) If a healthy intellectual dialogue were taking place at Columbia, you would have been more familiar with my work or made yourself more familiar with my work, and you would not have jumped to the false conclusion you did. (Nonetheless, I appreciative of your generally respectful treatment.)

 

You might also have avoided tropes like this opening: “David Horowitz, the left-wing activist turned right-wing activist....” As anyone familiar with my biography would know, I haven’t been a left-wing activist for 31 years – you probably have younger faculty members than that. Referring to this ancient event (my political transformation) as though it is a necessary frame to my argument in this matter is merely a way of depreciating the intellectual content of my argument – a disrespect I do not take personally but regard as a normal reflection of the insularity I have come to expect from self-referential academic culture.

 

While I am on this theme of complaint, allow me to make this observation about the passage you quote from my “account” of a visit to the White House in December. You criticize what I wrote as part of the “tradition…of journalism operating as politics.” But this was not intended as journalism at all. The little paragraph appeared in my editorial blog, and was clearly written as a message of uplift to my conservative readers. I make no apologies for that, but it is misleading to suggest this is representative of my journalism, which in any case is also part of my literary past. Except for a recent memorial remembrance of the life of Susan Lydon, I haven’t written a journalistic piece that I can think of in seventeen years.

 

Our study of journalism and law faculties was not designed, then, to assert a claim for strict balance, but merely to establish that there is a lack of representation of conservatives that is so extreme as to raise questions about the manner in which faculty members are currently hired, and in which prospective lawyers and journalists are currently trained.

 

A couple of years ago I had lunch with Michael Parks, Dean of the Journalism School at the University of Southern California. I had followed Parks’ work as a correspondent in Moscow and Johannesburg and had learned to respect him. At our lunch I said: “Michael, how many conservatives are there on your faculty?”

 

 “I can’t think of one,” he said.

 

“Michael, do you think this is a good idea from the perspective of providing a sound education, let alone training good journalists?”

 

 “No, I don’t.”

 

“What can you do about it?”

 

“Absolutely nothing.”

 

That is because faculty does the hiring, and administration does not.

 

The pressure to hire people who reflect oneself is great in all walks of human life, but for various reasons most of which have nothing to do with politics; it is nowhere greater than in universities. A tipping point in faculty hiring occurred years ago, when like-minded members of the Sixties’ generation became a dominant force in search committees and in the leadership of academic professional organizations. Today, the hiring of a conservative (or should I say an “open conservative”) to a university faculty is extremely unlikely. Everyone knows this while most deny it, which is why we decided to do our study.

 

This is an unhealthy and indefensible situation. The slogan of my academic freedom campaign encapsulates the problem: “You can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story.” The absence of conservatives on Columbia’s faculty denies its members the intellectual challenge that is necessary to maintain a quality standard. Ironically, the impact of this absence on liberal students is probably worse than on conservative students, who are challenged every time they write or speak a sentence that reflects their point of view. Yes, teachers can fight their personal biases and strive for fairness and objectivity. But we are all human (all too human) and we all know that this effort does not suffice.

 

You have already conceded this in describing your invitation to Tunku Varadarajan to co-teach a course with you, explaining: “Our mission should be to rid our students of automatic or blinkered thinking; to teach them to recognize and try to overcome the assumptions and preconceptions they bring to a story, to make them push themselves to find alternative perspectives.”

 

I applaud you for this. The point of the study we have published and of my academic freedom campaign is that this laudable gesture is simply not enough.

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


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