Joining Frontpagemag.com today to debate the Academic Bill of Rights and the recent Pennsylvania Bill are:
Kevin Mattson, who teaches American history at Ohio University. He has written Intellectuals in Action and co-edited Steal This University: The Rise of the Corporate University and the Academic Labor Movement;
David Horowitz, publisher of Frontpagemag.com, author of Uncivil Wars, a book about the intellectual climate on American campuses, and the author of the Academic Bill of Rights.
FP: Prof. Kevin Mattson and David Horowitz, welcome to Frontpage’s debate on Academic Freedom. Dr. Mattson, let’s begin with you. What do you think of the Academic Bill of Rights in general and the Pennsylvania bill in particular?
Mattson: I have already stated my opposition to the Academic/Student Bill of Rights in an article penned for the Nation magazine, A Student Bill of Fights. I would ask Frontpagemag.com readers to take time to read the article rather than rehash it here.
My opposition to the ABOR is straightforward. It stems from my belief that the legislature should not be empowered to monitor what happens within classrooms. The PA bill empowers a "select committee" to examine and investigate academic institutions. Nothing has changed on this point, and thus my opposition has not changed.
To call, as "Victory for Academic Freedom in Pennsylvania" does (posted to your website), the vote "decisive" when it was 108-90 seems peculiar (I'd like to see the party breakdown on the vote). I can't help but to see this as boilerplate legislation and as a general attack on what's referred to, in the article, as "the educational establishment." And I'm not convinced that the legislators have thought through what this will entail once implemented. Call that my pointy-headed intellectualism and snobbery, as I'm sure you will.
Consider the vagueness of the language. I can't imagine that legislators didn't wonder, as they did in Ohio, what this legislation would actually mean once implemented (maybe even some of those 108 who voted for it wondered, even if they didn't wonder enough for my liking). A "committee" is to "examine the academic atmosphere" at institutions? What does this mean? That there should be "an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth"? How's that to be measured? That students must be ensured "reasonable access to course materials that create an environment conducive to learning" seems vague as well (imagine the complaints: "My computer crashed and I couldn't download the Adobe readings! To arms! Not only that, but I was asked to read someone who considers herself a feminist! Enough!"). To call this sort of legislation a "victory" is dubious. How will it be practiced and carried out?
I know that it in Florida, someone priced this sort of legislation out and predicted that legal fees would be outrageous. And that's what is so ironic here. It's odd to hear conservatives talk about empowering the government to police classroom discussion and create legislation that will obviously create more litigation. Strange indeed. It's also sad to see how much of this feeds into a growing sense of "entitlement" - a negative buzzword among conservatives last time I checked - on the part of college students today. The authority of the professor here is thrown out the door, and the victimized student empowered. I knew we lived in strange political times, but this is stranger than expected.
Finally, regarding your last query, my school already has an appeals process regarding grades. It also has a clearly set out formula for promotion and tenure which states that we are to be evaluated on teaching, research, and service - period. From what I can tell, this is fairly typical and, once again, why the Student Bill of Rights is redundant. I've sat on a committee reviewing a student's complaint about a grade he thought unfair. The process worked just fine. We looked at the evidence presented from both sides (teacher and student) and read their cases. I'm sure the student is still upset that he received an F for failing to fulfill the requirements of the course listed on the syllabus handed out the first day of class. Then again, many students think they're performing at a better level than they really are. I know I did when I was an undergraduate. So again, my own experience suggests that this sort of legislation is dangerous (and expensive) at worst and redundant at best.
Horowitz: First let me welcome Professor Mattson to this discussion and complement him on his civility and his willingness to address the issues in a dispassionate manner that encourages reflection. Despite this goodwill, however, he gets off on the wrong foot at the outset by addressing his criticism to something that neither the Academic Bill of Rights nor Pennsylvania HR 177, which was inspired by it, proposes.
The Academic Bill of Rights does not even mention legislatures. The opposition to it that is based on this presumption (which is all of it) is based either in ignorance of what it says, or groundless speculation on what it means, or in bad faith. So I would like to begin first, by asking Professor Mattson to keep in mind the distinction between the Academic Bill of Rights, which was proposed by me as a policy for universities themselves to adopt and which has nothing to do with legislatures, and specific bills like HR 177 which do.
To solidify this distinction and get a clear idea of Professor Mattson's position, I would like to ask him if he has any objection whatsoever to the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) as a policy that universities like his own might adopt.
Even bearing this distinction in mind, the legislation in Pennsylvania does not propose to "monitor what happens within classrooms." It is a resolution not a statute. It creates a committee to look at the "academic atmosphere" in the institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania that are funded by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. Is Professor Mattson suggesting that the representatives of the people of Pennyslvania have no right to look at the operation of the institutions they fund?
Professor Mattson asks the following questions: "A 'committee' is to 'examine the academic atmosphere' at institutions? What does this mean? That there should be 'an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth?' How's that to be measured?"
The questions about measurement are Professor Mattson's own inventions, designed as debaters' points to make the questions themselves look absurd. But are they? The conditions necessary to "an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth" have been defined by the American Association of University Professors over the course of nearly 100 years. And they have been embraced by every accredited academic institution. So the idea that there are such principles is hardly the invention of myself or the legislative sponsors of this bill. Is Professor Mattson suggesting that there is something wrong with conducting an investigation to see whether these principles are honored today in the institutions of higher learning whose bills the people of Pennyslvania pay?
Allow me to be even more specific. Professor Mattson's own institution, Ohio University, has an academic freedom policy that states "All teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject." (The academic freedom policies of Ohio University and all other state institutions in Ohio are analyzed here.)
Professor Mattson is perhaps unaware of this policy at his own university but it exists. Moreover, it is word for word taken from the AAUP's Statement on Tenure and Academic Freedom of 1940 (reiterated in 1970). It is also, verbatim, part of Ohio Senate Bill 24, the Academic Freedom legislation in his state, which Professor Mattson and his colleagues almost to a man have opposed.
Oppose it or not, it is the stated policy of Ohio University. Does Professor Mattson wish to contend that not a single professor at Ohio University has violated this principle in the last year? Does he imagine that not a single professor has digressed in a class that is not about the war in Iraq on President Bush's policies in Iraq? Or perhaps about John Kerry's quest to replace President Bush? Yet, unless I missed something, no measure was undertaken by any departmental or central administration authority at Ohio University to correct these infractions or to remind Ohio faculty of their responsibilities to academic freedom: to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth, which according to the official policy of Ohio University includes not expressing hostility to George Bush's policies in Iraq in the classroom. Does Professor Mattson wish to suggest that when administrators of state institutions are derelict in enforcing the policies of those institutions the state's representatives have no responsibility to see that they do?
Professor Mattson has noticed that a legislator in the state Florida has complained that it would cost the state university system $1.4 million to administer the legal problems associated with the Florida bill based on the Academic Bill of Rights. Professor Mattson finds the cost "outrageous" and wants conservatives to feel guilty about even proposing that this money be spent. I wonder if Professor Mattson has expressed similar outrage at the tens of millions of dollars that his own university (and every large state university) pays annually for government mandated programs regarding ethnic and gender diversity, or for defending sexual harassment and racial discrimination claims. If these costs are worth paying why would he stint at a fraction of those costs to protect students from political harassment and discrimination and from being denied the value of their education dollar by professors who want to use their class time for non-educational purposes?
I'm pleased that Professor Mattson's school protects professors (all schools do), and I'm glad that his school has a grievance procedure for students who feel they've been graded unfairly. What his school does not have is a grievance procedure for students who have been discriminated against on the basis of their political affiliation. Nor does it have a clear and enforced policy protecting students from political indoctrination even though the American Association of University Professors has taken a strong verbal stand against indoctrination in the classroom since 1915. That is the real issue, and I will be interested to hear what Professor Mattson has to say about it.
Mattson: Mr. Horowitz's opening complaint that I confuse the Academic Bill of Rights and the legislation that has followed seems disingenuous to me. To be asked what I think of the Academic Bill of Rights without commenting on the legislative route that has been taken recently seems like being asked what I think of "Marxist theory" without saying anything about the practice of communism in actually existing societies in recent history. If I had been asked the same question before the SBOR was proposed within legislatures - by Mr. Horowitz himself and with much of the same language in the original statement - I would not have a problem answering the question. But the point is that the legislative route has been taken and that, yes, my primary concern is with that route. I have spoken with Todd Gitlin, who was one of the left-wing people Mr. Horowitz consulted about the ABOR before legislation began, and he stated explicitly that if he knew it would have become the basis for a legislative push he would have expressed his objection. Again, my concern is with the legislative path taken. That still stands. And I'm unconvinced that the Academic Bill of Rights is as divorced from the legislative path taken in such states as PA, no matter what Mr. Horowitz suggests here.
Yes, I still have concern with a committee of representatives examining the "academic atmosphere," precisely because I find such a charge vague. Mr. Horowitz finds evasive my thinking about the consequence of such vague language framing some investigation in the future, but again, that's precisely my objection. Mr. Horowitz labels my concerns about vagueness and measurement simply my own "inventions" that are "debaters' points," but I think they're much more than that. They reflect my desire to think through the consequences of the legislation in PA I was asked to comment on.
Now onto my own university's language and the issue of "controversial matter" in the classroom (to quote my own institution's language). First off, I'm a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and even still, I have expressed concern with the language about controversy in its own statements (other members have expressed this concern as well, and much of this, I should point out, was drafted a long time ago). But instead of arguing this on an abstract level, let me speak as someone who has recent experience in teaching college students. I think much of this debate about the legislation has been carried on by people who have very little experience in the classroom, and that's a problem.
I teach an introductory course on American history - often referred to as the "survey" course for 1865 to the present. I have taught this course numerous times and quite recently. While the war in Iraq was starting, I was teaching a section of the course on American Cold War foreign policy. I was setting out the debate - giving both sides a hearing, I should point out - about "containment" versus "liberation" or "rollback." While explaining the differences between these two philosophies, a student, whose politics I didn't know at the time and still don't know, asked, "Is there a similarity between 'rollback' and the recent talk of a 'preemptive' attack in Iraq?" (The exact wording was different, but it was exactly this line of questioning.) I was shocked. Why? Because most of my students are quite passive in large classrooms and don't seem to relate contemporary American history to current issues. It was a great question, because it helped me have a brief discussion of the similarities between the Bush doctrine and say the thinking of James Burnham and others while also making very clear the difference in historical contexts. The discussion helped illuminate what might otherwise have been abstract discussion about historical ideas. It was, to use language that I don't usually use, a "teaching moment" - a chance to have students understand a historical era and political theory much better than otherwise. No doubt, it was controversial, but it was the student who asked and I think my comparison was fair. Should I have not discussed this because it was controversial? That would seem to be counter-productive. In fact, it would have been bad teaching.
On another occasion, a student - I believe a conservative, but then again, I don't know and don't ask students what their political dispositions are (nor do I know any colleagues who do or who talk about matters that have "no relation to their subject") - asked if Richard Nixon's domestic programs were similar to those of George W. Bush. I explained that Nixon had many liberal domestic programs whereas Bush was much more ideologically committed to cutting domestic programs or turning services over to faith-based organizations. Now, again, the student asked. I didn't initiate the point, but again, for the student's sense of learning, I thought it a great opportunity and an irrefutable point of comparison.
On another occasion, a very conservative student - who made her politics known to me - argued that we should have used nuclear weapons on Vietnam. This came up in my class on the Vietnam War. Most of the class was shocked to hear this, but it allowed me to bring in Barry Goldwater's position in 1964 in ways that were much more interesting and productive for the students; there was a great debate between liberal and conservative students. By the way, this conservative student wrote a paper that attacked social programs that I agree with. She got one of the few A's in the class, precisely because she took a stand and had an argument. The problem with most students today is not that they are ideologically charged but that they are passive and listless in the classroom (though I disagree with much of what he has to say, David Brooks had a good piece about undergraduate life about four years back that made the same point as I do here). They traditionally write papers that have no argument, no thesis, and thus no organization or convincing style to them. Again, I just don't see the students in my classes as being cowed for political reasons. What is more of a problem is that they don't see the relevance of their education and stay passive about subject matter that should elicit debate.
But back to my main point. What do these three stories tell Frontpage readers? That controversy is good and might even be helpful for teaching, not harmful. So in a long-winded way, yes, I disagree with my own institution's statement here. And, by the way, I have protested numerous policies at my school - including being too willing to protect a professor who was a sexual harasser in my mind and for making expensive purchases of airplanes for our president when our overall budget was being slashed. I've also openly worried that we put too strong of an emphasis on recruiting minority students to our campus (which is in Appalachian Ohio) while ignoring the problems poor white students have affording college today. I have no problem criticizing my university on numerous counts.
Finally, Mr. Horowitz's last point. He complains that my school "does not have a grievance procedure for students who have been discriminated against on the basis of their political affiliation." True. But we do have a grievance procedure that allows students to make whatever charges they want about why they think they were graded unfairly. I see no reason why to adopt this language explicitly (especially with the publicity that Mr. Horowitz's work has already generated). In fact, I see a parallel with hate crimes legislation, which I generally disagree with. It's enough to prosecute someone for injuring or killing another without going into the motivations of the person doing the killing. The same can be said for Mr. Horowitz's proposal. Why not simply allow students to make their grievances known about how they were graded, no matter if it was political, racial, sexual, whatever. And again, this is what I find so strange about the SBOR. Is it really necessary to provide special protection for conservative students today? I think not.
Horowitz: Let me begin my response with a clarification. I had asked Professor Mattson to make a distinction between the Academic Bill of Rights and the legislation it has inspired, not to ignore the fact that there is legislation or to deny that it needs to be discussed. Nor is looking at the original Academic Bill of Rights analogous to only looking at what Marxists say in theory as opposed to what they do in practice. First, the Academic Bill of Rights can be adopted directly by universities – which would end the need for legislation. If Todd Gitlin and others I approached at the outset (including the AAUP itself) had been willing to join me in pressing the Academic Bill of Rights as an academic policy, I would not have taken the legislative route. I have said many times that we will withdraw the legislation, moreover, if the academy will put the policy in place. Second, the totalitarianism of Marxism is in the theory itself -- as generations of writers from Bakunin to Kolakowski have shown.
Let me concede, so there is no misunderstanding, that legislation can present problems of its own. However, I would be more impressed with my opponents in the university who have expressed concerns about these problems, 1) if they showed any willingness to address the abuses of students’ academic freedom on their own; the legislative sponsors of our bill have, in fact, withdrawn it when they met with a willingness on the part of university administrations to do the right thing; and 2) if our opponents had shown any similar concern about the much more elaborate legislation over sexual harassment and ethnic and racial diversity. Why this concern about government intrusion in the university all of a sudden, and over an attempt to see that there is a pluralism of ideas available to students and not just a pluralism of ethnicities and races?
Professor Mattson’s comments about the clause in the Ohio bill regarding “controversial matter” are well put and therefore will be helpful in clarifying the issues. I think it will be useful if we have the actual clause from the legislation (as well as the policy at Ohio University) in front of us: “Faculty and instructors shall not infringe the academic freedom and quality of education of their students by persistently introducing controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to their subject of study and that serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.” (Ohio Senate Bill 24)
I think it is obvious from the text itself that Professor Mattson has no real cause for concern. All three of the examples involve questions that are entirely relevant to a course on American History 1865 to the present, and it is obvious that bringing in the Iraq war and Bush’s domestic policies in the contexts described do serve a “legitimate pedagogical purpose.” The opposition to the Academic Bill of Rights has been particularly hysterical and mendacious in the state of Ohio – where the ACLU described it as banning controversial issues from the classroom – so I can understand how Professor was misled.
At the same time the serious and civil manner with which he raises his concerns is really the beginning of a civilized discussion about the bill, which has been singularly lacking to date. Let me remind readers that the sentence about “controversial matter” appears verbatim in the Bill, in the Academic Freedom Policy and in the 1940 Statement On Tenure and Academic Freedom of the American Association of University Professors from which it was taken.
I, myself, also am not fully satisfied with the clause even though in its present form it would not affect any of the problem questions brought up by Professor Mattson. But before I go any further with this textual analysis, Professor Mattson might want to ask himself why Ohio University and the author of the bill, Senator Larry Mumper, decided to quote the AAUP statement verbatim? The answer is obvious. This is the formulation of an important educational principle by professors themselves. Quoting the AAUP’s own formulation is evidence of the respect that was paid to the academic profession in drafting the Academic Bill of Rights, and all the associated legislation—a respect that has not been reciprocated. Instead it has been the subject of paranoid insinuations about the “real” motives of its drafters, and accompanied by vicious and unprincipled attacks, particularly by the AAUP but including other organizations (faculty senates, unions and the like). This is the reason that Professor Mattson’s civility and attention to the issues is so refreshing.
Of course, when it comes to the legislation, including verbatim the statement of the AAUP itself reflects more than respect; it is pragmatic politics. In attempting to reform an institution, it is advisable to preserve and/or honor as many existing policies as you can. This observation re-raises the question that Professor Matson continues to side-step. If the policy on “controversial matter” is the policy of Ohio University, why isn’t it enforced? Why is there such opposition to the Academic Bill of Rights? The AAUP came up with the formulation on “controversial matter” in 1940 and reaffirmed it in 1970. These were years in which the country was in the throes of a debate over war and peace. Well, we are in this situation again. What is Professor Mattson’s objection to having the university re-iterate this policy, formulate it as a student right and put a copy in the hands of all students so they know it is their right?
Now to return to Professor Mattson’s objection to the clause itself. I agree with Professor Mattson that this phrase has a problem of vagueness in the word “controversial” and would like to see it more specifically addressed to the abuses we have documented. “Avoid introducing controversial matter in a partisan manner” might be better. It is political advocacy that is inappropriate in the classroom, not the discussion of controversial matters. It is my view that when a professor becomes a partisan advocate vis-à-vis a student, the teaching relationship itself is damaged. The teacher is no longer the student’s mentor, but has become his adversary. (And of course I don’t mean a teacher can’t play “devil’s advocate” for pedagogical purposes.)
Here is a formulation of this principle by a leading academic scholar (and man of the left) Stanley Fish: “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)
Teachers should teach about controversial issues rather than urging them as commitments. This is what good education is about, teaching students how to think and not what to think. Professor Mattson’s example of the conservative student to whom he gave an “A,” shows that he understands this principle and stands by it. So perhaps we have opened a door here. I would like to know what Professor Mattson thinks of Stanley Fish’s formulation (or mine) and what he would suggest in place of them if he does not approve of either.
Let me repeat myself: the reason the Academic Bill of Rights is such a controversial issue, and the reason it has become a legislative movement is because of our inability to find a dialogue partner on the other side. All the legislation will be taken off the table if we can find a common ground of principle and institute a policy to enforce the principle.
Now to the question of grievance machinery. First the existing grievance procedures for adjusting grades operate under a mandate that is far too narrow. When a biology professor shows Farenheit9/11 to his biology class; when a Spanish professor regularly devotes ten minutes of class time to a “political parenthesis” in which he rants against the war in Iraq, the President in the White House and the Republican Party; they are abusing students’ academic freedom in a way that does not involve grades. When students feel they have to parrot the political prejudices of their professors in order to get a good grade, that doesn’t involve adjusting a grade. I would venture that the vast majority of abuses do not involve grades.
Secondly, the publicity that my work has generated in the academic community can in no way be regarded as the equivalent to an official university statement. I have been demonized beyond recognition by organizations like the AAUP, the AFT and the ACLU, and on hundreds of leftwing websites in a campaign of guilt by insinuation and association that preposterously (but probably permanently) links me to Joseph McCarthy. So Professor Mattson cannot really think that his fellow academics regard the issues I have raised as serious or meriting respect, let alone deserving implementation.
I agree that hate crimes legislation is bad. But what is being proposed here – grievance machinery – is not a criminal proceeding. It is a well-established process in the university for issues that are much more fraught with difficulty than keeping political prejudices out of the classroom: sexual harassment and “insensitive speech.” If Professor Mattson wants to reform all these procedures, fine. I’m just asking for parity as between intellectual diversity and skin and gender diversity.
Finally, Professor Mattson misunderstands the Bill of Rights when he regards it as a “protection for conservative students.” It is a protection for all students, left or right (and our organization has defended leftwing students to show we mean what we say). Even when we are dealing with the persecution of conservative students, liberal students are affected. When a professor humiliates a conservative student because he is conservative (as happens often), or when he encourages other students in the class to ridicule that student, or when he makes regular derogatory references to conservative figures, it is not only conservative students whose education he damages. Education is about opening minds and informing them. How can you encourage students to think through the many sides of an issue if you de-legitimatize a side as significant as conservatism?
By excluding conservatives from university faculties, the left has already taken a giant step in the direction of a one-party academic state. Part of this exclusion is accomplished by the constant messages to conservative students who might want to pursue academic careers that the academy hates them. Knowing that sitting faculties who are more than 90% on the left have the power and the will to make their lives miserable, why would they embark on a ten or fifteen year apprenticeship to people who can’t keep their political prejudices separate from their professional tasks and who have already declared themselves in the classroom to be their mortal enemies?
Mattson: I think we've debated our main points and have shown where we disagree, so I'm going to keep this short. First off, I should point out that my teaching philosophy was set out long before the SBOR debates heated up. I also think that, as a liberal, my opinions here are not as exceptional as Mr. Horowitz might think. I am drawing upon some research done by a professor at the University of Akron that shows that though liberals might be dominant amongst the liberal arts faculty (certainly not business or economics departments!) they do not necessarily desire to impose their views on their students but are dedicated to nurturing creativity on the part of their students. Again, I don't think I'm as exceptional here as Mr. Horowitz might think. I've never known a faculty member at my institution to show Fahrenheit 9/11 or rant about the election -- and I know quite a few liberal professors.
The last point that the SBOR isn't directed towards conservative students seems, once again, dishonest. The complaint on Mr. Horowitz's part has NEVER been about conservative faculty, always liberal faculty (as per above once again). And thus, the complaints always seem to be in defense of conservative students. Thus, I hear a strange sort of special pleading that I'm surprised to hear from one of America's leading conservative thinkers.
In conclusion, I don't believe Mr. Horowitz's concerns are really central to the future of academe. Indeed, I would argue that vocational pressures are more corrosive (i.e., making education cater to career needs) and so too the rising number of adjunct professors and the decline of full-time faculty. These changes, from my experience as a college teacher, are far more worrisome and troubling than ranting liberal professors. And there, I shall close.
Horowitz: This is a disappointing response to what I thought had begun to be a productive conversation. It suggests a lack of interest in the very real and troubling issues of the state of academic freedom on American campuses by even fair-minded leftwing academics like Professor Mattson. This complacency is understandable: it is the the complacency of a ruling caste that has thoroughly routed its opposition from the university and there is no one left to challenge it. And who am I – an outsider lacking the proper academic credentials to challenge them? So in a way, perhaps without even being a aware of what he has done, Professor Mattson has shown why it is absolutely necessary to go to the legislatures for redress of the injustices and abuses of university faculties. If Professor Mattson would like a professional opinion on these matters he should read Professor Donald Downs' recent book, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty On Campus. Note the verb: restoring. Professor Downs is not a conservative, but he is a scholar of these issues and an honest man.
Professor Mattson’s attempt to pass off the problem (i.e. he says he doesn't know anybody who showed Farenheit 9/11 or hectored students about the election) cannot be taken seriously. I have been on more than fifty campuses in the last year and a half and have interviewed probably 1,000 students who with maybe a handful of exceptions have been subjected to abusive politicking in the classroom by their professors. I am 100% sure that the University of Ohio is no exception. Perhaps Professor Mattson will have his department invite me to speak at his university and we can interview students together. But this is really dispiriting because it is really back to square one for our campaign: dealing with “liberals’” denial. This is why we need that committee of the Pennsylvania legislature.
In fact, Professor Mattson knows better. Entire departments in his university and others are based on political agendas: Women’s Studies – which is not women’s studies but training in radical feminism; Peace Studies – which is not peace studies but training in anti-military, anti-capitalist and anti-globalization ideologies; Ethnic Studies a la Ward Churchill, etc. etc.
Not only is there a self-evident problem of the abuse of the academy for political agendas, but there is an ancillary assault (because of these agendas) on academic standards. Ward Churchill was not qualified to be an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies, or a tenured associate professor let alone a full professor and Chair of a department. He has been shown to be a fraud and plagiarist. Yet to achieve his present status his academic credentials he had to be vetted by reputable figures in his field at every stage of the promotion process. This suggests that the field itself is corrupt. But Professor Mattson has better things to think about.
George Wolfe is the director of the Peace Studies program at Ball State. His qualification for teaching about the economic, social and political causes of war and peace? He’s a professor of the saxophone. This credential has been defended by the Provost of Ball State when it was challenged by Students for Academic Freedom. Kathleen Cleaver is on the law faculty of Emory University, one of the first tier private colleges in the country. Cleaver’s "scholarly" work is non-existent and includes articles about her efforts organizing demonstrations for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Ramparts article from the Sixties, an “Open Letter to Julius Lester” and a contribution to a children’s book. This is shameful and reveals an intellectual corruption of the university which is pervasive and whose extent no one knows. I could go on and on, but evidently there is no interest in the academy in its own corruption; it’s too busy declaiming against Enron and Wal-Mart.
I’m sorry Professor Mattson has seen fit to lower the tenor of this discussion by attacking me personally. The academic freedom campaign is indeed non-partisan and we do defend liberals. It is only partisan in the sense that people on the left seem united against it and apparently don’t want to have a real discussion of its merits. The reason there are so few cases of liberal students abused by conservative professors is obvious. First, there are so few conservative professors since the university hiring process has been so politicized as to weed them out (yet another abuse of academic freedom). Second, because there are so few conservsative professors, they have to be extra careful lest the ax fall on them. Thomas Klocek was an adjunct at DePaul until he got into an argument off campus with some anti-Israel Muslim students, who complained. Now he’s gone. Leighton Armitage, an adjunct at Foothill College, tells his classes that the Jews control America’s national elections, and that Israel is like Nazi Germany. He hasn’t even received an admonition from his university administration.
Professor Mattson’s final point is both odd and evasive: “In conclusion, I don't believe Mr. Horowitz’s concerns are really central to the future of academe.” Political grading, disregard of academic standards, abuse of the classroom are not central to the future of the university? In Colorado a university is damaged, its president is gone and Professor Mattson can see no problem.
Professor Mattson’s observation is made just about one month after the American Council on Education representing 1800 collegiate institutions and associations, including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the American Association of University Professors issued a statement responding to the academic freedom campaign, which began: “Intellectual diversity and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education.” Everyone knows that “intellectual diversity” is the banner concept of our campaign, intended to highlight its lack in contemporary academia. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers protested the Council statement precisely because it would give credibility and importance to our campaign. The Council took this step under pressure from university presidents who felt their position – Professor Mattson’s position – of denial was no longer tenable. Perhaps Professor Mattson will rethink his withdrawal from this conversation. If he does, we will welcome him back.