“You don’t go to your doctor to get a lecture on politics—why should you get it from your English professor?”
As academic freedom controversies continue to roil Columbia and the nation, conservative social activist and writer David Horowitz addressed what he perceived to be an absence of conservatism on American college campuses. The event, a speech to students, faculty, and community members held on Friday in Lerner Hall, was hosted by the Columbia College Republicans.
“As a Marxist at Columbia in the ’50s, I was infinitely freer than conservative students are today,” Horowitz said.
He found fault with faculty members like Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Literature Rashid Khalidi and Dewitt Clinton Professor of History Eric Foner for teaching students “to be embarrassed by their own country.” He went on to harshly critique professors who use class time to take “political parentheses” in which they indoctrinate students with their views.
Horowitz also criticized remarks made by history professor William Harris in a November letter to Spectator written in response to a staff editorial calling for “ideological diversity” at Columbia. The editorial board wrote that the presence of conservatives was conspicuously absent from the College’s humanities departments.
“The difficulty you experienced in thinking of good historians who are, in American terms, conservative, should have led you to ask why that was so. Is it possible that serious scholarly study of history tends to lead a person towards the left?” Harris wrote in his response to the editorial.
“This is the arrogance that comes from talking to yourself and looking in the mirror all the time, which is what professors do on this campus,” Horowitz said in reference to Harris’ letter.
In his speech, Horowitz touched upon a wide range of subjects including Harvard President Larry Summers’ recent controversial remarks; the war in Iraq; and race, class, and gender hierarchies in America. He defended Summers, saying that his remarks about women’s aptitude in the sciences at a Harvard faculty meeting were taken out of context. He blamed the left for the overblown reaction to the comments.
The reaction to Horowitz during the question-and-answer period following his presentation was mixed. One attendee reproved Horowitz for making too many generalizations. A conservative student suggested to the speaker that he use a less inflammatory delivery style when speaking so as to not alienate listeners.
But another student thanked Horowitz for coming, saying, “We should have more speakers like you instead of Nancy Pelosi.” Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, spoke on campus last week and was largely critical of President Bush.
Another student attacked Horowitz for distributing a booklet discussing the views of MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, a social activist and critic of the foreign policy of the United States. The booklet, which was entitled “The Ayatollah of Anti-American Hate,” portrayed Chomsky on its cover wearing a turban.
Horowitz was unapologetic, calling Chomsky a “pathological liar” with an “obsessive hatred of everything about this country.”
Horowitz has received considerable attention lately for the Academic Bill of Rights published by his organization, Students for Academic Freedom, a coalition of student organizations with the desire “to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge.”
The Academic Bill of Rights is an eight-point document that seeks to diminish politically liberal bias in university settings. Horowitz has argued that the widespread liberal bias on university campuses adds up to indoctrination, and that conservatives are purposely discriminated against.
Horowitz attended Columbia as an undergraduate and received his Masters degree from the University of California at Berkeley in English literature. He was raised in a family with Marxist views and was a widely known supporter of the left throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Horowitz eventually became disillusioned with the left and became one of America’s most famous neo-conservatives.