If your goal is to push bipartisan reform, then agreeability is the key. Alienating half of the people whose support you seek is never a productive means of salesmanship. But David Horowitz, who gave a lecture on campus last week, tries to make it difficult for any sensible left-winger to agree with him. His speech was partly a disingenuous anti-liberal rant and partly honest advocacy for his Academic Bill of Rights. Ultimately, while we wholeheartedly support Horowitz's message of intellectual freedom, we fervently hope that he changes his methods of persuasion.
Horowitz has spent the last few years campaigning for intellectual diversity in academia. The document he assembled -- based on the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors -- is as admirable as it is non-partisan. Indeed, the Academic Bill of Rights is grounded in the simple principles that teachers should keep political ideology out of the classroom and assign a broad variety of viewpoints on any given subject. In short, the Academic Bill of Rights promotes a better college education, and Cornell should expand its "Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds" philosophy to include the bill.
The logic behind ideology-blind classrooms is unassailable. Intellectual understanding only advances in a free exchange of ideas. To move forward as a society, our universities must serve as rigorous testing grounds for thinking from all parts of the ideological spectrum. The process -- not the outcome -- is most important. For those on campus who object to reading "conservative propaganda," we have two responses: First, not everything to the right of Cynthia McKinney is conservative propaganda. Second, we will all become better, smarter students -- whether liberal or conservative -- if we understand the best critiques of our arguments.
That said, Horowitz has not fulfilled his responsibility as steward of this important message. His lecture was full of mini-tirades against "the left" and its allies, and he spent much of his time trying to play at partisan demagoguery. Horowitz should know better. Although he expertly constructs liberal straw men, his depictions have little relation to political realities; in essence, Horowitz needs to recognize the existence of leftist discourse that isn't sprung from the mold of Vladimir Lenin or Joe Lieberman. It may serve Horowitz's partisan goals to paint "the left" with such broad strokes, but it is terrifyingly dishonest and -- more importantly -- it stains his non-partisan campaign for the Academic Bill of Rights. It is painfully contradictory for a man to pontificate for an absence of academic bias when he himself delivers speeches riddled with the very single-mindedness that he is trying to eradicate.
What the Academic Bill of Rights needs is promotion from a more honest, less biased source; Horowitz's call for a non-ideological classroom environment must be taken up by sensible people from all sides of the spectrum. Nobody should have a reason to oppose the Bill on partisan grounds, yet Horowitz seems intent on providing one with his combative style. The issue is simply too important to be left to a poster boy of the right.
Although we wholeheartedly endorse the message, the cause is in need of a better messenger.