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The Strange Dishonest Campaign Against Academic Freedom By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 29, 2005


Ever since I launched the campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights some eighteen months ago in October 2003, the most salient feature of the battle against it has been the dishonesty of its academic opponents. The opposition has gone so far as to compare my campaign for intellectual diversity on college campuses to Mao Zedong’s purge of the Communist Party elite, during the “cultural revolution,” surely an unintended reflection on the critics themselves. And this is only the beginning of the attacks. William E. Scheuerman, chair of the AFT’s higher education division, called the legislation “crazy,” “Orwellian,” and McCarthyite. Scheurman, president of United University Professions, which represents faculty members at the State University of New York, said that the legislation’s provisions requiring equal representation of views on controversial issues would require courses on the Holocaust to change so that “on Monday we would hear that the Holocaust was bad, on Wednesday that it was good, and on Friday that it never happened.” There is no such provision in the Academic Bill of Rights.

The fact is that I planned this campaign to repair a broken academic process as a non-partisan effort, and specifically to be viewpoint neutral. The very first principle of the Academic Bill of Rights, for example, forbids the firing of professors on the basis of their political views. In launching the campaign I hoped to restore the educational guidelines that had been in place when I was an undergraduate at Columbia University in the 1950s.

 

These guidelines had protected me as a student with leftwing views in the McCarthy era. My parents were both Communists, teachers who had lost their jobs during the loyalty investigations of that time. I was then a budding “New Leftist,” and my views reflected my Marxist upbringing. Yet in all the years I was at Columbia, my professors never singled me out for my political leanings, but treated me instead like any other student. The papers I wrote were examined for the way I handled the evidence and constructed my arguments, never for the political conclusions or judgments I made.

 

Today, I am grateful to my Columbia professors for their professionalism, for the fairness with which they treated me as a student and for their faithfulness to the educational concept. They did not regard the classroom as a place for airing their political prejudices or where students were expected to adopt opinions their teachers regarded as politically correct. As I set out on my campaign of academic reform in the year 2003, the educational environment I experienced at Columbia in the 1950s was the gold standard of what I wanted to achieve.

 

It is my view based on thirty years of experience around college campuses, that American universities are less intellectually free today than they were in the McCarthy era. The difference is that then the commissars of political correctness were political figures who were outside the university community and whom the university community regarded with hostility as well as fear. Today, the commissars of political correctness are an integral part of the university itself. They are professors and administrators who think it is the university’s place to train students in “progressive” attitudes and ideas, and enlist them in the armies of “social change.” But the university is not – and should not be – a political party. As the liberal scholar Stanley Fish put it in a well-known article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Save The World On Your Own Time.” 

 

In devising the Academic Bill of Rights, I was careful to make it viewpoint neutral, since it was my intention to protect all students – not just conservative ones -- from McCarthy-like attacks on their political affiliations and beliefs. For the same reason, I believed I could marshal support for my reforms from members of the academic community even if they came from the left side of the political spectrum.

 

Of course, I realized that the existing university situation worked against my non-partisan intent and would make such a broad-based coalition difficult. Over the last thirty years there has been a general intellectual cleansing of conservatives from the faculties of American universities, so that by now libertarians, conservatives and religious Christians are a dwindling remnant in any university department. Consequently, most of the abuses of academic freedom were being committed by leftwing professors and most of those on the receiving end of these abuses would be conservative students. At the same time, the university has become increasingly politicized, so that many professors no longer think it improper to introduce their political agendas into their academic classrooms.

 

I did not delude myself into imagining that it was possible to correct the glaring exclusion of conservatives from university faculties by administrative or legislative fiat. To attempt such a “cultural revolution” would destroy the university itself. Therefore, I concentrated my efforts on the problem of professorial behavior, specifically the unwarranted intrusion of political agendas into the classroom to the detriment of the educational process.

 

My Academic Bill of Rights can be seen as a modest attempt to restore academic manners to the academic classroom, the decorum appropriate to the tasks of education and the enterprise of learning. This would be a decorum appropriate to an institution dedicated to “the disinterested pursuit of knowledge,” as my own alma mater, Columbia University, had described its mission in the 1950s. Consequently, my Academic Bill of Rights stresses the importance of respecting students’ political and religious views, of not grading them for their political opinions, of not intruding controversial matters that are irrelevant to the subject matter, and of making students aware of the “spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints.” Surely these are not radical or particularly conservative ideas.

 

I also realized that since tenured radicals had come to see the university as their political base, and to regard their captive audiences as potential recruits to political causes, there would be a reaction and a howl of disapprobation from some radical faculty quarters once I got started. This reaction was likely to be magnified by the fact that I am a conservative intellectual, and therefore not the best messenger for a non-partisan campaign. On the other hand, these problems have been festering for nearly twenty years in the university, and there appeared to be no other candidate volunteering to address them or to promote institutional reform.

 

To make my proposed reforms as unassailable as possible in these imperfect circumstances, I took several precautionary measures. In particular, in drafting the Academic Bill of Rights I based the text as closely as possible on the academic freedom principles that had been established by the American Association of University Professors. These principles were first articulated in the 1915 General Report on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which was written for the AAUP by the celebrated philosophers John Dewey and Arthur Lovejoy, and is generally regarded as the canonical document of academic freedom.

 

When I completed drafting my Bill, I sent it to be reviewed and revised by Stephen Balch, a former academic himself and now the president of the National Association of Scholars. Following his revision, I submitted it to Professor Eugene Volokh, one of the pre-eminent scholars of First Amendment law, and to Professor Alan Kors, the head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

 

I then submitted it to three prominent leftwing academics – Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube -- and asked them to review and criticize it. When their reviews were in, I removed everything from the draft to which they objected, without exception. In fact, there was only one provision in the draft to which they did object, and that was a clause that would have required all hiring, promotion and tenure deliberations to be recorded, and the records to be made available to “duly constituted authorities.” The phrase “duly constituted authorities” was designed to be deliberately vague so that faculties themselves could decide whether the review of these deliberations would be by departments, faculties or administrations. I did not want to be seen to be imposing external authorities on the university process.

 

In short, I took whatever measures occurred to me as necessary to make my Bill as acceptable to the university community as possible. It was fully my intention at this stage in its development that the Academic Bill of Rights would be adopted by universities themselves as a statement of university policy, and not by legislatures as matter of law.

 

Two of the three professors to whom I submitted the draft – Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube -- objected to the provision about recording deliberations of hiring and tenure committees. I can’t remember if Stanley Fish concurred with their objection or thought that the provision wouldn’t make any difference at all. In any case, I removed the provision. The point of all this is that The Academic Bill of Rights that has become the basis of legislation in many states, and also the target of uncompromising attacks from the political left was found completely unobjectionable by three prominent leftwing academics at the outset of the campaign to make it the policy of academic institutions (rather than to make it a legislative statute).

 

I have made this point publicly before with little impact. In fact, the only result my reviewing these facts has been to inspire an attack on my integrity by the American Association of University Professors, which is the chief opponent of the Bill, through a spokesman named Graham Larkin, who is a faculty member at Stanford. Larkin contacted the three leftwing professors I had consulted and, in an article titled,  “More Than a Stretch": David Horowitz's Imagined Supporters Speak Out,”accused me of misrepresentation, and later escalated the insult, in a defamatory rant in the online magazine InsideHighered.com, a magazine “of record” whose agendas seem indistinguishable from those of Larkin and the AAUP. In the article, Larkin referred to me as a “liar extraordinaire” for repeating the claim about the three academics on a PBS show we appeared on together. Graham’s claim that the professors’ support for the Bill was imaginary is based on his deceptive reporting of what I actually said and, in particular in eliding the distinction between the original design of the Academic Bill of Rights as a proposal for an academic policy that universities would adopt, and the fact that eventually – and only after being frustrated by university administrators and the AAUP itself -- I decided as a last resort to appeal to legislators for redress. I never presented the Academic Bill of Rights as a legislative proposal to the three professors I shared the text with, and I have always expressed my willingness to see the legislation withdrawn if universities will institute their own guidelines to protect students in these matters.

 

Consequently, when Larkin emailed the three professors and asked them if they had endorsed not the text of the Bill but the legislative option, they said they had not which I could have told Larkin myself and which I never claimed they did. So the “stretch” and the “lie” is really Larkin’s fabrication not mine. By blurring the distinction between the text of the Academic Bill of Rights, and the legislation based on it, Larkin created the illusion that it was I who had engaged in a deception. The fact remained (and it was the only fact I claimed) that while objecting later to the Bill as proposed legislation, none of the three objected to the text of the Academic Bill of Rights itself.

 

There were other evasions as well. One of the three professors, Michael Berube, wrote Larkin in the email, which gave his article its title,  “It’s more than a stretch for David to suggest now that I endorsed the final Academic Bill of Rights” (Emphasis added.) As I shall show in minute, Berube did just that. Berube explained to Larkin long after the fact that he had objected “because it would lead to all manner of absurd conclusions, under the seemingly benign banner of ‘diversity.’ We should ask David if he really wants, for example, the al-Qaeda perspective on the Middle East more widely taught in American universities, because right now it is severely underrepresented.”

 

But Berube’s memory of the Bill is faulty (what he is remembering is the AAUP’s disingenuous talking points). The only appearance of the word “diversity” in the text of the Academic Bill of Rights occurs in point 4, which Berube had emailed me he especially liked (see the quoted text below). The word “diversity” appears in the following sentence from point 4: “Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.” It’s “more than a stretch” for Berube to suggest now (as he did not in his original email to me) that this sentence would lead to a requirement to include al-Qaeda’s perspective on the Middle East in an academic curriculum. Al-Qaeda does not represent part of the “significant spectrum of scholarly viewpoints,” which is how the Academic Bill of Rights describes the diverse viewpoints about which students should be made aware.

 

When I submitted the original text of the Academic Bill of Rights, which has not been changed, for Berube’s review, this in fact is how he responded:

 

From: Michael Berube [mailto:mfb12@psu.edu]

Sent: Wednesday, September 17, 2003 7:39 AM

To: David Horowitz

Subject: Re:

 

Hi David--

 

The academic bill of rights looks fine to me in every respect but one:  the taping of all tenure, search, and hiring committee deliberations. It’s a poison-pill clause, for one thing; completely unenforceable, for another; and last but not least, it would lead to all manner of ugly unintended consequences, none of which would necessarily have to do with anyone’s political or religious beliefs….Otherwise, everything else looks fine.  I especially like point 4, since I regard all questions in the humanities as unsettled, and have often complained about the academic mode in which people write, “as Foucault has shown. . . .”  After all, this ain’t mathematics, and we don’t deal in proofs.  “As Foucault has argued” is a better way to proceed, followed by “Foucault’s critics, however, contend. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

 

Michael

 

In a similar vein, the objection Professor Todd Gitlin voiced to Larkin was by his own account not an objection to the text I sent him but an objection to the proposal to legislate the text: “I did and do, object to interventions by such higher authorities, as is envisioned in his current campaigns directed at state legislatures,” Gitlin wrote. “But the issue didn’t come up in our correspondence [over the actual text of the Academic Bill of Rights]. So far as I understood matters then, it was Horowitz’s intention to campaign for university resolutions, not legislative interventions.” And so it was.

 

In sum, I have never claimed that Stanley Fish or Todd Gitlin or Michael Berube approved legislation in behalf of the Academic Bill of Rights, which admittedly introduces a new dimension of possible concerns into the mix. On the other hand, Todd Gitlin is a professor at a private university, Columbia, which the proposed legislation exempts from its provisions. Yet neither Gitlin nor any group of professors anywhere, has come forward to propose that their own universities adopt an Academic Bill of Rights that will protect students from the abuses that have become ubiquitous on our college campuses.

 

And it is for this reason that I have turned to legislatures as a last resort. In my efforts to persuade university officials to adopt these principles, I soon discovered that administrators live in fear of their radical faculties – a fear well founded, as Harvard president Lawrence Summers recently discovered. Early in my campaign, I became aware that no university administrator would adopt the Academic Bill of Rights I had written, even when they agreed with it, unless it was proposed by the faculties themselves. But I already knew that this was not going to happen.

 

I had spent an entire year in discussions with the Republican chairman of the board of regents of a large state university system about adopting the Academic Bill of Rights. The chairman was 100% behind my Bill but he was also paralyzed by the fact that he knew his faculty would not support it. He could not mobilize even a small group of such professors to request that the regents of university adopt the policy although he had more than fifty campuses of his university to choose from. That was an instructive lesson in itself.

 

Nor was he the only university administrator whom I approached. When I first floated the idea of my Academic Bill of Rights in Colorado, for example, one of my first stops was to meet with Elizabeth Hoffman, then president of the University of Colorado. President Hoffman was very cordial, but told me there was no problem of missing intellectual diversity at her university and besides its official academic freedom regulations already contained all the protections I was proposing.

 

It took a lot of patience for me to go through these motions with university officials because I had already guessed that administrators would not act in the face of determined faculty opposition, and I already knew that that this opposition was inevitable. University faculties that had purged their ranks of conservative professors and whose hostility to conservative intellectuals like myself I had tested in visits to more than 300 campuses were not going to support a policy calling for intellectual pluralism and respect for political difference.

 

These assumptions were confirmed when I approached the American Association of University professors and asked them to support the Academic Bill of Rights. As noted, the Bill had been designed to conform to the academic freedom guidelines the AAUP had laid down over the course of nearly a hundred years. But I couldn’t even get the AAUP hierarchy to respond to my email asking for their support. When I called the AAUP officials who dealt with academic freedom matters, they said, “we’ll get back to you.” The next thing I knew, and without any further exchanges or a meeting to sit down and discuss the matter, the famous AAUP Committee “A” had issued a public statement, dissecting my Academic Bill of Rights and pronouncing it “a grave threat to academic freedom.” (The statement and my reply can be found here and here.)

 

To make the point absolutely clear: the version of the Academic Bill of Rights that the AAUP publicly denounced as a “grave threat to academic freedom” was word for word the same Bill that Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube had found unobjectionable. Talk about bad faith. The AAUP statement was a declaration of war on the Academic Bill of Rights that set the tone and message for the opposition in every battle in the campaign to come.

 

One thing the AAUP statement made unavoidably apparent was that working with the professors who dominated the academy’s legislative bodies would be futile. The academy had no intention of honoring its own academic freedom tradition. This left me with only one option, which was to turn to the court of last resort: legislatures. If university administrations would not make respect for intellectual difference official university policy, the legislatures had a responsibility to step in and do so, at least as far as state-funded universities were concerned.

 

Once the Academic Bill of Rights moved to the legislatures, two important developments occurred. First, the campaign itself began to be noticed. Where previously our efforts had been ignored, we suddenly became a center of public concern in the states where the legislation was proposed. In Colorado, our launch state, both major newspapers -- the Denver Post and the Denver Rocky Mountain News -- ran front page articles and lead editorials on the Bill. University administrators now were bound to make a formal response to our concerns and did. Legislative hearings featured student testimonies that began to acquaint the general public with some of the abuses that had inspired the campaign.

 

The second development was a change in the opposition, which became increasingly vitriolic and careless with the facts. Previously, the arguments made by defenders of the status quo were pretty much exhausted by Elizabeth Hoffman’s two points: We have no problem, and even if we did, the protections you’re proposing are already in place in our own regulations.

 

Hoffman was to learn the hard way that she actually did have a problem when the public controversy generated over the Ward Churchill affair led to the termination of her job. I had warned her when we met that the monolithic character of her faculty was a scandal waiting to happen. The lack of intellectual diversity on college faculties has produced a new phenomenon in American academic life: the presence of tenured extremists on faculties, and not only at some universities, but at virtually every one.

 

The existence of such a large cohort of ideological extremists on university faculties is without precedent in the history of American higher education and is a direct consequence of the purge of conservative academics from the university environment. It is a well-known principle of group dynamics that when the room is filled with like-minded individuals, its center moves towards the extreme. At the University of Colorado, that extreme happened to be named Ward Churchill, but it could have been any number of his colleagues in the Ethnic Studies, Black Studies, Women’s Studies and Journalism Departments whose faculty majorities share his over-the-edge views.

 

The second part of Hoffman’s argument, which is still being used by university administrations to oppose the Bill has a partial truth to it. Some of the provisions of the Bill are already official regulations, and the sentiment of the Bill is entirely in accord with existing university positions. But university academic freedom guidelines are generally so vaguely formulated that it is easy to ignore them. Moreover, virtually all of these academic freedom provisions are formulated as faculty rights or faculty responsibilities. Virtually none codify rights that apply specifically to students.

 

When the academic freedom campaign moved to legislatures the opposition seized on the AAUP’s argument that that the Bill of Rights was a “grave threat to academic freedom” and would mean dramatic new restrictions on professorial speech. With AAUP spokesmen in the lead, opponents now began to focus on a particular clause in the proposed bills that enjoined professors from introducing “controversial material” into the classroom that was “irrelevant” to the academic subject.

 

An incident illustrating this problem was related by Representative Gib Armstrong, the sponsor of the Academic Bill of Rights in Pennsylvania. Armstrong referred to a biology class at a campus in the Pennsylvania State University system that was entirely taken up with a showing of Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s propaganda film against the Bush Administration. The film was shown to students during the presidential election campaign of 2004. The biology professor’s agenda in showing the film obviously had nothing to do with biology and was clearly political.

 

Opposition to the clause that would prevent professors from abusing their classrooms in this manner first surfaced in Ohio as a reaction to Senate Bill 24, a version of the Academic Bill of Rights introduced by Senator Larry Mumper. A typical “news” story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer expressed that paper’s opposition with this editorializing headline: Legislator Wants Law To Restrict Professors: Religious, Political Discussions Targeted.” The news story went on to inveigh against the Bill:

 

“A state lawmaker wants to monitor Ohio’s college and university professors, who he says are polarizing campus classrooms by imposing their left-wing ideas on impressionable young students. Students are being ‘indoctrinated and not educated,’ says Sen. Larry Mumper, a Marion Republican, who introduced Senate Bill 24, described as an ‘academic bill of rights.’ The measure seeks to restrict religious and political classroom discussions that Mumper believes could cross over from intellectual debate to controlling persuasion. It would force Ohio’s public and private universities and colleges to adopt policies forbidding classroom talk on topics not related to the course. It would also chastise professors for imposing their political views on students or for penalizing pupils for holding different opinions. Critics, who call the bill the ‘academic bill of restrictions,’ say it is an assault on free speech.”

 

In another Ohio paper, Elizabeth Schuett, a columnist for the Cox News Service, made this subtle comment on the same legislation: “Good grief Shades of HUAC and Old Joe McCarthy.

 

The section of the Mumper Bill that elicited these cries of outrage actually reads as follows:

 

“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.”

 

This “restriction” (which is not actually new) seems like just plain common sense. Students are a captive and vulnerable audience. They have paid tuition to be taught biology or English literature by professionals credentialed in these fields. These professionals have been given authority and power over students and their academic careers precisely because they themselves have gone through a long and arduous credentialing process that qualifies them as “experts” in their particular disciplines. Why then should students be subjected to the political prejudices of these same professors who have no particular expertise in the field of politics, particularly since students have not paid their tuition to attend a political lecture?

 

Put another way, how does the freedom to use a biology class for political agendas advance the educational process? In fact, it doesn’t. It is more likely to damage the educational process by injuring the trust between the professor and students who don’t share his political prejudices and values. A professor who expresses partisan passions in the classroom creates a wall between himself and students who are equally passionate on the other side. Since the existence of this wall can potentially damage the teacher-student relationship, it would seem that any educator truly committed to all the students that come under his charge, would want to avoid such partisan discourse at all costs.

 

The “controversial matters” clause of the Mumper Senate Bill is designed to protect the academic freedom of students – their freedom to be educated rather than indoctrinated. It would keep the university from becoming a political soapbox for professors who enjoy lifetime job security and are backed by enormous institutional power, which they can use to enforce their prejudices on captive and vulnerable classrooms of students. It would protect students from being denied the education they pay considerable sums of money to obtain. We don’t go to our doctors for a medical examination and expect to get a lecture on politics. Why should we tolerate this from our English and biology teachers?

 

Political propagandizing in the classroom – a behavior all too common in our universities today – is unprofessional behavior. It is abusive and offensive, and it should be unacceptable to people all along the political spectrum. In its attacks on the Academic Bill of Rights, the American Association has made these seem like controversial statements. This is the height of intellectual dishonesty. These are not controversial statements. They are already accepted by university administrations; the problem is they are not enforced.

 

Thus, the Faculty Handbook of Ohio State University instructs professors as follows: “Academic freedom carries with it correlative academic responsibilities. The principal elements include the responsibility of teachers to …(5) Refrain from persistently introducing matters that have no bearing on the subject matter of the course;…(7) Differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly.”

 

This is precisely what the Mumper Academic Bill of Rights – which has been denounced by the AAUP, the ACLU, Ohio Democrats and the liberal Ohio press – says, and in so many words.

 

The distinction between what is appropriate to a classroom (academic discourse on the subject of faculty expertise) and what is inappropriate (political attitudinizing) could not be clearer than the description in the Ohio State Faculty Handbook and Senate Bill 24. The one is the responsibility of professors to engage in; the other is their duty to avoid.

 

The Ohio State Faculty Handbook is not unique in making this distinction. At Penn State University, where the biology professor showed Farenheit 9/11 in an obvious play to influence student votes in the November election, this behavior is also forbidden. Policy HR 64 in the Penn State Policy Manual states:

 

“No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.”

 

The Penn State Policy Manual explains the rationale behind its restriction of professorial speech in the classroom in these words:

 

“The faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject. The faculty member is, however, responsible for the maintenance of appropriate standards of scholarship and teaching ability. It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials, which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence, in giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supercession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.”

 

There is a reason why all these injunctions against inappropriate faculty behavior sound similar. That is because they are all taken from academic freedom principles articulated by the American Association of University Professors going back to the 1915 General Report. Thus, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the AAUP warns:  “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 which has no relation to their subject.”

 

In other words, the AAUP, which is the leading force in the movement against the Academic Bill of Rights, is actually waging a campaign against its own principles, and is thus in a posture of colossal bad faith. But so are university administrations and faculties who are not only actively disregarding their own academic freedom guidelines, but opposing them when they appear in the bills sponsored by our campaign.

 

This bad faith of the academic community explains the need for legislative redress. If the universities will not enforce their own academic freedom guidelines, but are willing to let professors abuse the academic freedom of their students, then legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to step in and see that this situation is remedied. In the case of private universities, the same responsibility falls to professors and to the accrediting institutions for higher education.

 

Is it feasible for professors to keep the political opinions and prejudices they hold as private citizens out of the classroom? Why not? I attended school for 19 years from kindergarten to the graduate level, where I received my M.A. 43 years ago at the University of California, Berkeley. In all that time I do not remember a single teacher or a single professor on a single occasion in any classroom make one political comment, or reveal their political prejudices. If the teachers of my generation could be that professional, so can the teachers of this.


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


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