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Intellectual Muggings (Continued) By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 19, 2007


Reynolds also provided a copy of Professor  Dunkley’s new version of the exam, without explaining that it was only a reconstructed version, not the original, which Dunkley had illegally destroyed. The reconstructed version differed in details from the exam the student remembered. This difference in details between the exam Dunkley reconstructed and the original as the student remembered it was also unscrupulously exploited by Jaschik and my critics, who used the discrepancy to claim that I had made up the question itself.

 

In fact, the new exam question was so close to what the student had originally claimed as to justify my contention and hers that the question was abusive – although neither Jaschik nor my critics would acknowledge this fact. The question, as remembered by the student was: “Explain why George Bush is a war criminal.” The question as reconstructed by Dunkley, was: “Make the argument that the military action of the US attacking Iraq was criminal.” This was only marginally different in wording and in concept from the student’s original claim -- since Bush, as President, would be legally responsible for the decision to go to war. If Jaschik and my detractors had been interested in the issue of academic freedom they would have acknowledged this. But they weren’t. Instead, on the basis of this minor difference on a reconstructed exam, they called me a liar.

 

In his article, Jaschik ignored the fact that the exam the university produced was not the original exam, and failed to mention the close similarity between the question as the student (and I) had reported it and the reconstructed question supplied by Professor Dunkley. Jaschik also concealed the fact that the student’s formal and successful appeal of her original grade on the exam had resulted in an adjustment of that grade significantly upwards by the university. This sowed the confusion as to what grade my critics and I were talking about. Instead of untangling the facts, Jaschik reported the deceptive and unsupported claims of Dunkley and the truncated account of the final grade from the administration as though they were the only facts available. Consequently, his second “corrective” story merely refurbished and strengthened the original false accusations by Mano Singham. This was captured in his title: “Tattered Poster Child:”

 

Here is Jaschik’s summary:

While a Northern Colorado spokeswoman acknowledged Monday that a complaint had been filed, she also said that the test question was not the one described by Horowitz, the grade was not an F, and there were clearly non-political reasons for whatever grade was given. And the professor who has been held up as an example of out-of-control liberal academics? In an interview last night, he said that he’s a registered  Republican.

This is a summary of false positives. I had never claimed that Professor Dunkley was an example of an “out-of-control liberal” or characterized his politics at all. So his claim to be a Republican was irrelevant and had no bearing on anything I said. Its only utility was to make me look ridiculous to readers not acquainted with the facts. The spokeswoman’s claim that the grade was not an F was also meaningless, since she was referring to the final grade, not the exam grade – which was the only grade the student had complained about. The spokeswoman’s claim that the test question was not the one described by me was equally deceptive, since the only exam she had in her possession was one that Dunkley had made up after the fact, not the original exam the student had complained about. Moreover, the questions on the made-up exam and the one the student remembered were virtually the same. Finally, the spokeswoman’s claim that the student’s exam grade was not given for political reasons was merely her opinion and a tendentious one at that.

 

I wrote a lengthy refutation of all the false claims made by Singham and his followers in an article called “The Case of the Colorado Exam.” I submitted the article to Jaschik, who refused to print it – no explanation offered – and also refused to post a correction of the false information he had published. All he agreed to was to provide an easily ignored link to my article from his site.

 

The result of Jaschik’s misreporting was that the false charges have become an urban legend in the campaign against my efforts in behalf of students’ academic freedom. If one enters the words “David Horowitz+Colorado Exam” into the Google search engine, one will retrieve 60,000 plus references, virtually all of them repeating the false charges spawned by Mano Singham’s column as though they were true. A long passage from Jaschik’s misleading article “Tattered Poster Child” is also excerpted verbatim in Michael Berube’s book as an “answer” to “Conservative Complaints” about faculty abuses of students’ academic freedom.[1] This doesn’t say much for the research methods of some university professors.[2]

 

The parallel elements in the Colorado and Bloomsburg cases are too obvious to ignore. A student complains about an exam question and I report her complaint. Instead of looking into the complaint, my opponents and detractors claim that I invented the student, the professor and the exam question itself. When these tactics fail, the critics accuse me of putting words into students’ mouths and conducting a witch-hunt of academic liberals. Both the original canard and the malicious spin are then spread across the Internet by professor unions and their allies as though they were facts. The goal of these efforts is to deny that such abuses exist, or to claim that they are so rare as to require no remedies other than those already in place; moreover, the students’ advocate and the sponsor of reform is in fact a liar who wants to discredit professors and restrict their speech. 

 

In October the Republican majority on the Committee on Academic Freedom was presented with a draft report on its proceedings. The report was submitted by Representative Gib Armstrong the author of the legislation creating the Committee. The “Summary of Testimony” contained in the report revealed that when the hearings began not a single public university in the state of Pennsylvania had a provision to protect students’ academic freedom. The report noted that in response to the hearings, two major universities – Temple  and Penn State – had already adopted new academic freedom policies that were in fact specific to students. Texts of the new policies appeared in the appendix, and among its recommendations were that other universities should consider making their academic freedom policies “student-specific” as both Penn State and Temple had done.

 

Since it was my efforts that had led directly to the creation of the committee and to the adoption by Temple and Penn State of these new policies protecting students, the hearings by any measure was a significant achievement of the academic freedom campaign. Yet Scott Jaschik reported the result of the hearings in InsideHigherEd under the headline: “From Bad to Worse for David Horowitz.” It was exactly the line put forth in the press releases issued by the teacher unions, which had opposed my campaign from the beginning.

 

Jaschik’s article began by misrepresenting the very nature of the hearings, describing the committee as a “legislative panel that was looking for examples of violations of students’ rights because of their political views.” In fact, the committee made no systematic effort to gather student claims about political abuses, nor did it ask university administrators to do so. On the first day of the hearings, the Committee Chairman, Rep. Tom Stevenson, declared in so many words that the committee would not look at specific abuses involving students and professors:

 

This committee’s focus will be on the institutions and their policies, not on professors, not on students.[3]

 

One of the prime reasons the committee did not focus on student complaints was explained in the finding of the draft report that there was no university-provided basis or procedure for such complaints. Students had no formal academic freedom rights; there was no grievance machinery to deal with student academic freedom complaints, and students were not informed by the university that professors had any obligations to respect intellectual diversity, to refrain from harassing students for their political views, or to assign texts reflecting more than one perspective on controversial matters – all of which were concerns of the academic freedom campaign.

 

Having misleadingly claimed that the committee set out to find “violations of students’ rights because of their political views,” Jaschik then reported -- not surprisingly -- that it had failed to find such violations. Thus, according to Jaschik, it had delivered a devastating rebuttal to my claims. This was exactly the message of the professor unions – that there were no abuses or, as the head of one of the unions put it, the hearings were “a solution in search of a problem.”[4]

Jashcik’s article summarized the Committee’s “final report” in these words:

A week ago, it looked like David Horowitz had a few things to be thankful for in the emerging report of the Pennsylvania legislative panel that was looking for examples of violations of students’ rights because of their political views.…. Horowitz pointed to the committee’s recommendation that colleges adopt policies to protect student rights. And he liked the many pages included in the draft report that summarized testimony by Horowitz and some of his allies. Those are all gone in the final version of the report the committee approved Tuesday, which is being hailed by academic groups as completely vindicating their views.

It’s true that many of the parts of the report that I endorsed were cut from the “final version of the report” referred to by Jaschik. But, as Jaschik knew, this was the result of an eleventh hour coup by the Democratic members of the committee, all of whom had voted against the creation of the committee in the first place. The Democrats were provided with a majority by two Republicans – one of whom had also voted against the enabling resolution -- who defected to their cause. Jaschik does report my claim that the final result was a “theft” by the opposition, but he also says that the committee was “Republican controlled,” which in the matter of the final report it was not. Because the Republicans – faced with an insuperable majority and the end of the legislative term – then signed on to the final report, Jaschik was able to claim that the rejection of the original report reflected the sense of the whole committee, when it did not.

 

The night before the actual vote one of the Republican defectors, Representative Lynn Herman, rewrote the draft report. In doing so, he removed all references in the recommendations to the need to create “student-specific rights,” and inserted a ludicrous conclusion – that abuses of student rights were “rare.” Of course they were rare – students had no rights and no grievance procedures through which to air their complaints, and therefore no protection from faculty reprisals.

 

Herman also deleted the entire “Summary of Testimony” in the report, which documented the absence of student protections in existing university regulations. The cynical nature of this scam was so transparent that Herman did not even bother to replace the deleted section with a different version. The final report therefore contains no summary of what actually transpired at the hearings. All this might have interested a reporter less eager than Jaschik to make a partisan case. That case was summed up by an opponent of the academic freedom campaign quoted by InsideHigherEd: “This committee spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to find some shred of evidence of a real problem and they couldn’t find one because there is not one.”

 

Interviewing me for his article, Jaschik pressed the issue of student abuses, the cornerstone of the professor-union campaign against an Academic Bill of Rights. Did I really think there were abuses of students? If I did, where were they? Jaschik asked the question as though he had an interest in my answer. If he actually had such an interest, he might long ago have assigned his reporters to find out for themselves. They could have begun with the case of Jennie Mae Brown whose complaint led to the hearings. Jennie Mae Brown was an Air Force veteran of the war in Iraq who had taken a physics course at one of the Penn State campuses and was subjected to harangues by her professor against the military and the war. When she voiced her complaint to Representative Gib Armstrong, it inspired him to sponsor legislation creating the Committee on Academic Freedom. Alternatively, Jaschik could have assigned a reporter to interview the dozens of students who filed complaints with Armstrong during the hearings, but on condition that their names not be divulged.

 

But Jaschik’s agenda, like that of the committee Democrats, was not to find out the truth, but to carry out a partisan political agenda. Instead of looking into the problem, Jaschik pressured me to come up with yet another example of what I considered to be an academic abuse – so that he could refute it. Aware of his agendas, I attempted to frustrate them by offering a case he could investigate himself. Since I had just returned from the Restoration Weekend where I had made a public statement about the Bloomsburg case, I mentioned my experience and the complaints I had heard from John Boyer and Jason Walter.

 

Since I had been manhandled by Jaschik before, I was careful not to make the claim that the stories I had been told were true. I told Jaschik I hadn’t seen the exam, and hadn’t attended the inquisitorial proceeding orchestrated by Professor Zoelle and Professor Smith after the students had met with me. I gave him the names of students he could contact, and mentioned several professors, including Dean Agbango. I also suggested he speak to the President of the University herself.

 

Jaschik performed none of these journalistic tasks. Instead he followed the course he had taken in previous cases, including the one involving the Colorado exam. He interviewed only Professor Zoelle and reported her comments as thought they were fact:

 

Reached while en route to her Thanksgiving vacation, Zoelle said that Horowitz was “absolutely incorrect.”

 

In fact, everything I had said was absolutely correct. The students had made the complaints I reported. Moreover, by Kurt Smith’s own account, Zoelle had given an exam in 2003 that John Boyer took; and John Boyer had been offended by a question on the exam which he took the eve of his departure for Iraq. Moreover, both Smith and Zoelle were able to identify the exam and the problematic question with no difficulty.

 

Zoelle complained to Jaschik that “Horowitz and his staff never called to ask her about the exam.” In fact, I did not see any reason to call her because I had not mentioned her name publicly at that time and had merely expressed my view that when students felt singled out for their political views, they should have a forum to air their complaints and seek redress if warranted. Zoelle also told Jaschik she had “never used a test question about the Iraq War” but that “the closest thing” she could think of was “a question a few years ago in which she asked students to analyze an essay in which a scholar suggested that the United States has a double standard on human rights.”

 

I found it odd that neither Smith nor Zoelle has produced a text of the exam question, which has been the focus of so much controversy.  Therefore, on December 26, 2006, I wrote to Zoelle to request a copy of the exam she had given in order to settle this aspect of the matter once and for all. In my letter I said: “If what you told InsideHigherEd is correct, I will gladly concede that John [Boyer] was absolutely incorrect about the exam question and that there is nothing wrong with the question you administered. However, in order to do this, I need to see the exam itself to which John referred. Please send me a copy at your earliest convenience.” I have yet to receive an answer.

 

In the end the precise nature of the exam question is irrelevant to the issues that matter. According to Kurt Smith’s own account, the student I claimed to have talked to does exist; the exam he remembered does exist; the exam does contain a question that offended him as a young volunteer bound for Iraq to serve his country in time of war – and this question was the one immediately seen as problematic when Smith and Zoelle searched for the exam three years later in 2006.

 

What is at issue is that three Iraq war veterans felt that Zoelle disrespected their views of the war and in the case of Boyer and Walter, exacted a price from them for their dissent. It does not matter that other students may have had a different experience in Zoelle’s class. Theirs are not the feet with the shoes that pinch.

 

As for myself, it is clear even from Kurt Smith’s attacks that I accurately reported the facts in the case. Yet this has not dissuaded Smith from calling me “a sophistical bully who bends and stretches the ‘truth’ (or just plain lies) to further his own ends,” or from publishing this slander across the Internet, inspiring other professors to refer to me as a “pathological liar.” Professor Zoelle has also called me a liar for telling what even Smith concedes is the truth. And Scott Jaschik, as the editor of a journal of record, has published their falsehoods as fact.

 

Jaschik concluded his InsideHigherEd article with this barb: “Horowitz, asked why he couldn’t document more of the cases of students being hurt — the basis of his movement — said: ‘Why do I have to run around the country finding these kids?’” In the context of Jaschik’s article this meant, of course, “Why do I have to run around the country inventing these kids that nobody else can find?”

 

Well, as this sorry history shows, I didn’t invent the students, and the reason it has been left to me to “find” them is because they appear to have no advocates on university campuses these days. Nor is this surprising, given reactions like those of Smith and Zoelle. What member of the university community, especially the lone conservative on a departmental faculty, would seek out the kind of abuse I have met at the hands of Professors Smith and Zoelle, when all I did was to report what I saw?

 

Jaschik quoted my response out of context in order to make me look both ridiculous and … a liar. The context Jaschik suppressed is as follows: Universities have elaborate procedures and spend tens of millions of dollars per school to inform students of their rules against sexual and ethnic harassment and to provide them with grievance procedures and diversity programs to handle and encourage their complaints. Reporters like Scott Jaschik conduct their inquiries into abuses that universities may have missed. But there are no such procedures and orientations dealing with intellectual diversity and political harassment, and reporters such as Scott Jaschik are not really interested in them. On the other hand, if students were being sexually harassed but did not come forward because there were no sexual harassment rules or grievance procedures, or provisions against ethnic abuse, one can be sure that Scott Jaschik and his reporters would be on the case.

 

What these episodes demonstrate is the lengths to which my academic opponents are willing to go to protect their ability to use the classroom to advance their political agendas, even at the expense of their students’ educations. The very modest proposal of the academic freedom campaign which has aroused such opposition is that university administrations should take steps to provide students with reasonable protections and to restore professional academic standards. These include faculty respect for political differences and for the pluralism of ideas, and for fairness when dealing with matters that are controversial. The problem of such academic abuses is real. It is not an invention and it is not going to disappear of its own accord.

 

To go to the first part of this article, click here.

 

Notes:

 

[1] Michael Berube, What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts, 2006, p. 29. Cf. for my review of Berube’s book. Berube also wrote on his blog “Horowitz lied about the student in Colorado” This blog comment appeared in February 2006, a year after I had corrected Jaschik’s erroneous reports.

[2] Berube was aware of the facts – they were presented to him in a long and detailed email exchange with a professor on his own blog. He just chose to ignore them.

[3] Public Hearing of Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, held at William Pitt Union Ballroom, 5th Avenue & Bigelow Boulevard, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, November 9, 2005, 1:00 PM, p. 4

[4] William Scheuerman, president of an American Federation of Teachers union.


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


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