A semiotically confused website called Whiskey Bar which is evidently the work of a historically challenged individual with the nom de net of "Billmon" has attempted a heavy-handed satire of the academic freedom for students movement, caricaturing it as an attempt to pull off a Maoist purge of leftwing academics and their doctrines from American university campuses.
Other equally at sea leftists, have linked the Billmon agit-prop and spread it across the net. Michael Berube recommends it as a “brilliant analysis” (even though it just a collection of paired quotes with a predictable graphic) and goes on to say that “[Billmon’s] brilliant analysis of the Contemporary Cultural Revolution is not only scholarly and erudite, but illustrated. (Well, yes, Michael it is.) The artistically talented but intellectually unhinged cartoonist Tommy Tomorrow affirms the judgment: “This is brilliant.”
Actually it’s quite stupid. The Cultural Revolution which took place in China in the 1960s (when Tommy Tomorrow and Michael Berube were campus radicals supporting the revolutionaries) was a massive political purge conducted by China's dictator, Mao Dzedong, who had turned against the course his appointed heirs had taken. The purge was aimed at party and state officials and also intellectuals who Mao regarded as following the wrong party line. He incited the infamous "Red Guards," among whom were many students to attack the Party establishment. Officials and professors were sacked from their positions, hauled out of their classrooms and offices, beaten to death on the way out, thrown into prisons, put before firing squads and simply disappeared for having politically incorrect ideas. (In fact, it's from the writings of Mao that politically correct professors like Michael Berube and his friends actually got the term "political correctness").
Students for Academic Freedom, which is the target of Billmon’s graphic jibe is not even a poor candidate for a modern Communist Party. Organized along libertarian lines, this is a movement to introduce intellectual diversity into an intellectual monolith, not to remove politically incorrect individiuals or ideas. It is a further irony that those who oppose this movement (and who love the caricature of it) are themselves defenders of the monolith and the privileged elite that enforces it.
Another irony Billmon's satire missed is that I actually designed a little red book to serve as a guide for the students in what was a calculated trope on Mao’s own Little Red Book of political doctrines. There are 150 chapters of Students for Academic Freedom, and I have never met 90% of the students who are organizing these chapters, which are independent and not under my control. All I have asked of these student organizers is that they adhere to the guidelines laid down in the little red book.
The contents of this guide book are displayed for all to read on www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org, which is the official website of Students for Academic Freedom. The text is called Mission and Strategy and it describes the movement's themes and campaigns, and answers tactical questions that students might ask. For example: "Can a teacher express his or her personal opinions and political views in class?" Answer: Yes. "Should a professor be denied the right to give their opinions on controversiall issues?" Answer: No. But "they have a (professional) responsibility to stick to the subject matter of the course and to the field of their expertise." And they should treat all students with courtesy and not just those who agree with their political opinions.
The little guide book instructs students that “this is a campaign to promote reasoned intellectual pluralism, fairness, civility and inclusion in higher education; to secure more representation for under-represented viewpoints; to end the tyranny of majority or minority viewpoints; and to create a positive learning environment for all students regardless of political or religious beliefs. It is a campaign to ensure that intellectual difference is fairly treated."
This is the full text of the statement on what the campaign is about, and it concludes with this sentence: “To sum up: The campaign is about Diversity, Fairness, Civility, Inclusion and Respect for Intellectual Difference.” Is this so difficult to understand? Apparently not since faculty ideologues are so upset about it. But who can oppose fairness, inclusion, diversity and civility? That's why the AAUP is instead calling this movement "a grave threat to academic freedom" and opponents like Berube and Billmon are trying to convince the public that we are the totalitarians.
An unscrupulous fellow like Billmon would have no difficulty distorting any campaign. Thus his “Scenes From The Cultural Revolution” page begins with this quotation:
“The left has taken over academe. We want it back.” – Mike Rosen.
Mike Rosen is not a member of Students for Academic Freedom. He is not a student, in fact, but a popular radio talk show host on station KOA in Denver. I have been on Rosen’s show many times and have actually debated this very point with him. Rosen is justly upset by the academic commissars who have purged conservatives and conservative viewpoints from the academy, who use university resources to fund the left (Michael Moore collected $1 million in student funds to campaign against Bush in battleground states for example) and use their classrooms as political soap boxes. But Mike Rosen and I differ on how to correct an egregious situation and restore educational values to the university. My campaign is not about driving the left out of the university or taking faculties back through political purges. It is about fairness, inclusion, diversity and civility.
That’s why I made the very first principle of the Academic Bill of Rights which is the first goal of the campaign this: “No faculty shall be hired or fired, or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.” Mike Rosen has said in so many words he wants "an affirmative action hiring program for conservatives," which this would forbid. In other words, no purges and no cultural revolution.
In other words, the analogy to Mao’s Cultural Revolution drawn by Billmon and praised by Tommy Tomorrow and Michael Berube is a lie, and not a little one.
Many other quotations are taken out of context by Billmon and presented in ways that distort and even reverse their meanings. For example, an article is quoted about a student who put up a "Wanted" poster with the face of a leftist professor (who it happens had abused his position). But Billmon doesn't quote the part of the same article that quotes me deploring this action. This deviousness and disregard for the truth is to be expected from the actual heirs to the revolutionary aspiration embodied in witch-hunters like Mao Dzedong. Radicals necessarily have little respect for institutions or principles except as a means to their own power and political ends.
Why does the left indulge in transparent shenanigans like this? Because it can’t handle the fact that it is not the victim class or the voice of the oppressed in the university but the victimizer and the oppressor. Let's make a myth that hides this fact. How about portraying Horowitz as a Communist.
The viciousness of leftwing academics (currently on display in separate scandals at Boulder and Harvard) intimidates non-radical academics and scholars from standing up for the principles of tolerance, inclusion and academic freedom. Comparing us to Communists is designed to confuse authentically liberal professors from the threat to them posed by tenured radicals, who are giving their profession a bad name.
Our campaign is a campaign on behalf of students whose professors commit daily outrages by using their authority in the classroom and their control over grades to intimidate students into agreeing with them and to suppress sides of the argument that differ from their own. They are personally abusive to students who do not follow their party line, and they deny all students access to the full spectrum of scholarly ideas and opinions.
Our campaign, as I testified to the Ohio Senate, is not about liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats, as the attacks on us maliciously claim. We have defended leftwing students against abuses by conservative and Republican professors as well. Our example of a Colorado final exam topic, which required students to explain why George Bush is a war criminal, was devised by an anti-war Republican. Such an assignment is as abusive and unprofessional when it is made by a Republican as it would be were it made by a Communist (and we choose this comparison because we are aware that there are hundreds if not thousands of Communist professors on faculties today).
We are not calling for the dismissal of such professors. We are calling on university departments and university administrators to adopt policies that would correct such abuses and restore educational values to the classroom. Our mission is to undo the "cultural revolution" that has turned so many of our university into ideological recruitment and training centers and to return academia to its educational mission and its commitment to intellectual pluralism.