You have to admire the left, or at least its ability to conduct political warfare. We have mounted a campaign for academic freedom based on hundreds of testimonies from liberal as well as conservative students in more than 30 states and at colleges from coast to coast, but leftists have pounced on a single student’s testimony about a single exam at the university of Colorado in an attempt to discredit all the evidence we have gathered and the case we have made. Not one leftist or liberal media outlet has attempted to find out for itself what is taking place on college campuses and how extremist ideologues like Ward Churchill are conducting themselves in the classroom. But a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and an army of Internet bloggers has taken the time to zero in one of the hundreds of cases we have identified with the obvious intention of bringing the entire campaign for academic freedom and just plain decency in the classroom to a halt.
Scott Jaschik of the webzine Inside Higher Ed, has published an article today – “Tattered Poster Child” -- about this case, which seeks to debunk our claims, based on an interview with an official at the University of Northern Colorado. Until now the university has denied us all information about the incident, which is why we relied on the student herself.
The Jaschik story, which does not appear to be politically motivated, raises serious questions about our story that the student was required to answer a “question” on a final exam in a Criminology course, which we reported as “Explain Why George Bush is a war criminal.” Jaschik did not interview the student who is too fearful of recriminations to be interviewed by the press, nor did he inform us of the university’s counter-claims so that we could interview the student. I began writing this response to Jaschik's story, which is already on the web, at 5:00 AM, so without the ability to interview the student myself, I am forced to make a response.
Actually, I am not forced to make a response but choose to do so to clarify matters as best I am able at this point, and to acknowledge where the information we reported appears to have been wrong. I do so as an earnest of our good faith in attempting to keep the record straight.
First, let me point out that contrary to what the Inside Higher Ed piece says this student’s complaint was not “the basis for many speeches by David Horowitz in his campaign against what he calls political bias in the classroom.” Nor is she the “Poster Child” for the campaign – a title that seriously distorts its agendas. While I have mentioned her case on several occasions, it was the basis of no speeches I have made. The basis of my speeches is my personal interviews with literally thousands of students on the more than 250 campuses I have visited in the last 15 years. I recently gave testimony to the Education Committee of the Ohio Senate in behalf of Senate Bill 24, which is based on the Academic Bill of Rights. It mentions this case. Readers can judge for themselves whether this case is the basis of my testimony, or whether it is merely one example among many.
Secondly, I have not conducted a “campaign against what [Horowitz] calls political bias in college classrooms.” In fact I have never used the term “political bias in college classrooms.” I assume that everyone has a bias. I am not concerned about bias in the classroom. I am concerned about professional behavior in the classroom. I am concerned when professors become political advocates in the classroom and turn their students into political adversaries. This is an activity that conflicts with the professional responsibility professors have to teach all their students, even those who disagree with them. Political advocacy in the classroom violates the tenets of academic freedom as laid down by the American Association of University Professors, as well as the academic freedom guidelines of most universities. That is my concern.
(The term “bias” has appeared in my writings and speeches only in reference to the university hiring process which has resulted in absurd majorities of leftwing professors on college faculties by ratios that range from 7-1 to 30 – 1. I think inquiry should be made into the hiring process itself, but I have not made this part of the academic freedom campaign because this cannot be accomplished without faculty approval, and legislation to compel faculty approval would severely damage the independence of the university. The academic freedom campaign is designed to preserve the intellectual independence of the university.)
Finally, this is not a campaign about leftwing professors’ abuse of students in the classroom. It is about professorial abuse of students in the classroom whether the abuser is a leftist or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. We have defended liberal students whose professors have attempted to indoctrinate them (vid: my testimony to the Ohio Senate). Scott Jaschik and others have missed this point, and used their misunderstanding either to attack us or in the case of Jaschik to inadvertently put us in a bad light. In his Inside Higher Ed article, debunking our story, Jaschik writes, “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.”
Now I grant that in the absence of information about the professor’s politics (and until Jaschik’s article I had no idea who the professor was) it is reasonable to conclude that he was an out-of-control liberal on the basis of the exam question we cited. But he was not held up by me as an out-of-control liberal in my speeches. Many Republicans also opposed the war in Iraq. This professor – whose name I now have learned is Dunkley -- was held up by me as a professor trying to impose his conclusions about the war – or a conclusion about the war – on his students. As we shall see, even though our presentation of this case appears now to have had several faults, this charge – which is the only really important charge -- will stick.
According to Jaschik, “Dunkley said he is angry at the way Horowitz and his supporters have made him an example of alleged liberal bias in academe.” We have made him no such thing. We have made him an example of how some professors advance partisan positions on controversial issues and make adherence to these positions a requirement for the student’s grade.
Professor Dunkley also claims that I “cooked this whole thing up.” I didn’t cook anything up. I was given this student’s story among many (readers may read this report which relates the facts as they were given to my staff and decide for themselves). chose to use this case as one among several because it seemed to succinctly sum up the problem as I saw it. The problem being that many professors seem to regard their classrooms as political soapboxes and require one “correct” answer to questions that are controversial.
Since the intent of many of the critics of our story is to put this view of what is going in our universities in question, allow me to point out that the president of Harvard has just been publicly humiliated by his faculty for expressing a politically incorrect opinion on a controversial subject. If the president of Harvard – a former member of the Clinton cabinet and a distinguished scholar in his own right -- can be humiliated by out-of-control ideologues on his faculty, imagine what these same faculty members will do to students over whom they have authority and grading power. That – and not a particular exam at the University of Northern Colorado – is the basis for our academic freedom campaign.
What we have in Northern Colorado is a student who feels intimidated by her own university administration, and a university administration who, as reported by Scott Jaschik, says this about her story: 1) The exam question was not “Explain Why George Bush Is A War Criminal.” 2) She did not receive an “F” – as she claimed to us – for writing that Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. 3) There were two required questions on the test and two optional and the one the student chose was one of the optional questions.
What follows is the actual text of the exam question (which was not supplied to us or the student) as reported by the university official. While reading it, bear in mind that this was not a final exam question in an International Studies course. It was an exam question in a Criminology course. The description of this course in the university catalogue is as follows: “Survey criminal behavior generally, including theories of causation, types of crime, extent of crime, law enforcement, criminal justice, punishment and treatment.”
Now read the exam question and see 1) whether it belongs on the final exam of a course of this description, and 2) whether it requires students to argue that the United States and its commander-in-chief are guilty of criminal behavior:
“The American government campaign to attack Iraq was in part based on the assumptions that the Iraqi government has ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ This was never proven prior to the U.S. police action/war and even President Bush, after the capture of Baghdad, stated: ‘we may never find such weapons.’ Cohen’s research on deviance discussed this process of how the media and various moral entrepreneurs and government enforcers can conspire to create a panic. How does Cohen define this process? Explain it in depth. Where does the social meaning of deviance come from? Argue that the attack on Iraq was deviance based on negotiable statuses. Make the argument that the military action of the U.S. attacking Iraq was criminal.”
The way I parse this is, the Bush administration lied about the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and manipulated the public into a state of panic in order to attack Iraq unjustifiably. Explain why the U.S. (and obviously its President) is guilty of criminal behavior.
In other words, the exam question is pretty much how the student remembered it without the text in front of her, and how we reported it. It doesn’t matter to me whether this professor is a Republican or a vegetarian. This is a loaded question that seeks to enforce a student conclusion about an extremely controversial issue, which by the way is pretty remote from the subject matter that one would expect in a criminology course.
Until I hear from the student I have no comment on the matter of the grade but it is conceivable to me that if this were an “A” student and she received a “D” or even a “C” on this exam, in her mind it might as well be an “F”. And, finally, it is quite plausible that since there were two required and two optional questions she might have been confused as to which were which, particularly since the answer to the question about the Iraq war was in fact a required answer: viz, that the United States was guilty of criminal behavior in its efforts to liberate that country.
So while we apologize for not having fully checked and corrected this story, we conclude that our complaint about the exam was justified. What happened in Professor Dunkley’s class at the University of Northern Colorado is not education, it is indoctrination. And that violates the academic freedom of the students who were subjected to it.