Maurice Isserman,, a leftwing professor at Hamilton College, which invited first a convicted terrorist to join its faculty and then Ward Churchill to be a faculty sponsored speaker, has written an attack on me in Academe, which is the publication of the American Association of University Professors. The purpose of this piece, portentously called "David Horowitz and the Truth" is to discredit first me and through me the academic freedom movement, on which the AAUP has declared unconditional war. The Academe piece has been posted at the History News Network and can be read here.
Isserman's attack is based on an invitation he extended me as the result of phone conversation I made to him, which led to an invitation for me to come to speak at Hamilton. This invitation was quite different from the one a faculty run committee at Hamilton made to Ward Churchill, but in his article Isserman is content to conflate them. When confronted by this conflation in an O'Relly Factor segment nine months ago, I said that I had not been invited to Hamilton by "the faculty" as Ward Churchill had been but had been invited by students, which was in fact the case on the most recent occasion that I had spoken at Hamilton, which happened to be the second time I spoke there. I should have had said I was invited once by a professor and once by students; but I didn't for reasons I will explain.
Now Isserman, without ever having raised it directly to me, has decided to use this trivial incident as a blunt instrument in an attempt to discredit me and the movement for academic freedom with which I am associated. I am posting my reply to Isserman below, which puts the incident in its proper context. I leave readers to judge the matter for themselves:
Reply to Isserman
This is a pretty low blow over a pretty trivial incident. Of the three hundred campus speehes I have been invited to make and of the two campus speeches I have been invited to make at Hamilton,I have been invited to speak by a professor exactly once and never, like Ward Churchill or convicted terrorist Susan Rosenberg, by a faculty committee. Yes Maurice Isserman invited me to Hamilton, but not exactly spontaneously and not exactly without prompting. To begin with, it was I who called him, not the other way around. So part of the initiative belongs properly to me.
Because Maurice Isserman had shown himself in his work to be more open-minded than many of his colleagues, I decided to engage him in a conversation about the one-party state and one-sided curriculum that now characterized the American university that was run by him and his colleagues. Since somebody had mentioned that he taught a seminar in the Sixties (or perhaps he volunteered it himself) I confronted him with the observation that there are about 600 courses that deal with the 1960s nationally, and that although I am an artifact of that era, and the author of its first manifesto, and the former editor of its largest radical magazine, and its most prominent defector and critic, I have never been invited into one of those classrooms (nor are my books assigned to the students who flock to them); nor have I been invited to a single one of the hundreds of symposia on a subject that can be said to be my area of expertise. In other words, I set out to consciously push Isserman to see if I could shame him into inviting me. It was in the course of this conversation that he did invite me, a fact I acknowledged in my magazine Frontpage as he observes.
My O'Reilly moment was a five minute segment. I noted that I had been invited to Hamilton twice (although never as the invitee of a faculty run program like the Kirkland Project which invited Ward Churchill, the topic of the segment). O'Reilly countered by asking whether it wasn't "to Hamilton's credit" that they had invited me to speak. Well, yes, once out of the two times I was there (the second time the only faculty involved were a gaggle of hecklers at my talk); and once out of the three hundred times I had spoken at universities generally -- and then only because I had in effect argued my way in.
I should have said this -- I wanted to say this -- but in the two seconds I had to reflect on my response I couldn't figure out how to convey in a sound-bite all that needed to be conveyed about the reality of these campuses and my visits to them in a way that would reflect my actual experience -- my treatment by university faculties generally and over two decades as an unwanted alien presence (I have actually had leftwing professors organize boycotts of my appearances); the fact that my pariah status derived solely from the sin of not having political views that agreed with theirs.
I couldn't figure out how in a sound bite to rehearse the fact that thousands of faculty invitations were given annually to leftwing non-entities or to conjure the thousands of silent refusals by leftwing faculties to do the decent thing towards conservatives like myself, and to honor the verbal genuflections they regularly made to democracy, pluralism and the usual b.s that leftists try to convince themselves they believe in.
In the two seconds I had to reflect on the matter, I didn't think I would be able to describe my relationship to the Sixties and to Isserman or summarize the contents of our phone conversation in the sound-bite I knew was available to me.
Perhaps I should been smarter and come up with something really clever, but I didn't. Instead I thought -- if I just say yes I was invited by faculty that would be a really big lie about the reality of my experience on university campuses. So I said what I said -- that I was invited by conservative students, which was true but not the whole truth.
Now a year later, Maurice Isserman -- who has never written to me or contacted me since and who has never included my intellectual end of the dialogue in his many writings on the Sixties-- has decided to weigh in with an entire piece about this trivia in order to suggest that I am liar and thereby to discredit the academic freedom movement with which I am associated. Why would he want to do that, one should ask oneself. What is the academic freedom movement about that is so threatening? Well, it is about attempting to introduce a little intellectual diversity into the academy that Maurice and his friends run. It is to suggest that leftwing professors like Maurice Isserman ought to be concerned about the one party culture they have created in what once were truly liberal universities that honored intellectual pluralism and fairness. Considering this, my only conclusion can be that Isserman must regret bringing David Horowitz to Hamilton. And it would seem from this gesture that he might not even really care if I or anyone like me were ever invited again.
1) As the transcript of the O'Reilly show clearly shows, Horowitz wasn't asked whether he had been invited by the College-affiliated Kirkland Project, to which some faculty members belong, to speak at Hamilton College -- he was asked whether he had been officially invited to speak at the College, i.e. in O'Reilly's words, "it is to Hamilton's credit that you were invited to speak there, correct?" To which Horowitz responded, "It's not like the faculty brought me up there." To which I can only respond, what am I, chopped liver? The faculty, in the person of yours truly, brought Horowitz to campus. If Horowitz was in any doubt as to the official nature of his invitation, it should have been dispelled when he cashed the quite generous honorarium that the College paid to him to come and speak to my students.
2) Horowitz writes self-pityingly: "[I]n the two seconds I had to reflect on my response [on the O'Reilly show] I couldn't figure out how to convey in a sound-bite all that needed to be conveyed about the reality of these campuses and my visits to them in a way that would reflect my actual experience." But in the two seconds he had available to him, Horowitz could have decided to respond with the truth, however politically inconvenient it may have been for him to do so, i.e., "Yes, it is to Hamilton College's credit that I was invited to speak there." I imagine his difficulty in formulating such a response in
the available time reflects the fact that he's long been out of practice with the simple act of telling the truth.
3) "Maurice Isserman, a leftwing professor at Hamilton College, which invited first a convicted terrorist to join its faculty and then Ward Churchill to be a faculty sponsored speaker...." etc. Classic Horowitz. Since I am not now, nor have ever been a member of the Kirkland Project, the faculty group which invited both Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill last year to campus, and since no one asked me my opinion of bringing either to campus before the invitations went out, and since I've made it abundantly clear in my writings since then my contempt for Ward Churchill (including in the Academe piece that Horowitz cites, as well as in another piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education), this sentence amounts to a gratuitous smear of McCarthyite proportions.
No, the sad truth is, the only political extremist I have ever invited to the Hamilton campus is David Horowitz.
First I am called a liar, then an extremist and then a McCarthyite. For what? Associating Isserman with his Hamilton colleagues who invited a terrorist to be on their faculty, while boycotting how many law-abiding conservatives? I could say "typical Isserman" not to have addressed the Rosenberg issue, or the way I was invited, or the fact that I have been airbrushed out of the academic record by him as well as his colleagues, or that his "article" was really just an attempt to smear the academic freedom movement, since who cares about a five minute segment on the O'Reilly Factor that took place almost a year ago? I have conceded the point and only attempted to explain it. If I had to do the segment over again, I would say yes, to its credit Hamilton invited me but only grudgingly and only as someone whom they regarded as an extremist. Actually one of the reaons I didn't say that was I did not want to reflect unkindly on Isserman. But what a comment this whole affair makes on the debasement of the university that Maurice Isserman and his friends have achieved.