THE resignation last week of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers is being cited in some quarters as evidence that politically correct professors, like the ones who were upset over Summers's comments on women in science, rule the roost in elite academic institutions. Some conservatives outside the academy, meanwhile, are wondering whether American higher education might be rotten to the core.
Critiques of this sort have a familiar ring. In his 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, the historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the tendency to denigrate those who spend their lives in ivory towers is a persistent feature of American culture. The phenomenon owed its strength, in his view, to the evangelical Protestantism and pro-business spirit that had helped define our nation almost from the beginning.
Leading the charge against the American professoriate in our day is the leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz, who heads the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a Los Angeles think tank. In the 1990s, Horowitz helped whip up conservative opposition to campus speech codes banning demeaning remarks toward members of oppressed groups.
More recently, he has turned his attention to rooting out liberal bias in the academy. Students for Academic Freedom, a group he founded, promotes the cause of ''intellectual diversity" in teaching, faculty appointments, and even research. Horowitz is also the author of an ''Academic Bill of Rights" asserting that students are entitled to an education free of ''political, ideological or religious orthodoxy" imposed upon them by professors. This right, he says, is routinely infringed by liberal academics who voice their politics in the classroom. Legislatures in 17 states are considering making the ''Academic Bill of Rights" law.
In Horowitz's recently published book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, he profiles left-leaning scholars who ''appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena." His targets range from the obvious, such as MIT linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, to more obscure figures like Oneida Meranto, an associate professor of political science at Metropolitan State College in Denver. Horowitz insists that the professors profiled in the book are ''representative" of the American university as a whole, that liberal bias is ''increasingly widespread throughout the academic profession," and that it's time conservatives did something about it.
The Professors, however, is no exemplar of careful scholarship. Despite his claims, the professors Horowitz discusses aren't representative in any statistical sense. The leading major in American colleges and universities these days is business. Nearly 22 percent of all bachelor's degrees nationwide are awarded in business and business-related fields fields whose professors tend to hold more moderate political views. By contrast, only about 4 percent of bachelor's degrees go to English majors, only 2 percent to history majors, and 2 percent to sociology majors. Yet professors from these three fields together comprise nearly a quarter of Horowitz's sample, while not a single business school professor graces his pages. Nor, except for Stanford biologist and environmentalist Paul Ehrlich, does any natural scientist, computer scientist, or professor of medicine.
The sample is skewed in other ways as well. Scholars Horowitz describes as giving aid and comfort to Islamic fundamentalists make up 16 percent of his sample. While there is no necessary correlation between being a scholar of the Mideast and supporting fundamentalist politics, it's worth noting that the Middle East Studies Association of North America only has about 2,600 members, representing less than 1 percent of all American college and university professors.
Horowitz's portrayal leaves the impression that leftists and other ''dangerous academics" have taken over American higher education. In fact, a relatively small percentage of the instruction given to the average undergraduate is in fields where academics who mix politics and scholarship might presumably be found. Of course, this assumes that most professors of English, history, and sociology do believe it acceptable to bring their politics into the classroom. There is no quantitative evidence of this: Studies Horowitz cites purporting to show that Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in some fields and institutions don't speak to the question.
Horowitz's individual profiles are a poor substitute for more solid data on professors and their politics. Nor are they really intended to be such a substitute. The Professors is not an objective account written from the standpoint of social science.
Horowitz's book is a one-sided screed that mimics in form the kind of knee-jerk politics he mocks. What really rankles Horowitz aren't professors who bring their politics into the classroom, but professors who hold political views different than his own. Marxists come in for particular attack, comprising 26 percent of his profiles. Needless to say, he doesn't bother to profile any conservative academic ideologues.
Although Horowitz's statistics are suspect, he is not wrong to suggest that, since the 1960s, some liberals have been colonizing segments of academe with political ideals in mind. Now conservatives like Horowitz are trying to do the same. This is a phenomenon that Richard Hofstadter never really anticipated: the university as political battleground. The time may be ripe, then, for a consideration of the role, perceived and real, of politics on campus -- not just at Harvard, but nationwide. But on such a fraught subject as this, there can be no excuse for failing to distinguish partisanship from serious social scientific research.
Neil Gross is assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University.
David Horowitz's Response:
Close But no Cigar
By David Horowitz
Even before my new book The Professors appeared in book stores, attacks on it began to appear on the Internet and I predicted that it would be a long time before any leftist reviewed the book I actually wrote. Apparently The Professors posed such a threat to the self-esteem of Michael Berube and others who sought to dismiss it, they thought reading the actual text superfluous. A dose of agitprop satire would suffice.
Professor Berube actually wrote two reviews based on the text of a fund-raising letter that someone else had written to raise money for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. As a result, Berube’s “reviews” relied heavily on misrepresentation and ridicule of the straw men he created and were embarrassingly devoid of any substantive engagement with the argument I had made. At Amazon.com close to a hundred leftist followers of Berube posted “reviews” amounting to little more than verbal flatulence.
Consequently, I was pleasantly pleasant surprised to see a column in the Boston Globe this Sunday, which actually displayed an acquaintance with my text and a offered a reasonable appreciation of some of the things I had said. It was equally surprising that the column in which these observations appeared should be written by an Assistant Professor of Sociology (at Harvard), a field whose members are so generally intolerant of conservatives that nationally their representation on sociology faculties is about 1 in 28.
Almost along among leftist critics, Professor Neil Gross was able to get the basic elements of my academic freedom campaign right: “Students for Academic Freedom, a group [Horowitz] founded, promotes the cause of ‘intellectual diversity’ in teaching, faculty appointments and even research. Horowitz is also the author of an ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ asserting that students are entitled to an education free of ‘political, ideological or religious orthodoxy’ imposed upon them by professors. This right, he says, is routinely infringed by liberal academics who voice their politics in the classroom….In Horowitz’s recently published book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, he profiles left-leaning scholars who “appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena.”
Yes. Precisely so. And bravo to Neil Gross for getting all this right. He has shown that even a leftist can. And thereby he has also exposed the calculated malice of all those leftists like Michael Berube who have deliberately misrepresented what I have written in order to circumvent the difficulties of responding to what I have said.
But after this fine start, Professor Gross goes seriously awry, showing that these difficulties are prickly indeed.
“Horowitz insists that the professors profiled in this book are ‘representative’ of the university as a whole,…” writes Professor Gross. Actually I don’t. What I say is this: “Although such a judgment is beyond the scope of this inquiry, it is a reasonable assumption that the majority of university professors remain professionals and are devoted to traditional academic methods and pursuits.” In other words, what I say is almost exactly the opposite of what Professor Gross says I say.
To be fair, the last chapter in The Professors is titled, “The Representative Nature of the Professors Profiled In This Volume,” which is certainly misleading if you don’t read the chapter. (If I had realized that it could be so misleading, I would’ve given it another title). On the other hand, if you actually read the chapter you will see that what it means is this: The 101 professors profiled in the book are representative of the 10 percent of faculties everywhere whom I estimate are radical activists rather than academic scholars. This is the real subject of my book.
Professor Gross follows this mistake with another. He asserts that I also insist that “liberal bias is ‘increasingly widespread throughout the academic profession,…’” Note that the words “liberal bias” are not actually part of the sentence he quotes from book. In fact, the actual quote from my book reads as follows: “Thus, the problems revealed in this text – the explicit introduction of political agendas into the classroom, the lack of professionalism in conduct, and the decline in professional standards – appear to be increasingly widespread throughout the academic profession and at virtually every type of institution of higher learning.”
In other words, my book is not about “liberal bias” in the academy, but about its intellectual corruption. It happens that this corruption is a product of the political zealotry of a generation of leftwing activists – radicals who stayed in the university to get PhDs in order to avoid serving their country in Vietnam. But it is their lack of academic values and their betrayal of their educational calling that are the focus of the analysis in my book.
As to “liberal bias” itself The Professors says this: “This book is not intended as a text about leftwing bias in the university and does not propose that a leftwing perspective on academic faculties is a problem in itself….Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their individual points of view. That is the essence of academic freedom. But they also have professional obligations as teachers, whose purpose is the instruction and education of students, not to impose their biases on their students as though they were scientific facts.” I don’t think I could have stated this more clearly.
Since these passages are part of the text that Professor Gross has actually read, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that his misrepresentation of my argument is not accidental. In fact it is necessary. For otherwise Gross could not construct his own argument against what I have written.
His argument is this: “The Professors…is no exemplar of scholarly criticism. Despite his claims, the professors Horowitz discusses aren’t representative in any statistical sense.” Gross argues that English Lit majors make up only 4% of undergraduate degrees, while History majors account for only 2%, and so forth. In other words, the professors in what I claim to be a representative group, are actually only a tiny minority of all professors in the university.
But as I have already pointed out, I never claimed that the professors I discuss are statistically representative of the faculty as whole. My claim is that they represent 10%, which would be more than 60,000 professors nationally. (In the book I reduce this figure to half to be “conservative.”) But far more importantly, it is immaterial how many students major in English literature or Women’s Studies or Black Studies, or Post-Colonial Studies – fields that are either highly ideological (as the case with English Literature) or exclusively ideological (as is the case with the others). What is important is how many students actually take English Literature, History, Women’s Studies and Black Studies courses. Because the academic left views education as an opportunity to indoctrinate a captive audience, academic radicals have conspired to ensure that all undergraduates are required to take at least one of these courses, and usually several. That is what “multiculturalism” as currently defined is about.
Professor Gross has a peculiarly narrow view of what might constitute a problem in the contemporary academy. For example, he claims that even if Middle Eastern Studies Departments are generally Islamicist – that is, regard America as an imperialist aggressor and Islamic radicals as freedom fighters resisting the American Empire (which they do), there are only 2,600 Middle Eastern Studies professors all told. This is less than one percent of the total professorial population. But what if they are also almost 100% of the professors tasked with educating Americans about an enemy who is out to destroy them? Apparently, Professor Gross, doesn’t regard this as a problem.
In concluding his critique, Professor Gross argues that while I may have described 101 professors who believe it is acceptable to bring politics into the classroom, I haven’t provided statistical evidence that they are representative of any others beside themselves. This is correct, but it overlooks the analytic case I have made that the very structure of the university’s hiring and promotion procedures ensures the representative nature of my professors.
Thus, in order to be hired in the first place and then promoted to tenure rank, a full professorship and chair of his department, an academic impostor and extremist like Ward Churchill had to be voted on by his entire department four times, be reviewed by his dean and by the central administration of his university and receive recommendations from at least a dozen “experts” in his field outside his own university. These facts indicate that the corruption is not that of an isolated individual or even merely a department but extends into the field itself.
Here are some pieces of the argument I make for concluding that the 101 professors I have described reflect attitudes that are more general: “More than ninety per cent of the professors profiled in this text have attained tenure rank, an indication that their academic work is approved by their peers both within their department and university, and nationally (through the requirement of outside letters approving the quality of their work). Their tenure also makes them eligible to vote for decades on who will be hired in the future to their departments and who will be promoted to tenure rank….At least 14 of the professors profiled here are (or have been) Department Chairs at one university and sometimes more. As Chairs they are in a position to designate members of Search Committees and hence to shape the composition of their departments….The professors in this volume are drawn from the broad spectrum of fields….They teach at sixty-six representative institutions of higher learning, located in every geographical region….The list intentionally includes institutions large and small, and in many different categories: local public colleges (Metro State, Montclair State, San Francisco State); private liberal arts colleges and universities (Dayton, Emory, U.S.C); major state universities (Colorado, Illinois, Penn State); and Ivy League giants (Penn, Princeton). The list includes Catholic institutions (De Paul, St. Xavier, Villanova), Jewish institutions (Brandeis), Protestant institutions (Baylor) and a Quaker institution (Earlham).” And so forth.
At the end of his “review,” Professor Gross becomes somewhat unpleasant in assaulting my work and therefore even more reckless in his distortions of the text. Along the way, however, he makes a major concession: the problem I have described does exist (more kudos to him): “[Horowitz] is not wrong to suggest that, since the 1960s, some liberals have been colonizing segments of academe with political ideals in mind. Now conservatives like Horowitz are trying to do the same.” And what is his evidence for this?
In the end Professor Gross wants the examination of the problem I have identified to be scholarly and scientific. I couldn’t agree more. I have demonstrated that the problem exists; I invite Professor Gross to quantify it if he dares.