The Power of PablumBy David Horowitz · 21 March 2005

 

By David Horowitz - Frontpagemag - 03/22/05

Jeffrey Dubner is a young man I have never met, but whom I spent an hour with on the telephone the other day in what I thought was an interview for an article he was writing. The article was for The American Prospect, a magazine funded by Bill Moyers and dedicated to moving the Democratic Party even further to the left. I've asked Dubner for his tape of the interview, but don't have high expectations of getting it. Dubner has written two malicious and error-filled articles -- one for the print magazine and one for the online magazine -- which collectively contain exactly one sentence from our conversation, while turning the meaning of the academic freedom campaign on its head. A campaign to defend students from professorial abuse is presented as a witch-hunt to persecute the abusers. To do this Dubner ignores everything I told him, every document the campaign has produced, and every sentiment and value expressed in the Academic Bill of Rights. But no matter, Horowitz is a conservative, the wolf pack is already at his heels and anything goes.

Both articles reveal Dubner to be an unreflective mouthpiece for the American Association of University Professors and other unprincipled opponents of the academic freedom campaign. Following their lead (and taking everything they told him at face value), Dubner alleges that in launching the academic freedom campaign I set out to conduct a political witch-hunt of radical professors and to target one professor, in particular, Oneida Meranto, a political scientist so to speak at Metro State College in Denver.

The truth in the matter of Oneida Meranto (as in everything else about this piece) is exactly the opposite of what Dubner claims. I had never heard of Oneida Meranto until she targeted me. Literally.

In October 2003, I was invited by the student government at Metro State to speak on the subject of academic freedom. When I arrived at the school I had to pass by a gaggle of demonstrators who were protesting the very fact that I had been invited to speak. My academic freedom campaign had barely begun, but the obvious purpose of the demonstration to stigmatize me as someone so tainted that his presence was an offense to the academic community. Among the leaders of the demonstration was the head of the Faculty Senate. Dubner is right that there is a witch-hunt on campus. But it is I who am target and it is professors like Meranto who are busily lighting the pyre.

Meranto's claims of persecution, in fact, are a perfect example of the Lizzie Borden defense, so much admired by fellow radicals. First, you attack people and then, when they defend themselves, you appear in court as the victim of persecution. With politically sympathetic reporters like Dubner, it is a strategy that works more often than not.

Meranto, is actually more than a radical; she is a radical loon as she demonstrated in this wacky speech she gave during the football scandal at Colorado University, which in the middle of the controversy she created at her own college, she invited an Indian shaman to smoke out the "evil sprits" through which conservatives were allegedly haunting her campus. But since she is a radical who shares his prejudices, Dubner is willing to credit her ravings all the same.

In the wake of my only appearance on the Metro State campus, an undergraduate named George Culpepper who was taking a course with Oneida Meranto formed a chapter of College Republicans, which had not existed on the campus before. There was no chapter of Students for Academic Freedom at this time. Weeks later, Meranto threw Culpepper and all the Republican students out of the Political Science Association, for which she was the faculty adviser and which was an academic club officially set up for all students. She claimed that they were conspiring with a local conservative think tank to get her fired from her job. Behind this paranoia were false reports that had appeared in the Denver Press that the Academic Bill of Rights (which forbids the firing of professors on the basis of their political views) was a plot by conservatives to fire liberal professors and hire conservatives in their place. The original false report was filed by a leftist reporter named Peggy Lowe for the Denver Rocky Mountain News. The News repudiated the story but the damage had been done. At the time all this took place, I had no idea who Oneida Meranto was. Nor did I have any idea who George Culpepper was. Nor did I have any idea that any of the events at Metro State were going on.

Meranto's paranoid vendetta against the College Republicans and her notice to them that they could not be members of the Political Science Association were the primal cause of everything that followed. They were the substance of the complaints that the students raised in the public hearings about my Academic Bill of Rights some months later.

Basing himself I suppose on Meranto's paranoid memories, Dubner claims I not only spoke at Metro State in October 2003 but spent two months (September and October) in Colorado training students to attack her. This is absurd. I spoke at Metro State in October and was gone the next day or the day thereafter (it doesn't really matter which). I didn't meet with any students following my lunch address at Metro State, and didn't meet with George Culpepper or any other of the complainers until more than six months later when I had dinner with students from several Colorado schools including Culpepper and one other whom Meranto had thrown out of the Metro State Political Science Association. I had been totally unaware of the incident itself until Culpepper wrote an article for FrontPage about the event two months after it occurred.

Culpepper testified at the Colorado Senate Hearings (at which I was not present) to the effect that Meranto's vendetta had prompted him to drop her class for fear of reprisal. On the day of the hearings, Meranto told the Denver Post that Culpepper had testified about these events and withdrawn from her class because he was "failing." This was a naked intimidation of other students who might come forward with similar complaints. It was also a demonstrable lie. It also broke federal law (grades are private) for which Meranto was formally disciplined by her school administration. Dubner writes about this without acknowledging that Meranto lied about the grade, and by describing Meranto's violation of Culpepper's privacy as his contention rather than a fact. Dubner then acknowledges that others regarded it as an invasion of privacy but eludes the serious nature of what she did and keeps offstage the fact that after an administrative inquiry she was formally disciplined for breaking the law. Dubner describes this as being "criticized for the privacy violation."

In the article, Dubner makes a big deal out of a tape that Meranto made of her class to refute claims that yet another student William Pierce filed against her, implying that our organization put Pierce up to these complaints (we didn't) and that we should have something to say about them. We don't because we have never been supplied the Meranto tape, which Pierce claims was edited. We never lodged a formal complaint on Pierce's behalf and I explicitly told Dubner in the interview he ignored that we do not support the validity of all student claims; we merely want students to get a fair hearing. The reason I published Pierce's article about Meranto's class in FrontPage was so that he would get a hearing. If Meranto wants to send me her tape, I'll listen to it. But Dubner's rush to judgment in condemning me is unseemly, particularly since he pretends to be concerned in the same article because I took another student's word that an exam she had been given compelled her to parrot her professor's extreme views of the Iraq war.

To reiterate what we have said on this website over and over about this Colorado case: the only agreed on "facts" are that the professor administered an exam question that set up a controversial issue to which there was only one right answer -- that either George Bush or the United States (which one is disputed) were criminal agents for having prosecuted the war, which was our claim. When there is only one correct answer to a controversial question, indoctrination is taking place, not education. This is the only important claim we made that relates to our campaign. All the other facts in this case are in dispute because no record has been provided by the university to establish who is right.

When I was challenged about this case, I underestimated the dishonesty of my critics and made the serious mistake of admitting to error in this matter, because I credited the press report in Inside Higher Education with having ascertained the facts, which it had not. In fact, the University had provided no records to back up its counter-claims to what we had asserted; and 2) the professor had destroyed the original exam (which is illegal), so that no one could actually know the facts. Finally, I didn't realize that the university's claim about the student's final grade (which seemed to refute the student's contention that she had been failed for not giving the politically correct response) was phrased so vaguely that it was not a claim about the exam itself. The enemies of academic freedom have had a field day exploiting the confusion that these uncertainties made possible. Dubner is simply one of the pack.

The idea that professors who behave like Meranto and the professor who gave the exam (and whom we never named) are being targeted for persecution, as Dubner argues, is laughable. Has Meranto received death threats? So have I. That's the territory of public life these days, and I certainly did not make the decision for Meranto that she should have a public life in the first place. As already noted, before I even knew who she was she was accusing me (falsely) of leading a campaign to get her fired.

Meranto is not without allies in her aggressions against the conservative students who have been put in her charge. Meranto's ejection and defamation of her Republican students were regarded as acceptable by the Metro State administrators who denied the complaints of Culpepper and the other students. Meranto was the poster child for the Teachers Union and the Faculty Senate at Metro State. She got kid glove treatment in a write up in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she was portrayed as a martyr by the Chronicle reporter.

The only real persecutors in this saga are Meranto and the exam professor, and it is a sign of how far the leftists at the American Prospect have strayed from their own alleged values that they should have forgotten who holds the power in American universities and who does not. And that they should produce such trash as this Dubner attack to prevent students from getting an Academic Bill of Rights based on the precepts of academic freedom that have been recognized by all American universities for nearly a century, although they are presently more honored in the breach than in the observance.

Dubner is not really interested in witch-hunts anyway. Has he ever addressed his concerns to the elaborate court system that universities have put in place for students claiming racial and gender discrimination and harassment? Does he write articles about the persecution of professors under these rules? No, he is only exercised about an Academic Bill of Rights that would protect students from professorial discrimination against dissenting ideas because most of these ideas are ones that he despises himself and wants to see suppressed.

Dubner's article in the print magazine is similarly revealing and equally shoddy. But one passage in particular sums up the absurdity of the campaign -- the extravagantly vicious campaign -- against the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR). Dubner writes:

For the most part, the ABOR is a milquetoast screed of general principles for colleges and universities, emphasizing "the pursuit of truth" and other lofty ideals. The Bill's resolutions largely restate goals and practices to which universities already aspire, such as nonideological grading. At its heart, the bill aims to protect students and faculty "from the imposition of any orthodoxy of a political, religious or ideological nature," and to mandate, as the bill concludes, that "academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers." In practice, say the ABOR's opponents, this pabulum could cripple academics' and universities' ability to teach. (Emphasis added.)

This, then, is what the university opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights are saying. "The ABOR is nothing more than we already offer. It is pablum. But because Horowitz is behind it, it will crush us." Thanks for the compliment guys. Now go get your heads screwed on straight and think again.

I have written a response letter to the American Prospect which will get no fair hearing and will only inspire further attacks. But here it is anyway:

Editor
The American Prospect
Washington, DC

Dear Editor,

I gave Jeffrey Dubner an hour and a half interview for what has turned out to be his distorted account of the academic freedom campaign. The only use he seems to have made of our interview is to pluck one sentence from it in order to set up one punch line (naturally at my expense). I wonder why he wasted our mutual time if he was so uninterested in learning what I had to say.

Typical of the egregious distortions in Dubner's piece (I will not bother to identify them all) is its claim that my Academic Bill of Rights "was considered too loopy for Georgia." Well, the AAUP representative in Georgia, whom Dubner quotes, may have regarded my bill as "loopy" and my testimony as "Stalinist" and "crazy," but it managed to persuade 41 members of the Georgia Senate including a majority of the Senate Democrats. The Bill that passed is exactly the Bill we approved and supported. This is the kind of mistake you get when a reporter takes a partisan position in advance of finding out the facts and then disregards the facts he does find if they complicate his position. Any writer who uses an oxymoronic phrase like "milquetoast screed" (which is Dubner's description of the Bill of Rights) is in trouble to begin with. Evidently Dubner would like it to be a screed so he can attack it, but realizes that the text is actually moderate and reasonable. A decent reporter would have taken the trouble to unlock this conundrum and provide his readers with an informative analysis that explains it. Unfortunately, Dubner is driving a bulldozer and can't be bothered with any complexity.

Dubner takes the word of some faculy member at the University of North Carolina who claims that she and her clever colleagues succeeded in "derailing Horowitz's campaign." In fact, my appearance in North Carolina was not a campaign event. I was invited to speak at a think tank as an individual. On other hand, some hysterical faculty members at UNC passed a silly resolution as though my very presence had put them under siege. Dubner takes their delusion for reality, and thus makes two mistakes. Far from being derailed our campaign is rolling along in the state and we expect legislation to get going this year.

What I spent the better part of an hour telling Dubner is that from the beginning -- and even though I am a high profile conservative -- I have tried to make this a bi-partisan or non-partisan campaign. My target is not leftists. I have leftists who support my campaign (as I told Dubner). In my testimony before the Ohio Senate ("Why An Academic Bill of Rights Is Necessary") I explicitly stated that this campaign is not about Republicans and Democrats, left and right; it is about what is appropriate to a higher education. I invite anyone curious to look at this testimony and see whether it can be described as "Stalinist" or "crazy." In fact, the AAUP representative present in this case filed a report that my speech was "excellent."

The only reason that this campaign is polarized at this point, and the only reason it is legislative is that the AAUP leadership decided to make it legislative by digging in their heels at the beginning and refusing to even sit down and discuss the problems it is designed to address. On our side, we have been as even-handed as we are able in condemning abuses by conservative professors and leftwing professors alike, wherever we have found them. And we have made it clear from the outset, that if universities will move to correct the problem, there will be no need for legislation.

The American Prospect could have helped the solution to these problems; instead it has joined the chorus of confusion and become part of the problem itself.

David Horowitz