Intellectual Thuggery · 11 April 2006

By David

Michael Berube is a professor of literature at Penn State University who can't take no for an answer. Like many other opponents of the academic freedom campaign Berube is in the habit of repeating falsehoods about me and the campaign that have already been refuted - many times. In fact they have been refuted on his own website,

Professor Berube launches his most recent attack[1] in this vein with the following choice paragraph: "David Horowitz says he's campaigning for 'academic freedom.' In reality, he's campaigning for direct legislative oversight of professors, reading lists, and entire fields of research. He wants state legislators to insure that public universities have a certain quantum of 'intellectual diversity,' and because he complains so strenuously about the preponderance of registered Democrats on the faculty, it would seem that by 'diversity' he means 'more Republican professors.' Lately, he has even begun to speak of 'anti-Christian bias' on college campuses, with such fervor that my colleagues in the sciences have begun to wonder whether they, too, will be arraigned for 'liberal bias' against creationist theories."

All the statements in the above paragraph are false. They are also malicious, since they have been refuted by myself and others more than once. I am not campaigning against "liberal bias." In fact, I have never even employed the term "liberal bias" except to disown the phrase itself.[2] Far from planning to arraign scientists "for 'liberal bias' against creationist theories," I have publicly said that creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories and have no place in a scientific curriculum.[3] Yes, I have singled out Rhode Island professor Michael Vocino for harassing a Christian student in class.[4] But I would have complained about Vocino if he had harassed a student who was Jewish or Muslim or an atheist as well. Harrassing a student for his or her religious beliefs has no place in a classroom - though it does for a charlatan like Vocino. I would have thought that professor Berube would agree, but apparently not.

I am not campaigning for direct legislative oversight of anything, as Berube claims, and have said this on many occasions.[5] Nor would my Academic Bill of Rights[6] in any of its forms require "direct legislative oversight of professors, reading lists, and entire fields of research." The legislative measures I have supported are resolutions, not laws and they merely urge universities to implement the principles they officially claim to embrace. Again, I have said this more than once.[7]

Finally, my campaign has never called for "balance" of any kind, while my Academic Bill of Rights specifically forbids the hiring of professors on the basis of their political views, a fact that Berube actually acknowledges in the very next paragraph of his text: "The 'Academic Bill of Rights' forbids the hiring or firing of faculty on the basis of their political or religious beliefs- and in that respect it is simply unnecessary, since the American Association of University Professors already forbids this." Berube is right about this; the famous statements of the AAUP written nearly forty years ago do forbid hiring on the basis of political beliefs. The question is whether the AAUP is interested in enforcing the principle when conservative applicants are the victims. Surveys show that faculty with conservative views are a rapidly diminishing[8] presence on university campuses. Why has the AAUP not conducted an inquiry to see if a political litmus is being applied in the hiring processes for university faculties? In other words, the question is not whether the AAUP has the guidelines which Berube claims it has, but whether the AAUP is prepared to implement its words. Another question is whether, as a faculty guild, it is prepared to defend the academic freedom of students as well as professors. Our academic freedom campaign was launched because we believe that the answer is no to both these questions.

From false and alarmist assertions about the Academic Bill of Rights, which Berube must know have been discredited multiple times, Berube proceeds to speculations ungrounded in any fact. Since the Academic Bill of Rights seeks to encourage "intellectual diversity," Berube suggests this opens the academic door to Holocaust deniers, astrologists and gay-bashers. Of course there already are Holocaust deniers on university faculties who are apparently welcome under present academic rules, and whom the AAUP has taken no steps to remove. Professor Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University in Detroit is an obvious example, but since anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes have become fashionable in "liberal" academia, his crackpot views are actually defended rather than deplored. Professor Berube himself has written that the notorious article by professors Mearsheimer and Walt, which blames the Jews for the war on terror and the Jewish lobby for controlling American foreign policy and the American media - a sort of contemporary version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - "has many virtues."[9]

The Academic Bill of Rights would not increase the number of Holocaust deniers, nor would it encourage the hiring of creationists and intelligent designers, malicious charges that I have already dealt with on several occasions.[10] The Academic Bill of Rights says quite clearly that, "Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty." In other words it says that intellectual diversity consists in making students aware of the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints, not crackpot or bigoted opinions.

But Berube will not be deterred by facts or by attempts to apprise him of the facts. "For two years [Horowitz] claimed that a student was flunked for refusing to write an essay on why George Bush is a war criminal, until the claim was debunked- partly by the Republican professor who taught the course." In fact, the student who went into this final test with an "A" was told that she had flunked the exam; and the professor admitted he had given her a low final grade which she was able to raise to a "B" after a successful university appeal process. In violation of university regulations the professor actually destroyed the original and controversial exam. He was forced to reconstruct it for the appeals procedure.[11] The university released this reconstructed exam to the public (and I have reprinted the essay section in my book).

This section consisted of four exercises, each one requiring students to explain core concepts of leftwing social analysis (e.g., feminist doctrines and power theory). There were two required essay topics and two optional "questions" from which the students had to choose one: 1) make the case for gay marriage; and 2) make the case for why the United States' "invasion" of Iraq was criminal. The professor did suggest to one reporter that he was a Republican or had voted Republican; my office called the local Republican Party and checked the voter rolls, but found no record to prove that his claim was true. Berube certainly doesn't know whether it is or is not true. All this information was available to Berube, since it was not only published on my website[12] but also on his[13] by a professor who challenged him when he made the same claim about this case on his blog. Up to that point, the fact that he was making these discredited claims on his blog could be construed as intellectual laziness, the failure to see if they had been refuted. That he continues to make these claims after they have been refuted in a lengthy discussion on his own blog can only be construed as intellectual dishonesty.

"More recently, [Horowitz] has insisted that a Penn State biology professor showed Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to his class just before the 2004 election; that claim, too, fell apart. Did Horowitz apologize for the 'mistake,' or retract his claim? On the contrary: he tried to stay on offense even though he'd dropped the ball. 'These are nit picking, irrelevant attacks,' he said."

In fact, -- as I have written in posts available on several easily accessible websites -- while I did publicize the claim made by a legislative staffer that the Moore film was shown in a biology class, I ceased doing so the minute the claim was challenged and the source was unable to confirm it. When asked about this during the last two minutes of the question period following my testimony at the Temple hearings on academic freedom, I did concede the claim was mistaken despite Berube's false charge that I did not.

These facts are easily checked, since Inside - the leading web journal on university issues -- ran a lead story after interviewing me about the testimony I gave at Temple with the headline: "Retractions From David Horowitz.[14]" I was interviewed for the article and wrote a post responding to it,[15] which I also posted on my blog.[16] Berube knows this. His response is to ignore the facts and repeat the charge.[17]

I have no evidence to this day that the claim was false because I lack the staff to check the more than fifteen Penn State campuses where the incident could have taken place and I have myself been informed by students, for example at Columbia, that Farenheit9/11 was shown in inappropriate classes.

The InsideHighered article was particularly unfair in focusing its attention on this trivial correction and ignoring the content of the testimony I actually delivered.[18] At the hearings I testified about academic freedom abuses at Temple University for an hour and a half, never once referring to the alleged showing of Farenheit 9/11 in support of my claims (nor did any other witness in the nine hours of testimony before the committee at Temple or in the previous three days of testimony at Pitt and in Harrisburg). It was only at the end of the question period that a Democratic member of the committee, who was hostile to the very idea of the hearings, asked me if I could substantiate the claim, even though it was not a claim I had made before the committee and was of no significance to the claims I was making about academic freedom in Pennyslvania.

To me this was just a reflection of what has become a national campaign to attack my credibility, orchestrated and financed by the teacher unions.[19] They have even created a national organization called the Coaliton for the Free Exchange of Ideas, with paid operatives and a website for which this is the entire agenda. The same Democratic member of the Pennsylvania committee has appeared as the keynote speaker at two union-sponsored protests against the committee of which he is a co-chair, accusing it of "McCarthyism" - even though the hearings have addressed only policy issues and a committee rule bars the use of faculty names in testimony.

Professor Berube certainly does not lack gall. While busily assembling his laundry list of discredited claims, he accuses me of disregard for the facts: "But few newsmakers are as sloppy and careless as Horowitz." His evidence? "In [Horowitz's] recent book, The Professors, he attributes to Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University, a long passage that was actually written by someone else. When Foner called him on the error, Horowitz, true to form, attacked Foner's 'honesty,' and insisted, 'the error in my book is an inconsequential one' and 'it was my intention to cite the authentic quote.'"

As in the other cases, I have already answered this charge.[20] The passage in question is actually fairly short (four sentences to be precise), and I have not denied that it was erroneously transcribed from a symposium on 9/11 in the London Review of Books to which both Foner and the other writer contributed. The Foner statement that should have been quoted was, in fact, one that I had used previously in my book Unholy Alliance, so I was very aware of what he had said in the passage when describing it in my new text. As I have already pointed out in my response to this charge, the wrongly attributed quote does not really differ from Foner's view that there was probably more to fear in America's response to the attack than in the attack itself. In The Professors I wrote: "Professor Foner focused not on the atrocity itself but on what he perceived to be the threat of an American response." What Foner actually said (and I failed to quote) was this: "I'm not sure which is more frightening: the horror that engulfed New York City or the apocalyptic rhetoric emanating daily from the White House."

That is why I called the error "inconsequential." All this information, including the two contributions to the symposium as they appeared on the page, was posted on my website and readily available to Berube. And in fact he read my response and simply chooses to ignore the substance of what I said so he could make up yet another paragraph discrediting me.[21]

Berube concludes his attack with a final false claim - that my academic freedom campaign is unnecessary: "Fortunately, Penn State already has a strong policy on academic freedom (HR 64), defending the rights of both professors and students. And we have a chapter of the AAUP, dedicated to maintaining professional standards in and out of the classroom. "

In the first place, Berube's AAUP is not in the business of defending students and, for example, did not defend the Christian student whom Professor Michael Vocino singled out for attack in his class. Nor has the AAUP shown any concern about fact that Vocino is not qualified to be a full professor or that he lacks the credentials to teach a course in political science, a field in which he has no academic expertise.[22] If the AAUP is even concerned about maintaining professional standards, it is certainly doing a poor job.

In the second place, only a handful of faculty and probably no students would even be aware of Pennsylvania's policy HR 64 if my academic freedom campaign had not begun making them and the general public aware of it more than two years ago. It was a centerpiece of my testimony to the Pennsylvania legislature in 2005[23] and my testimony to the Ohio legislature[24] the year before that, both available on my website. It was featured in a pamphlet published by my organization called The Campaign for Academic Freedom, also available on my website. In the testimony I gave to the Pennsylvania subcommittee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, also available on my website,[25] he would know that it is my contention - and that of our campaign - not that the academic freedom policy HR 64 does not exist, but that the academic freedom policy HR 64 is not enforced. In fact he does know this.

Persuading administrators to enforce the existing academic freedom policies of their universities is the center of our campaign in Pennsylvania. The campaign is not about liberal bias, and it is not an attempt to have the legislature impose requirements on universities; nor is it an attempt to get conservatives hired. It is an effort to pressure the administrations of Pennsylvania universities to enforce existing academic freedom policies like HR 64 and - equally important -- to make students aware of their rights in regard to these policies. This is the campaign that Michael Berube and the American Association of University Professors fear so much[26] they are willing to distort its agendas and make up lies about its spokesman in order to avoid confronting the issue it is attempting to raise - which is the dereliction of university authorities and themselves.


[2] E.g., in The Professors, p.xxvi.
[4] The Professors, pp. 345 et seq.
[7] Ibid.
[8] For other surveys of faculty disparities see:
[11] All these facts are available here: University of Northern Colorado and here: The Case of the Colorao Exam
[12] Ibid.
[15] Ibid. I also posted my response in my blog
[18] It was also unfair in referring to its own misreporting of the Colorado exam story as a case where a claim I made had been "debunked." It had not. My Temple testimony is available here:
[24] Why an Academic Bill of Rights is Necessary
[25] Pennsylvania Academic Freedom Hearings
[26] CFAF_v23gz.pdf