The Battle for the Bill of Rights · 14 October 2003

(Why the Academic Bill of Rights Is Necessary and Why Only Legislation Will Make It Possible)

By David Horowitz

I spent the beginning of October visiting universities in the state of Colorado, where I had gone to promote the Academic Bill of Rights, a document designed to take politics out of the university curriculum and to protect the right of students to get an education rather than an indoctrination. In practice, this meant that I was throwing down the gauntlet to the tenured leftists who have colonized the faculties of American colleges and turned American campuses into their political base. Not coincidentally, in the weeks preceding my trip, the Academic Bill of Rights had become the focus of a fierce political battle in Colorado and the chief education issue in the state.

The cause of the furor was a media leak which revealed that I had met months earlier with Governor Bill Owens and Senate Majority Leader John Andrews, and that Senator Andrews was planning legislation based on the bill. The mischief started with a news feature that appeared on September 6, by Rocky Mountain News reporter Peggy Lowe called "GOP Takes On Leftist Education."

Lowe reported that, "Top Republican legislators, are working on a plan that would require Colorado colleges and universities to seek more conservatives in faculty hiring, more classics in the curriculum and more 'intellectual pluralism' among campus speakers." The only truth in these claims was the last one. The Academic Bill of Rights does call for pluralism in the selection of speakers. It does not call for affirmative action for conservatives. In fact it stipulates that academic hires should be made on merit and forbids the hiring of anyone on the basis of his or her political viewpoint: "All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence… No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied tenure or promotion on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."

Contrary to the Rocky Mountain news story, the Academic Bill of Rights does not call for more classics in the curriculum either. Instead, it clearly states that, "curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate…. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions." In other words, assigned reading texts should not reflect only one point of view.

In short, the Academic Bill of Rights is an anti-quota bill, designed to challenge quotas presently imposed on by an academic establishment dramatically skewed to the left side of the political spectrum. How dramatically? Two reports recently released by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture reveal that 93.6% of the faculty at Colorado University (Boulder) and 98% of the faculty at Denver University who registered in political primaries were Democrats, a distribution that clearly suggest a bias in the system of training and hiring academic faculty. A previous report by the Center showed that the average ratio of Democrats to Republicans on 32 elite colleges was 10 to 1 and in some schools was as high as 30-1.

On September 9, the other major Colorado news source, the Denver Post followed the Rocky Mountain News' distorted account with a lead editorial called, "Absurdity In Higher Ed," which began by asking, "When is a quota not a quota? When it benefits Republicans, it seems." According to the Post editors, "The same party that's been squawking over race-based college admissions now apparently wants universities to check voter-registration rolls when hiring faculty to ensure more conservatives are added to the ranks."

Not only was this utterly false, but the Post editors had gotten their facts exactly backwards. Republicans and conservatives were opposed both to liberal race quotas and to liberal quotas that restricted non-liberals and their ideas to a marginal representation on college campuses. The Academic Bill of Rights was designed to promote equal opportunity and thus intellectual diversity. It was liberals who were pushing agendas that were contradictory. They supported quotas based on race, but were outraged by the idea of quotas if that would mean a diversity of views on college campuses.

The same day the Post editorial appeared, the Rocky Mountain News ran a story headlined "Democrats call Academic Bill of Rights McCarthyism." The false story that liberals had concocted was evidently spreading. "Democrats lashed out Monday at a GOP plan to get more Republicans on Colorado's college campuses, calling it academic McCarthyism and quotas for conservatives," the article began. The Democrats' Senate Minority Leader, Joan Fitz-Gerald, denounced the bill as "affirmative action for conservative Republicans, to get them into universities," and warned: "There is something chilling and troubling about a movement like this. They're going to create a climate of fear in our universities, fear of being the professor who says the wrong thing." In fact the Academic Bill of Rights does just the opposite: it explicitly defends professors' absolute rights to say the wrong thing, and forbids administrations or legislatures from punishing them for their political opinions.

For an entire week, liberal columnists across Colorado had a field day attacking the "quotas," allegedly required by the bill of rights. Meanwhile, a hundred faculty members demonstrating for a faculty union at Metro State Denver College added the bill of rights to their grievance list. Their leader, Joan Foster, who was also head of the Metro Faculty Senate called for an investigation into the "secret meeting" I was alleged to have had with Governor Owens to discuss the bill. This secret meeting was as mythological as the quotas supposed to be embedded in the bill of itself. My office had made an appointment with the governor and I walked in the front door of his office to spend a half hour with him, a privilege of ordinary citizens. It wasn't as though I was the Oil and Gas Lobby.

This surreal media circus was interrupted on September 16, by an editorial appearing in the Rocky Mountain News. Written by editor Vince Carroll, it was titled "Tone the Rhetoric Down" and actually attempted to set the record straight. After rehearsing the Democrat charges against the Academic Bill of Rights, Carroll pointed out that, in fact, it would do "none" of the things claimed: "The Academic Bill of Rights advocates precisely the opposite of political litmus tests," he explained. The News printed excerpts from the bill of rights to prove the point. But this dose of reality had almost no effect on the bill's opponents, who continued their scorched earth tactics and bizarre attacks.

Two weeks after the Rocky Mountain News editorial appeared, I arrived in Denver to give a speech at Metro State College. As is often the case when I arrive on the scene, the left at Metro State had prepared an event to illustrate exactly the problem I had come to speak about. When I got to the campus, a demonstration to protest my speech - in advance of my speech - was already in progress.

The leader of the demonstration was a leftist named Felicia Woodson, who also served as the Metro State student body president. Woodson appealed to the crowd: "Why was he even allowed to come to campus to speak?" To which one heckler responded, "Free speech."

The Auraria campus of the Colorado university system is built on the site of a defunct gold mining camp and houses three colleges -- Metro State College Denver, Colorado University Denver and Colorado Community College. These public institutions are presumably dedicated to educational agendas -- opening minds and exposing them to a marketplace of ideas. Yet here was a protest to close down that marketplace for a speaker who been invited by students - and in fact by the official student activities board - to talk about academic freedom.

That students should think it appropriate to protest a speech they hadn't heard was itself a problem. But where were the adults?

In fact, they were on the platform leading the protest. Most prominent among them were Joan Foster the head of the Faculty Senate and Jim Martin, a trustee of the University of Colorado system. Their presence as leaders and sponsors of the protest showed just how confused some educators have become about the educational mission.

This spectacle naturally provided the text of my talk to the 800 students assembled in the Metro Student Union. "One would expect an educator to encourage students to listen to an invited speaker," I told them. "The same educator might be expected to say, 'If you disagree with what you hear, prepare a reasoned and civil answer to it.' That is what an education is about. Or should be. Using one's brains, instead of just one's tongue. Learning to use logic instead of relying on raw emotions. This is a university, not the Hannity and Colmes show." This comment drew laughs of recognition.

I had conducted a study of the Metro State campus which showed that among 85 members of the social science departments at Metro, 41 were registered Democrats and none were registered Republicans in a state which was overwhelmingly Republican. In fact we had missed two Republicans on the faculty, one of whom introduced himself to me at the event. The figures merely indicated the existence of a problem and were not meant to define it.

Far more important than the distribution of faculty and the possibility of bias in the hiring process was the university culture itself. If the leader of the Faculty Senate and a university trustee could not distinguish the educational mission of the university from that of the political arena, how many teachers at the institution did? And if many did not, what were the implications of this for the quality of education on the Auraria campus? "You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story," I said, repeating a slogan of the academic freedom campaign.

To illustrate the politicized culture of the academy, I described a visit I had made before my speech to the Political Science Department of Colorado University Denver, one of the three schools on the Auraria campus. The Political Science Department is a narrow hallway flanked with offices on either side, whose doors are solid wood and which are sandwiched between bulletin boards that are used for professorial announcements. The only times students come to the Department offices are when they are seeking guidance and help from their professors. Perhaps they are falling behind in their grades and want advice that would aid them in improving their scores. Perhaps they are contemplating a professional career and want guidance in pursuing it. Whatever the reason for their visit they are seeking a counselor, someone they need to be able to trust.

Yet every bulletin board in this narrow hallway and two-thirds of the wooden office doors that students would have to open in order to visit their professors were plastered with dozens of anti-Republican, anti-Bush, anti-conservative cartoons and similar political messages. There were no counter-balancing postings in sight. Such political propagandizing has no place in this academic setting. Do professors feel so impotent that they have to hector a captive audience of students who are placed in their professional charge and over whom they exercise enormous institutional power? Does it not occur to them that inflicting their partisan viewpoints on students whose education has been put in their trust is a form of harassment and a betrayal of their professional obligations? And if they do not, even in this limited but instructive setting, how do they teach their actual courses? How do they insure that their students will get an education and not an indoctrination?

I recalled to my audience the time President Reagan was shot. When he was brought to the hospital and put on the operating table, just before he was put under the anesthetic, he looked at his doctors and said with a wink, "Are you guys Republicans or Democrats?" We can all laugh at the President's humor because we trust our doctors to follow their Hippocratic Oath and to treat us equally without regard to our political affiliations or religious beliefs. It is a basic professional responsibility to do so. But while we can still trust our doctors in this regard, the same cannot be said of our teachers. And that is a serious institutional problem, which the academic freedom movement has set out to address.

Just how bad the situation was in the classrooms of the Metro State campus was brought home to me the day after I left. I received the following email from a student who had come to hear my speech:

Dear: Mr Horowitz

I am Special Forces soldier, former Marine, and currently a student at Metro State University. Today I heard your speech. While your views are not popular ones, I do feel they are the right ones, in regards to making the American education system more equally representative in the viewpoints it offers. I have witnessed first hand the abuse of a teachers' political rhetoric in classes at Metro State.

As a service member I have served in Panama (Just Cause), Gulf War I, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq. I have been told in classes by my professors that my views are aggressive, violent, racist, and offensive in regards to my opinions on world politics. I have even been told that the wearing of my uniform in class is inappropriate, and offensive.

My current duties are with the state of Colorado as an Officer Candidate School instructor. I try to conduct myself as a professional at all times whether in or out of my classroom. The service has taught me to respect others, and their opinions, no matter what they are. I try to instill that in my students. Yet as a student myself in college I am forced to endure hours of political rhetoric about past wars which I have fought in, and lost friends in.

Most recently I had to endure hours of liberal rhetoric on how badly this administration is doing on the war on terrorism, and how the troops in Iraq are the reason other countries hate us. These viewpoints come from individuals who have never served their nation in a time of war, or had friends die in these wars they talk so knowledgeably about.

I endure this attitude, and grief in order to get my degree. Like other veterans I am trying to improve myself by going back to school and getting a higher education. Or as I like to call it, a low education. I am proud of my veteran brothers who take on the challenge of raising a family and improving their knowledge base. I feel we have only learned not to spit on our vets was done during the Vietnam War. We have not learned that their opinions may hold merit, or that maybe they have some real world knowledge we can learn from.

I would like to thank you Mr. Horowitz for trying to improve the system and make it a better place to learn and not just a liberal indoctrination program. On behalf of all my veteran friends serving and not, I would like to say you have our support, and thank you.

SFC Mark J. Elrod USARMY 10TH SFG(A)Special Forces.

Several days in Colorado was enough for me to see that the excessively politicized debate over the Academic Bill of Rights was partly the aftershock of a bitter redistricting fight that Democrats had lost. This posed the question, which several people raised in the course of my visit, as to why I had not gone directly to universities with my proposal instead of the legislature.

In fact, I had. Of course, the ideal way to introduce the Academic Bill of Rights would be for universities themselves to adopt it. The problem is that universities have themselves become political institutions and their entrenched political forces will reject the bill in order to preserve their own dominance.

I was made aware of this fact when I first came up with the idea of an Academic Bill of Rights in the course of discussions with the chairman of the board of regents of one of the largest public university systems in the United States. The chairman was enthusiastic about the bill and assured me he would make it the policy of his institution. He was particularly encouraged because he could see no objection to its particulars that might be raised from any quarter. In fact, in the year since our first discussions, not a single individual opposing the Academic Bill of Rights has identified a single clause or statement in the bill they found objectionable. It is the idea that the bill is necessary - and its sponsors -- they reject.

I also brought the proposal to the chancellor of a private university, but to no avail. Again there was no objection to any specifics in the bill itself. Instead, like the chairman of the state university, the chancellor was afraid of his faculty left.

The leader of a university - whether private or public -- is a fund-raiser first, last and foremost. To achieve his goals he needs to assemble the best talent (faculty) in order to produce the best product (students). The one thing a university head can't afford is to have an institution in turmoil because his faculty - or the activist wing of his faculty led by professors like Joan Foster - has mounted a crusade against him. The fear induced by such a prospect paralyzes them.

It is difficult to fight a political faction waging an unprincipled battle under the cloak of educational neutrality and academic professionalism. It is doubtful that there are many college presidents who are up to this challenge. Yet the problem and its inequities persist. This makes the intervention of an overtly political institution like the legislature necessary if the interests of students, scholars who are not political, and the general public are to be served.

It is my view that the majority of university professors, particularly those on whom institutional prestige is based and who are situated in professional schools like medicine, engineering, business and the hard sciences, will welcome the Academic Bill of Rights. They will directly benefit from strengthening academic integrity and thwarting the agendas of political ideologues. However, it is still the case that in the politics of university administration a minority of ideologues can dominate a majority composed of scholars who are politically inactive.

In April 2003, for example, when American troops were in Baghdad and Iraqis were rejoicing over their liberation from one of the world's most tyrannical regimes, the Academic Senate at UCLA - representing a fraction of the total faculty -- voted 180-7 to condemn the American "invasion" of Iraq. Even Democrats were not so lopsidedly opposed to the war. This underscores the fact that it will take legislatures to actively begin the process of restoring academic freedom and educational integrity to our collegiate institutions.

After I left Colorado, the President of Metro State College rejected the request by the Faculty Senate president Joan Foster to have my meeting with Governor Owens "investigated." But he went on- in the words of the Rocky Mountain News - to say that, "the Academic Bill of Rights is not needed on Metro State's campus because the Board of Trustees has committed to academic freedom in [its] personnel handbook and policy manual." This is what the Metro State manual says: "The Board of Trustees endorses the principle of academic freedom, which means the freedom to discuss academic subjects fully, engage in research and publish the results of research, and write or speak as citizens without fear of institutional censorship or discipline, provided individuals do not represent themselves as speaking for the College."

Even the casual reader of this statement will note that this is about academic freedom for professors not students. There is not a word in it that would protect students from the abuses of ideological faculty who confuse the university with a political platform and education with indoctrination. This is why the Academic Bill of Rights is necessary and why only the actions of legislators will begin the necessary process of reform.

When I returned to California, I appeared on the Michael Reagan radio show to talk about my trip. Before I could begin, Reagan had an anecdote of his own. His daughter was a freshman in college who had just begun her classes. One of the first courses the granddaughter of Ronald Reagan elected to take was a beginning acting class. On the first day, in the course of introducing himself to his students, the professor said: "I am a liberal Democrat. If there are any Republicans here, I advise you to drop the class."

The college attended by Ronald Reagan's granddaughter was Cal Lutheran, a school with a reputation for being "conservative."