Academic McCarthyism in Pennsylvania · 15 January 2006


The following is an "op-ed" written by a professor at Penn State to the Penn State listserv. It is a typical academic attack on the Academic Bill of Rights in general and the Pennsylvania hearings on academic freedom in particular. It is empty of intellectual argument or content. Notice how classically its argument conforms to the structures of McCarthyite accusation. It is entirely based on guilt by association. Neither the substance of the hearings or the legislation are addressed. And the virtues of the academy are merely asserted and assumed. All misspellings and grammatical (and logical, and factual) errors are the professor's. - The editors.

Sender: Penn State Abington Discussions ABINGTON@LISTS.PSU.EDU
From: Karen Halnon
Subject: Steve, George, and the Crusade for Academic Freedom

Attached is a recent op ed piece I just wrote on the subject.

Political Bias in the Crusade for So-Called Academic Freedom
Karen Bettez Halnon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology
Penn State Abington

House Resolution (HR) 177, known as the "Academic Freedom Bill," is presently under consideration in the Pennsylvania state legislature. If made into law, the bill would establish a State Committee to oversee the hiring, firing, curriculum content, and political affiliation of faculty members at any Pennsylvania college or university receiving state funding. The Committee would also handle student complaints of professorial bias, in which case, the accused professor would have 48 hours to prepare a defense, given before the Committee in Harrisburg.

A number of other states, ­e.g., Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Colorado, California, Washington, and Tennessee­ have passed, or are seriously considering legislation that will redress the alleged liberal bias that allegedly dominates the nation's colleges and universities, and in the process is allegedly depriving conservative students of "academic freedom." The goal, it appears, is to establish nation-wide legislative oversight of intellectual life, correcting for alleged inadequacies of educational administrators.

Complicating claims that academic freedom bills, including HR 177, are non-partisan initiatives intended to eliminate rather than promote political bias is the perspective of the primary initiator of HR 177.

David Horowitz is publisher of Fox News friendly and President of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC). Created in 1989, CSPC and has received over $13 million in grants from private sources through 2003. For example, during recent years 2001 and 2003, CSPC received $1,670,000 from The Bradley Foundation (which funds anti-labor, anti-corporate regulation, and welfare-reform projects); and $1,025,000 from The Scaife Foundation (which is also a major funding source for the powerful right-wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation). (See An offshoot of CSPS, also created by Horowitz, is the politically conservative national organization called Students for Academic Freedom. It has 150 campus chapters nation-wide, and coordinates grassroots Academic Freedom Bills. In general, Horowitz is explicitly and vehemently anti-leftist, pro-Bush, and pro-war on Iraq, and portrays anti-war dissenters as anti-American backstabbers who are undermining the cause of freedom, jeopardizing national security, and inviting more terrorism.

Further indicative of bias in the crusade for so-called "Academic Freedom" is the composition of the Select Committee charged with examining the academic atmosphere in Pennsylvania public state higher educational institutions. It is composed of a majority of Republicans. An amendment to HR 177 was proposed that would require an equal number of Democrats on the Select committee, but was voted down by the Republican majority.

Playing a central role as initiator-activist of academic freedom bills, Horowitz testified before the Pennsylvania State House Select Committee at Temple University on January 10th. This hearing followed others that were held in Harrisburg and at the University of Pittsburgh. Two additional committee hearings will take place in central Pennsylvania in May.

It cannot go without saying in conclusion that liberal arts education does tend to cultivate tolerance, respect for difference and diversity, critical thinking, the pursuit of knowledge and truth, and a sense of worldliness and civic responsibility. A liberal arts educated person is one who prizes freedom of thought and expression, and who makes principled arguments in favor of things such as equality and social justice.

One might imagine that intellectuals, nation-wide, are speaking out in brief and at length based on their knowledge of growing injustices, and their sense of civic responsibility. As education leaders they may be countering and correcting for what they know is not "fair and balanced" in the media mainstream. If this is so, the solution is not censoring educators with intellectual and social conscience, but initiating broad societal changes that will bring integrity to the meanings of liberty,
freedom, and democracy.