Fighting for Academia: Horowitz's vision is self-contradictory · 14 March 2006

- Columbia Spectator

Fighting for Academia
Horowitz's vision is self-contradictory

Staff Editorial--Columbia Spectator--03/06/06

According to famed neoconservative David Horowitz, Columbia, among other academic institutions, is rife with "terrorists, racists, and communists." In his new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Horowitz names nine Columbia professors that he sees as left-wing radicals. He claims that these so-called radicals "poison the minds of students" by imposing their extreme political views on students. Horowitz's call for universities to change their hiring policies to prevent these professors from taking important positions is dangerous and ignores the principles of academic freedom.

Leaving aside the book's errors and misquotations, Horowitz makes little distinction between personal politics and conduct in the classroom. He spends considerable time demonstrating various professors' radical views, but is all too quick to assume that these views translate into how they teach students. Many academics are indeed left wing, and some have even published a significant amount of politically charged material.

This does not mean that they spend their class time indoctrinating students with those perspectives. Even if a professor's research coincides with the subject matter of the courses he teaches, it is entirely possible to teach without personal bias.

Horowitz wants university administrators to avoid hiring liberal-minded professors. Admittedly, in an ideal world professors would come from a variety of backgrounds, exposing students to all sides of the political spectrum and encouraging enlightened debate-inside and outside of the classroom. Conservative students would not feel alienated and targeted, while progressive students would encounter new ideas and perspectives.

This situation, however, is too idealized. In reality, it is impossible to achieve ideological balance without discriminatory hiring practices. By hiring professors based on ideology, universities would quickly get into the dangerous business of telling people what to think-exactly what Horowitz claims to oppose. Hiring or firing teachers based on what they think, rather than how or what they teach, is absurd.

Columbia dealt with this issue directly during last year's controversy involving the Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department. The investigation resulted in the creation of an official channel for students to voice grievances about bias in the classroom. If Columbia were really as ideologically slanted as Horowitz would have us believe, the administration would be inundated with student complaints. In reality, the present silence speaks volumes.

Academia has a reputation for liberal thinking. Yet Horowitz seems to be afraid that professors across the country are trying to spark some sort of leftist revolution by preaching to their students. Horowitz need not fear, however, as America is hardly the bastion of flag-burning and communism he seems to think it is. Rest easy, Dave. Whatever these kooky academics are plotting, it is not working.

Response to the Columbia Spectator:

The Spectator's recent staff editorial (Fighting for Academia: Horowitz's Vision is Self-Contradictory, 03/06) is marred by erroneous reporting on Horowitz's recent book, The Professors, and his larger academic freedom campaign.

The editorial claims that "Horowitz's call for universities to change their hiring policies to prevent these professors from taking important positions is dangerous and ignores the principles of academic freedom." This statement is demonstrably false. Horowitz has not proposed any new hiring policy, nor has he ever sought to restrict the statements or actions of professors outside of the classroom and in the exercise of their rights as ordinary citizens. In fact, he defended Ward Churchill's right to call 9/11 victims "little Eichman's" in a public essay.

In the Academic Bill of Rights which Horowitz authored he states that "No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs"---not a new policy at all, but one already in place (but sadly not enforced) at many universities.

Furthermore, the editorial blatantly ignores Horowitz's introduction to his book which explains quite clearly that his aim is not in condemning liberal academics for their views, but rather for their imposition of these views on the captive audiences in their classrooms.

"This book is not intended as a text about left-wing bias in the university and does not propose that this bias is necessarily a problem," Horowitz states in this introduction. "Every individual, whether conservative or liberal, has a perspective and therefore a bias. Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their individual points of view. This is the essence of academic freedom."

Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom