Betraying Academic Freedom · 16 March 2006

Filed under: Commentary
By David Horowitz --FrontPageMag.com-01/20/06

On November 9, 2005, Professor Joan Wallach Scott appeared as a witness before the Select Committee on Academic Freedom of the Pennyslvania House of Representatives. The committee was created by House Resolution HR 177, sponsored by Representative Gibson Armstrong.

Joan Wallach Scott is a distinguished member of the academic profession as it is currently constituted. She holds a tenured chair - itself an honorific - in History at Princeton's Institute of Advanced Studies, one of the most prestigious academic institutes in the United States. She is also a Professor of History at Rutgers University. In addition to her prestigious academic posts, Joan Wallach Scott holds a key national position as a guardian of academic freedom. From 1999 until 2005 she was the chair of Committee on Academic Freedom -- the famous Committee "A" -- of the American Association of University Professors, which is responsible for the academic freedom guidelines which most colleges and universities follow and which was the direct inspiration for the creation of the Academic Bill of Rights.

According to Professor Scott, she is now a consultant to Committee "A" and - in her own words: "Issues of academic freedom remain central to all my professional work." Without question the views of Professor Scott are not merely the opinions of a single individual but represent views of an individual at the heights of the academic profession and at the center of its views on academic freedom.

In her testimony (168-169) Professor Scott noted that the Pennsylvania legislation (HR 177) was concerned with three areas: First, whether professors are hired according to professional c``academic standards or whether political factors enter into the hiring process; second, whether there is intellectual diversity in the classroom; and third, whether ideological considerations are involved in grading and how discussions are conducted in the classroom.

On the first question concerning faculty diversity, Professor Scott dismisses - without evidence or argument -- all studies that have recently shown an overwhelming preponderance of faculty across the range of American colleges and universities with views that can reasonably be associated with the political left.[1] These studies were conducted using several different scientific methodologies. They show ratios of leftwing to rightwing professors in the humanities and social sciences ranging from 5-1 to as high as 30-1.

Some of these studies depend on reviewing the party registrations of faculty who have voted in primary elections. But the same conclusions have been reached in the studies that do not depend on party registration by Klein, Western, Rothman, Lichter and Nevitte.[2] These more scientific studies depend on thousands of interviews of professors about their beliefs. They demonstrate that the percentage of conservative faculty has been diminishing over time, and that, in general, professors with conservative beliefs are teaching at institutions below the level at which one might expect to find them. This would suggest an active -and political -- principle of exclusion at work.

Neither Professor Joan Wallach Scott nor the American Association of University Professors have offered any reasoned critique of the studies by Rothman, Klein and others which suggest that the academic hiring process is biased in its core. Professor Scott merely dismisses the scientific data with a wave of her credentialed hand, as though the fact that she has been the head of an academic freedom committee has made her an authority on the subject. According to Professor Scott, there is no problem of political prejudice or ideological preference influencing a hiring decision in today's academy.

In place of an argument she merely asserts: "The considerations that enter hiring decisions have everything to do with scholarship and with what might be called disciplinary politics."[3] Further along in her testimony she again asserts, "The evidence suggests that there is no party line being used either to hire teachers or to inform their teaching." But if this is so, why would the mission statement of the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh - to take one of many examples offered in the testimony of Stephen Balch - include a statement that "the school is committed to promoting the values of social and economic justice." Both terms -- "social justice" and "economic justice" -- are widely recognized to be anti-free market catch-phrases of the political left. (Those who accept the market system are generally opposed to correcting its inequalities through political interventions in the name of "social justice" or "economic justice." Further, supporters of free markets would argue that systems which rely on criteria like "social justice" to determine the distribution of economic goods - as socialist economies do - produce more injustice rather than less.)

Despite Professor Scott's cavalier dismissal of problems related to political factors entering the hiring process, others in the academy recognize their existence. The editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the leading journal for university administrators, regard the problem seriously enough to have commissioned a front-page article by Professor Mark Bauerlein of Emory University on the subject. Bauerlein described how political prejudice actually works in academic hiring and the formation of the academic curriculum.[4] The Chronicle would hardly have placed this article so prominently, nor commissioned it in the first place, if there was not a generally recognized problem to explain. President Ruth Simmons of Brown University (the first black and first female president in Brown's history) announced at the beginning of spring semester 2005 that she was instituting a special fund to bring conservative speakers to the Brown campus, and said this was being done specifically because of the lack of intellectual diversity on the campus. This was the subject of her Opening Address to the university that January. The amount of money in this "Kaleidoscope Fund" is $100,000 and the first invited speaker (in March 2005) was conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza.

I happen to have recently completed a book -- The Professors - to be published next month, which profiles a hundred academics. The Professors addresses the very questions this committee is concerned with, including the question of whether politics - in the sense of the politics that divides our country - might enter into hiring decisions. If I may, here is a passage from my book:

"The bitterly intolerant attitude of the current academic culture towards conservatives is also inevitably a factor in the blacklisting process. In the spring of 2005, the Skidmore College News published an article called, "Politics in the Classroom," which quoted anthropology professor Gerry Erchak to this effect: 'In the hiring process you'd probably be wise not to mention your political views. If you say, 'Oh, hey, I really think Reagan was great,' or, 'I'm a Bush guy,' I can't say a person wouldn't be hired, but it's like your pants falling down. It's just horrible. It's like you cut a big fart. I just don't think you'll be called back.'[5]

"The faculty prejudices reflected in Erchak's comment are a pervasive fact of academic life. In the same spring, Professor Timothy Shortell was elected by his peers to the chair of the sociology department at Brooklyn College. His election became a news item when it was discovered that he had written an article referring to religious people as "moral retards" and was on record describing senior members of the Bush Administration as "Nazis."[6] The recent eruption of the Ward Churchill controversy in Colorado had made Shortell's extreme attitudes newsworthy. On the other hand, the same attitudes had not impressed his department peers as the least bit unusual. Departmental chairs at Brooklyn College exercise veto powers over faculty hiring decisions. Is it reasonable to think that someone with views like Shortell's would approve the hiring of a sociology candidate with religious views or Republican leanings? According to the survey of 1700 academics by Professor Daniel Klein and Andrew Western, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in sociology departments nationwide is 28-1.[7]

"When apprised through press reports of Shortell's views, the administrative leaders of the City University of New York system (CUNY), of which Brooklyn College is a part, sprang into action. The President of Brooklyn College rescinded Shortell's chairmanship, thus preventing him from vetoing future conservative and religious candidates for appointments in the Sociology Department."

At the time the Shortell case became public, Joan Wallach Scott was the chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Academic Freedom. What was the response of Professor Scott to the appointment and removal of a department chair who regarded religious people as "moral retards" and Republicans as "Nazis?" According to the trade magazine InsideHighered.com, "Scott, the chair of the AAUP's academic freedom committee, said that she was concerned about CUNY leaders 'readily capitulating to outside pressures,' and she said that whenever university leaders do that, 'others are emboldened' to attack faculty members."[8]

In other words, whatever professors say or do is fine with Professor Scott, who showed no concern at all that an individual so prejudiced against religious people and Republicans would have veto power over all hiring in Brooklyn College's department of sociology, a field where conservatives were already outnumbered 28-1. Scott's academic freedom concern was to that the President of Brooklyn College had decided Professor Shortell was probably too prejudiced to hold such a position and had removed him.

In her testimony Professor Scott suggests that "good social scientific research" would suggest that the scarcity of conservatives on university faculties reflects factors other than political prejudice. She suggests, as a more likely factor, "the preference for more economically lucrative work on the part of Republicans." The average full professor at Princeton - and Joan Wallach Scott is not average - makes $151,000 a year - and that doesn't include remuneration for speaking engagements, books and the odd extra faculty job. Am I wrong in assuming that this income might compare favorably with the job-related income of the average Republican legislator on this committee?

In fact, Professor Scott and the American Association of Professors have focused of late on a very select group of professors whom it perceives to be under attack, namely Islamic radicals accused of connections to terrorism. These include Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim academic who was hired by Notre Dame but denied a visa by the State Department because of his connections with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and Professor Sami al-Arian, who is a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for the suicide bombings of more than 100 individuals in the Middle East, including two American citizens. A media account of a lecture Professor Scott gave at Princeton on September 18, 2005, in which she defended Ramadan and al-Arian, summarized what she said about AAUP's defenses of academic freedom this way: "Of the incidents the AAUP has tracked since 9/11, Scott said, all but one have been instigated by the pro-Israel bloc."[9]

The anti-Semitism in these remarks (notwithstanding the fact that Professor Scott herself is Jewish) is apparent and is not confined to this one occasion. Elsewhere Professor Scott has falsely described the Academic Bill of Rights as a "call for balance," and "an affirmative action program for neo-conservatives," and has falsely linked neo-conservatives to the Prime Minister of Israel. In Scott's own formulation "The call for 'balance' has also come from neo-conservatives, led by David Horowitz and his campaigners for the 'Academic Bill of Rights.' There is, of course, a connection between the pro-Sharon lobby and many of these campaigners on substantive grounds and in their self- representation as victims of discrimination, when in fact they represent a majority viewpoint in American society."[10]

It is too bad that the Select Committee did not question Professor Scott about her remarks at the Princeton event. In the time span since 9/11, others outside the AAUP have noted the termination of adjunct professor Ted Klocek at DePaul, after he got into an argument on the campus quad with a radical Palestinian student organization; the termination of adjunct professor Philip Mitchell at the University of Colorado (after fifteen years of service) because he assigned an overtly Christian book from the 19th Century in his American history course; the denial of tenure to a noted and widely published conservative, Peter Berkowitz, at Harvard, and other cases where academic freedom had been potentially abused but in which Professor Scott and the AAUP have not shown an interest. One might conclude from the evidence that political considerations shape the interest of Professor Scott and the AAUP in matters of academic freedom.

In her testimony, Professor Scott promised the committee that if it so desired she would "describe the elaborate procedures followed by hiring and search committees and by tenure committees," which in her view prevent political considerations from entering the hiring and promotion process -- "the outside letters solicited (from members of the profession) the ways their recommendations are scrutinized by all university committees, as well as by deans, provosts and presidents. There is no short, quick, dirty way to get hired or tenured in an American university." (175)

Professor Scott is right about the elaborate procedures for hiring and promotion, but it is the very existence of these procedures that suggests the process itself is corrupt, and that there has been a corruption of entire departments and fields, with academic standards being abandoned in favor of ideological and politically one-sided prejudice. Take the famous recent case of Professor Ward Churchill, with whose outlines everyone is familiar. Churchill was formerly the chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and - despite everything that has been revealed about him since - is still a full professor of Ethnic Studies at Boulder, even though the president of the university has had to resign over the scandal created by his behavior.

The reason Colorado University president Elizabeth Hoffman had to resign is that Ward Churchill has been exposed as an academic fraud on several counts. Ward Churchill was an affirmative action hire for a faculty position reserved a Native American candidate. Despite his claims in applying for the job and maintained ever since, Ward Churchill is of Anglo-Saxon descent entirely, has no Indian heritage and has been repudiated by the Indian tribe to which he claims to belong as an honorary member. Moreover, despite his full professorship in Ethnic Studies, Ward Churchill has no degree in a field related to Ethnic Studies. Ward Churchill received an M.A. in graphic arts (he is a painter) at an experimental college in the Midwest that did not even award grades at the time. Further, it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of reporters at the Denver Rocky Mountain News, which ran a six-part series on Churchill, that he is a plagiarist; and it has further been demonstrated to the satisfaction of experts in the field of American Indian history that he has simply made up key historical incidents in his work. Nonetheless, Churchill's present university salary is $120,000 a year, not including his speaking engagements and books, and apparently, because he is tenured, he has a lifetime job no matter what he does. Many Republican intellectuals, who Professor Scott claims spurn the economic rewards of academics, would actually covet privileges like that.

Yet even though he lacked a Ph.D., which is the normally required credential for professorships, Ward Churchill managed to secure an appointment as an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies and then a promotion to associate professor of Ethnic Studies, and then a promotion to a second tenured position as a full professor of Ethnic Studies. Each of the latter two promotions would have required letters of approval from at least six members of the Ethnic Studies field in schools other than the University of Colorado. In other words, not one of the twelve tenured Ethnic Studies professors in universities across the country saw anything seriously wrong in Churchill's academic credentials or academic work, though his work is now discovered to have been riddled with plagiarized passages and made-up facts, and though its central theme is that America is, in its essence, a genocidal nation, comparable to Nazi Germany.

Subsequently, this same academic fraud with extremist ideas received a promotion by a vote of the majority of tenured professors in his department and approval by the University of Colorado administration to become chair of the Ethnic Studies Department. Each of his appointments and promotions required full review by the entire Ethnic Studies Department at Boulder and by the chair who appointed the search committee that hired him originally, and by the dean of his school and perhaps by his provost and university president. All of them would have had to approve the hiring; all of them would have had to approve the rapid upward promotion of this academic impostor. All of them did. So much for Professor Scott's elaborate system of checks and balances that she claims is a guarantee that professors are hired and promoted solely on the basis of their scholarship and not their political beliefs. If that is so, where is the right-wing Ward Churchill? There is none.

The incident that precipitated the Ward Churchill scandal was an invitation to Churchill to speak at Hamilton University. The invitation was extended by an official program of the university governed by tenured professors who shared Churchill's extremist views. It was in the course of the Hamilton controversy that it became widely known that Churchill believed the victims of 9/11 got what they deserved, and that he thought more punishment for Americans was in order; it was the public, media-fanned scandal that followed this - not any academic committee or procedure - that brought to light that Churchill was not an Indian, that his work was fraudulent, and that he did not have the credentials for the position he had acquired. Nonetheless, since the scandal broke, Churchill has received the public support of more than a thousand university professors, including the support of every member of the Ethnic Studies Department at Boulder, The American Association of Ethnic Studies, and Joan Wallach Scott's American Association of University Professors. Do these facts suggest that there might be reasonable questions that one could ask of university administrators about existing academic political prejudices and standards? The American Association of University Professors is not about to ask them. As its response to the Ward Churchill affair shows, the American Association of University Professors is part of the problem.

The Ward Churchill affair can be regarded as the Enron of the academic profession. It is evidence of such extensive corruption affecting so many checkpoints and so many safeguards that are supposed to be built into in the system, that Professor Scott's assurances can hardly be taken seriously. Ward Churchill was untouchable. He still apparently is. The university may not need a Sarbanes-Oxley solution to its corruptions, but there is no reason not to pursue these questions until we find answers.

In her testimony before this committee, Professor Scott's responses to the second and third concerns of HR 177 refer directly to the Academic Bill of Rights. Her testimony on the Academic Bill of Rights is a tissue of misrepresentations designed to discredit it without examining it: "On the second and third questions, about the openness of the classroom environment, and about students right to free expression, I think there are important points to bear in mind. One is whether balance on every issue, as recommended by the Academic Bill of Rights, is really a desirable feature of the university curriculum." (177) The Academic Bill of Rights makes no such recommendation. This is a pure invention of Professor Scott. In fact, the word "balance" does not appear anywhere in the Academic Bill of Rights, let alone the claim that there should be "balance on every issue." The idea itself is absurd. Which is why Professor Scott decided to falsely attribute it to us.

Professor Scott continues: "Another is whether all points of view must always be taught in every classroom for students to enjoy a good climate for learning." (177) Again, the Academic Bill of Rights proposes no such thing. Nowhere does it say that "all points of view must always be taught in every classroom." This is another self-evident absurdity designed to discredit a reform she thinks is being proposed by "pro-Sharon" forces. This is ideological thinking that is not even thought. It is pure political prejudice. What the Academic Bill of Rights actually says is that students should be provided "with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate." What could be clearer? Or more reasonable? The same paragraph in the Academic Bill of Rights says, "While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should make their students aware of other viewpoints." Again what could be more reasonable or more clear?

Why should Professor Scott, evidently an intelligent woman, deliberately mis-read and mis-represent the Academic Bill of Rights, unless there is some political agenda behind her fierce opposition to the Bill. Perhaps she is aware of a situation in the universities which she feels impelled to protect - professors like Ward Churchill and Timothy Shortell and the political prejudices which elevated them to their positions -- but which is indefensible by reasoned argument. I personally do not see any other explanation for her false testimony about a document (the Academic Bill of Rights) which is not only self-evidently liberal but which is derived explicitly from the academic freedom principles of the American Association of University Professors itself.

How far is Professor Scott prepared to go in repudiating the "Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom" laid down by her own organization? Far indeed. "We worry too," Professor Scott testified, "about the idea of neutrality promoted by supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights. It would prohibit professors from expressing judgment about material they teach as well as about matters not directly relevant to course material." It should be noted that Professor Scott is a member of an organization called "Historians Against The War" which has condemned the so-called American "occupation" of Iraq and therefore has a vested interest in resisting the idea that academic institutions and professional associations should be neutral in regards to non-academic controversies. Professor Scott is herself a political activist who regards her activism as integral to her academic work. "As feminist and historian," Scott has written, "my interest is in the operations of power-how it is constructed, what its effects are, how it changes. It follows that activism in the academy is both informed by that work and informs it."[10]

 

Perhaps Professor Scott is referring to a quote which is not to be found in the Academic Bill of Rights but which some legislators have included in their legislative bills at our suggestion: "Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject." Actually this sentence is taken verbatim from the 1940 Statement of the Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom of Professor Scott's own organization, the American Association of University Professors. (It is approvingly quoted in later testimony by her AAUP colleague Professor Moore, who claims - falsely - that the Academic Bill of Rights has a different standard).

To these false presentations of what the Academic Bill of Rights entails, Professor Scott adds an alleged desire of the Bill to impose legislative oversight on universities. First of all, there is already legislative oversight of universities, with which Professor Scott has no quarrel. Laws like U.S. Title IX restrict universities that receive federal funding concerning whom they admit as students, whom they appoint as professors, and which programs they have to discontinue, based on sex discrimination; racial discrimination and sexual harassment laws tell universities what kind of attitudes one can and cannot display towards certain minorities and women; all exist on the books; all require hundreds of millions of university dollars, in the aggregate, to enforce; and all have presumably been supported by Professor Scott and the American Association of University Professors. So what kind of hypocrisy is it to suggest that intellectual freedom may not need legislative attention?

However, the fact is that the Academic Bill of Rights has taken no statutory form or proposed one to deserve Professor Scott's attack. And attack it is. "[The Academic Bill of Rights recalls the kind of government intervention in the academy practiced by totalitarian governments. Historical examples are Japan, China, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and the Soviet Union. These governments sought to control thought rather than permit a free marketplace of ideas." (187) In other words, those of us who have shown concern about the lack of professionalism and the absence of intellectual diversity in academic classrooms are, according to Joan Wallach Scott, not only "pro-Sharon" neo-conservatives but fascists, Communists and Nazis as well!

If the university community is going to represent its side of the case by falsifying the facts, by dismissing reasoned arguments and scientific studies with a wave of the academic hand, and by displaying its intolerance in name-calling like this, then it is going to convince a lot of people that the problems we have been discussing are not only real, but quite serious indeed.

Notes:

[1] Her comments are on pp. 169-170 of the official transcript of here testimony. The studies of academic diversity are available at http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/reports/FacultyStudies.htm

[2] A complete list of these studies along with links to their texts can be found at: http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/reports/FacultyStudies.htm

[3] I.e., the politics of the academic discipline not the politics of left and right.

[4] http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=t1eexv08oc0e5san12cit3ctkr1xkf8c

[5] "Politic s in the Classroom," The Skidmore News, April 29, 2005.

[6] "Top Prof Sparks Outrage - Devout Are 'Moral Retards,' He Sez," New York Daily News, May 23, 2005.

[7] Daniel Klein and Andrew Western, "How Many Democrats per Republican at UC Berkeley and Stanford?," "Surveys on Political Diversity in American Higher Education" http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/reports/Surveys.html

[8] http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/06/13/aaup

[9] http://wrmea.com/archives/December_2005/0512046.html Jane Adas, "Princeton Panelists Share Cautionary Tales of Dangers to Academic Freedom," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2005.

[10] http://www.aaup.org/publications/Academe/2005/05so/05soscot.htm