Leading the Fight for Academic Freedom · 27 March 2006

Filed under: Ohio, Press Coverage

By David Horowitz--FrontPageMagazine.com--03/28/06

I have been in many political battles in my life, but never have I encountered an opposition as vicious and dishonest as the opposition to the campaign for academic freedom. This opposition is made up of radical professors who want to enforce political correctness on vulnerable students, the teacher unions who represent them, their subsidized shills in the Democratic Party, and their political friends in the news and editorial rooms of the local and national media. These political forces have been unrelenting in their misrepresentation of the Academic Bill of Rights and their readiness to slander its supporters at the drop of a hat.

A representative editorial describes a local legislator who had the temerity to sponsor hearings on academic freedom this way: "Rep. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, isn't exactly engaged in a witch-hunt…Actually what Rep. Armstrong has in mind amounts to crueler punishment than the usual means of torture. We're talking about being sued, the modern equivalent of being hanged, drawn and quartered."

Every word in this editorial, which appeared in Pennsylvania's Patriot News, is a lie. There is no law in Pennsylvania that would allow anyone to sue professors; Representative Gibson Armstrong, a veteran of Mogadishu who does not deserve such treatment, has not even proposed a law at all. The hearings he has sponsored have asked only one question: Are existing academic freedom protections in Pennsylvania's public universities being enforced? Period. The rules established by the Republican majority on the committee in fact prevent an individual's name from being mentioned -- even if that individual is violating currently existing academic freedom policies at Pennsylvania colleges. The reason for the rule is that the Republican sponsors of the committee believe the identification of such abuses should be left to the universities themselves.

In other words the hearings are the exact opposite of what the editorial claims. The only witch-hunt in progress in Pennsylvania lies in the unfounded attacks of the opposition to the committee by the teacher unions and the press. Every protection has been taken by the committee to prevent the hearings from damaging the reputation of any professor including those who are violating the academic freedom rights of their students. The hearings themselves, which have been proceeding for months, are entirely about the existing policies of universities and whether they are being enforced - though the public would never know this from reading the local and national press. Instead, working from the talking points of the teacher unions, editorial writers and journalists in states like Pennsylvania and educational trade journals have reported the academic freedom movement as exactly the opposite of what it is. It is an attempt to take political agendas out of the classrooms, and to enforce existing academic freedom guidelines. It is an attempt to restore the educational mandate of a democratic education: Students should be taught how to think, not what to think. Teachers should teach, not preach.

That is why the news this week is so remarkable. Despite the witch-hunt conducted by the education establishment and the political left - which is funded by the massive treasuries of the teacher unions -- legislation for an Academic Bill of Rights is now being brought to the floor of Congress itself. This is the work of three congressmen, whose political courage under ferocious political fire should not go unnoticed by the American public: Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia, Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, and House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

This week John Boehner issued a statement to the press, which announced the legislation and included a generous acknowledgement of my own efforts. Although I have been demonized by the opposition forces -a cover story in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a radical professor described me as "Worse Than Joe McCarthy" - and even though he is now the House Majority Leader, John Boehner did not flinch from the association: "Last year, I met with Mr. Horowitz to discuss his Academic Bill of Rights. At the time I was Chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee. I expressed to Mr. Horowitz that the committee shared his concern … and we agreed that students should be protected against discrimination based on their political or ideological views."

After that meeting Boehner worked with McKeon, who was then chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education (he has now succeeded Boehner as Chairman of Education) and Jack Kingston, who is the House sponsor of the academic freedom bill to fashion an amendment to the Higher Education Authorization Act (HR 609) that would incorporate those ideas. As Boehner put it, the amendment "would strengthen current Student Speech and Association Rights" and was "rooted in the spirit of both Rep. Kingston's bill and Mr. Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights."

In contrast to the malicious characterization of the Academic Bill of Rights in attacks by the leftwing education lobby, the agenda of these legislators is pointedly described by Boehner in these terms: "The goal is not to tell an institution what to teach and how to teach it. The goal of the Academic Bill of Rights is to protect students against discrimination, and to encourage student speech and expression. That's our goal as well. In H.R. 609, we think we've found the right balance between protecting student speech and association rights and avoiding any federal intrusion into institutional autonomy. We want to ensure students are not discriminated against based on their viewpoints -- whether that viewpoint is conservative, liberal, or any other. Doing so is a crucial if we expect students to receive a full and rigorous education."

The Academic Bill of Rights is, in fact, impeccably liberal, in the principled sense. None of its leftwing opponents have been able to identify a single smoking gun to justify their hysteria. They have not been able to present a single clause as evidence that the bill would restrict free speech, or target leftwing professors as such. The bill (in all its variations) is strictly viewpoint neutral. Strictly. But it is also a bill that would encourage "intellectual diversity" - and this strikes at the heart of all agendas to use educational classrooms for political indoctrination. In attacking the bill so savagely, the leftwing professoriate and their teacher union backers, are in effect conceding that this is exactly their intention. But they're confident - over confident - because they can count on a complicit media, that is ready to cover for them and defame anyone who has the effrontery to stand in their way.

I remember well my visit to John Boehner's office almost a year ago. In particular, I remember my feelings as we sat in his inner chambers and listened to his staff report on the status of the bill, and the angry opposition to it. I was conscious the attacks Boehner's aide was reporting were different from those I had endured. I was merely a private citizen and any consequences for me were mainly personal. Unlike Boehner, I was not responsible for legislation that included other mandates than those I had proposed that would affect millions of American lives. Nor was I an elected official who had to face a referendum on myself in a community where the local media would be as savage and untruthful in reporting this issue as I now knew it would be.

Boehner's legislative aide described how the polarized atmosphere in the Congress, because of the war in Iraq, was making it difficult to get any legislation through. This was in itself a problem for Republicans seeking re-election as a House majority. Then I heard her say that among the myriad items in the hundreds of pages that made up the re-authorization bill there were just four that the Democrats and their education lobby backers had refused to negotiate at all. One of them was mine. They wanted it out.

When she finished, it was my turn to speak. I felt my resolve melting even before the words came out. I was trying to imagine the real world implications of what I was asking for. I was thinking of the war, and how it would be gravely affected if Republicans lost the House. I was thinking of the enormous ramifications unknown to me if the Education bill failed because of the provision I had requested. I was trying to visualize the kind of burdens my request had lain on the shoulders of the man to whom I had come with this request for help.

I decided then to give Boehner an out, if he wanted one. Not that he would need permission from me if he decided to withdraw our clause. I just wanted him to know that I would understand and would continue to support him if he did. I could move the agenda of academic freedom - albeit far more slowly - in other ways, even if it were dropped from his legislation.

I said to him: "If in the current political circumstances, this provision is an obstacle to passage of your legislation, I would understand if you took it out."

Boehner looked back at me and said: "This is a fight I want."

I could have hugged him right there. This was the kind of man we needed to win this struggle. This was the spirit I saw in the other brave sponsors of the Academic Bill of Rights, Gib Armstrong, Jack Kingston, Buck McKeon. They are American heroes. They understand that the battle for academic freedom is a battle for the American future. At stake is whether our schools are going to educate the citizens of a democracy to think for themselves, or whether they will be force-fed the orthodoxies of a political creed.