Horowitz Returning to Duke with Sights on Faculty · 06 March 2006

By Anne Blythe - News Observer

Anne Blythe--News Observer--03/07/06

David Horowitz, the right-wing rabble-rouser campaigning to turn the academic world on its head, will be at Duke University this week.
The political commentator will return to a campus that erupted in demonstrations over an ad he put in the student newspaper three years ago opposing reparations for slavery.

The stop at Duke -- a free event at Page Auditorium at 8 p.m. Tuesday -- will be his first sojourn onto a university campus since the release of "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics In America," a Horowitz book published by Regnery.

The Horowitz list includes two Duke professors: miriam cooke, a professor in the department of Asian and African languages who does not capitalize her names, and Frederic Jameson, a professor of comparative literature and Romance studies.

"The book is meant to inform people and be an impetus for change," said Stephen Miller, a junior who is president of the Duke chapter of Students for Academic Freedom, an offshoot of the national organization founded by Horowitz. "That information needs to be brought to kids on college campuses."

Neither cooke nor Jameson could be reached for comment.

Horowitz, by attacking the college professorate, is picking up a fight that long has been a part of this country's culture.

Faculty have heard for years that they hole up in ivory towers, thinking about abstractions rather than dealing with the real world.

Now Horowitz is going after professors with language traditionally used by the political left -- trying to use diversity and sensitivity as weapons against academics who do not subscribe to his agenda.

For a couple of years, Horowitz has been pushing an "Academic Bill of Rights," a manifesto that says students are entitled to an education free of the "political, ideological or religious orthodoxy" of the professors.

Though few professors debate the larger points of the proposal, faculty organizations at Triangle universities have deemed such a charter unnecessary.

"To me, this is a feckless issue and argument," said Bob Bruck, a professor in plant pathology at N.C. State University. "If a student who doesn't happen to agree with my ideology is squelched in his speech, I'd be called on the carpet so fast."

Universities, professors say, fare better when there is free exchange of ideas.

Horowitz and his followers complain that some students who subscribe to more conservative viewpoints than their professors occasionally feel stifled.

Rarely, though, do they give specifics.

"Ninety-nine percent of all professors are wonderful, and I love to learn from them," said Benton Sawrey, 19, an NCSU freshman from Smithfield. "I love to go to class. I think everybody's innocent until proven guilty."

Still, Sawrey, a college Republican, recently tried to persuade a student committee at NCSU to adopt an "Academic Bill of Rights."

But after hearing a long debate among faculty and state politicians, student government representatives tabled the issue indefinitely, essentially killing the proposal without taking a vote.

"That bothers me," Sawrey said. "Currently, the teachers have a certain haven in the classroom. I think it's important that when I'm learning, I'm learning all sides of an issue, not a professor's personal preference."

Professors acknowledge that there might be a very few at some schools who allow their politics to shape some of their teachings.

"The fact that this [academic bill of rights] has gained some traction, all is not well," said John Staddon, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Duke. "It's a great thing to discuss. My objection is more to the idea of a pledge. Most of what it says is unexceptional. But I think for the faculty to sign a pledge is bad precedent."

Staddon likened the proposal to similar ones during the days of McCarthyism when fears of communism made people from all walks of life the subject of witch hunts.

Horowitz, who has persuaded two states to adopt his proposed "Academic Bill of Rights" over the past two years, tries to bat back critics who describe his platform as purely political.

"They're leftist, and they hate me," Horowitz said Friday. "They want to use the classrooms for political rants. If they don't, what's the problem?"

The problem, critics say, is that Horowitz shows no quantitative evidence for his theories.

The Duke chapter of Students for Academic Freedom ran an ad in The Chronicle, the student newspaper, with a litany of allegations and complaints about unfair teaching practices. Only certain departments, not the students complaining, were identified.

Paul Haagan, a Duke law professor who leads the faculty governing body, says professors and administrators discussed whether to adopt Horowitz's proposal and agreed, instead, that policies in place would achieve the same goal.

"The problem that we're encountering, and it's a consistent problem, is that education, if it's working well, should make people somewhat uncomfortable," Haagan said.

Haagan, too, has problems with Horowitz's conclusions. Haagan agrees that some academic fields typically draw more professors who are more politically liberal than conservative. But he does not see them as having a huge sway with students.

"If a large percentage of Democrats in certain fields were such a problem, we would expect to see more graduates registering as Democrats," Haagan said. "We don't see it."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.