A Cartoon Version of Academia · 14 March 2006

A Cartoon Version of Academia

By Froma Harrop--Seattle Times--03/09/06

America has had its own little cartoon flare-up. The subject matter is "biased professors." The conservative campaign against these enemies of the people has gained a second wind with the recent forced resignation of Harvard's president. The angry ones are calling on government to step in and stop colleges that receive taxpayer money from "indoctrinating" students in the wiles of liberalism.

A couple of things differentiate this culture war from the Muslim riots over the unflattering depictions of Muhammad. The obvious one is that the American version is not violent. In this country, political resentments get aired on talk shows until the outrage mellows into stupefaction. For this service, our media deserve thanks.

The other interesting difference is the source of the cartoons. Muslims were incensed by cartoons created by Europeans. In the American case, the people who are complaining also drew the cartoons.

What the cultural warriors do is scour this big country for the odd professor who says profoundly stupid anti-American things and turn him into a caricature of liberal academia. They distribute their comic-strip story of a professoriate in full sedition, then implore lawmakers to micro-manage the hiring at colleges.

You could smell Roger the Rat when anti-liberal crusader David Horowitz, in his umpteenth essay on the topic, unburdened himself in USA Today with the following: "There are too many people like Ward Churchill - the University of Colorado professor who compared 9/11 victims with Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann - on faculties across the nation. They confuse their classrooms with a political soapbox."

My opinion of Ward Churchill is that he is a nut job. But Horowitz and the other echoers never come up with the names of "many people like Ward Churchill." They sometimes come up with other left-wing professors who say provocative things, but most of them are contenders in rational debate, who don't deserve to have Ward Churchill hung around their necks.

The campaign was running out of gas when the talkative Lawrence Summers was relieved of his job at Harvard University. The warriors used the opportunity to add a few more miles to their sputtering crusade. They re-released earlier charges that the liberals at Harvard were persecuting a good man for speaking his mind.

Now no one would deny Summers his First Amendment rights to say that women may be genetically handicapped in the sciences, or to reprimand a leading black scholar for making rap recordings. The question is whether he can say these things and remain president of Harvard University.

Summers is a smart guy, but not smart enough to recognize that the academic stars he managed also think they are brilliant. Another failing was his lack of organization. Even people who liked him personally felt frustrated by his management style. Had Summers performed similarly as chief executive of Cooper Tire & Rubber, he would have been canned.

Speaking of corporations: If, as some cultural conservatives insist, politicians should monitor political leanings at universities because they receive government support, why not extend that supervision to all companies accepting taxpayer dollars?

In 2005, Harvard received $500 million in federal research grants, plus a few million more through student aid. But defense contractor Lockheed Martin obtained $6 billion in federal contracts. I want to know how many liberals populate Lockheed's executive suite.

Actually, I don't want to know. I imagine that close to no liberals run America's defense companies, and I don't have a problem with that. Defense contractors tend to be culturally conservative, and universities tend to be liberal. That's the way it is.

Nonetheless, one conservative group has come out with an industry-specific "Academic Bill of Rights." It requires universities to "maintain political pluralism and diversity." I await a comedy channel parody that applies the Academic Bill of Rights to Dick Cheney's old boardroom at Halliburton, a prodigious taker of taxpayer money.

Someone who did the analysis would almost certainly find more conservatives teaching at Harvard than liberals managing at Halliburton. The cartoon version of academia doesn't reflect these realities. And that's why the culture warriors have to draw their own cartoons.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com

Response to Froma Harrop:

In her recent column (A Cartoon Version of Academia, 03/09), Froma Harrop draws a cartoon of her own, beginning with the ludicrous parallel between the Muslims who staged violent riots over the printing of unflattering cartoons in the Danish press and organizations such as David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom which has peacefully and respectfully raised questions about the appropriate behavior of professors in our classrooms.

Harrop claims that "culture warriors….scour this big country for the odd professor who says profoundly stupid anti-American things" and then "implore lawmakers to micro-manage the hiring at colleges." These are wild fantasies which have as much relation to reality as, well, cartoons.

A recent study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found 46% of students say that their professors "use the classroom to present their personal political views" and
that 68% of the students reported that their professors made negative comments in class about President George Bush in classes that were not about George Bush. That's hardly the "odd professor."

The Academic Bill of Rights proposed by our organization would not have legislatures "micromanage" hiring. It states the opposite: "No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs."


Sara Dogan
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom