Brown University: A Regress Report · 23 November 2003

Filed under: Brown University


By Christopher McAuliffe--Brown Daily Herald, 11/24/03

After exhibiting relatively good behavior at David Horowitz's recent lecture, Brown students, faculty and administrators have been quick to congratulate themselves. The collective campus monologue of self-praise has seemed to articulate something akin to "we suffered intolerable provocation at the hands of a controversial, racist, warmongering madman, yet we are so intellectually mature that we chose not to riot, wet ourselves, abscond with school papers or commit other various felonies. Are we not a model community?"

No, actually, we are not. Even as Horowitz was uttering his closing words, the aisles were filling up with students offering one insipid question after another, their primary unifying characteristic being a demonstrated incapacity for any sort of inward examination. Indeed, much of the campus response in the following days continued the trend of conspicuously denouncing Horowitz as the mortal enemy of humankind. This is disturbing not because I, for a single minute, expect the entire Brown community to fall in line behind Horowitz's ideology. Rather, the response is upsetting in that it seems to have missed the entire point of his appearance, which was not about reparations, affirmative action, the Patriot Act or any other policy position, so much as it was about intellectual diversity.
Intellectual diversity is not a partisan issue, nor is it negotiable for any truly open-minded individual. If diversity of thoughts and opinions is not important to universities, they may as well close down. David Horowitz's purpose last Wednesday was to prove how lacking Brown is in this crucially important ideal. His method was to advance mainstream conservative and classical liberal critiques of the issues about which the prevailing dogma at elite schools is most intractable: the politics of race and gender.

The fact that many students and administrators were so aghast at Horowitz's widely held opinions on such matters proves not that he is an extremist, a racist or any other epithet the intellectual elite would like to hurl at him, but rather that Brown has failed miserably in a centrally important aspect of its academic mission. Why, as Horowitz asked, do we not have professors here who will provide critiques similar to his own (and most likely make more apt use of statistics)? Why are course reading lists loaded with Cornell West, Edward Said and Earl Ofari Hutchinson, while the Brown Bookstore stocks not a single copy of books by Thomas Sowell, Dinesh D'Souza or Shelby Steele?

When an entire intellectual movement is so slighted in elite culture, it is no surprise that insiders should come to see its adherents as slightly strange, defective or possibly evil. What happened in the spring of 2001 proves that an examination of this phenomenon is not simply academic. At the interracial dating forum in late October, one panelist claimed Brown is not a "safe space." His reasoning? "Because of David Horowitz, because of the College Republicans." Thankfully, another panelist chided him for these remarks, but it remains true that large subsets of the Brown community persist in turning the university into a political party that recognizes protections for designated victim groups, while remaining hostile to individuals who seek intellectual creeds outside of the elite leftist orthodoxy.

Perhaps the most upsetting recent manifestation of this psychology of fear was Associate Provost and Director of Institutional Diversity Brenda Allen's appearance at a meeting of the Coalition for Social Justice. Allen paid the mandatory lip service to "intellectual diversity" before denouncing the Horowitz event as utterly worthless and "a waste of time." Given Allen's title, her remarks represent the pinnacle of inappropriate behavior for an administrator, and the lack of a swift reprimand reflects an astonishing double standard. If, say, a Brown dean had offered that it was "a shame" that some students may have felt enlightened after a lecture by Al Sharpton, would Brown officialdom have remained so silent? As a director of unqualified "diversity," Allen's shallow public pronouncements on "good" and "bad" ways to think are an unacceptable abuse of her position. I await her apology on behalf of any student who found some value in David Horowitz's speech.

Essentially, Brown has evolved very little since the infamous Herald theft. True, the Horowitz event went down without any serious disturbance, but the entire community had pretty much been "called out" by the College Republicans to behave decently in the presence of some of the highest-ranking members of the Brown administration. The fact that we can listen as politely as most first graders does not call for self-congratulation. Rather, we must ponder why, when the ever-so-occasional conservative comes to speak at Brown, the issue seems always to be his or her right to be here. We must ask why Brown does not even acknowledge its failure in the area of intellectual diversity, even when ideologies with centuries of intellectual tradition and millions of adherents are met with the same kind of ignorance and fear that Joe McCarthy may have shown to a Hollywood communist.

Maybe when David Horowitz's harshest critics bother to learn what a conservative actually is, their erstwhile intellectual masturbation will evolve into truly constructive criticism. When this happens, their arguments will demand all of our engagement, and ideological exchanges at Brown may once again breed true wisdom.