'Pluralism' Manifesto Lights a Furor · 14 September 2003

Filed under: Press Coverage

Academics call it 'McCarthyism'

By Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times, 09/15/03

A Republican proposal to boost pluralism in academia in Colorado has enraged the left, prompting cries of McCarthyism and calls for an investigation.

The flap erupted last week after word surfaced that Colorado Republican leaders are throwing their support behind the "Academic Bill of Rights," a document drawn up over the summer by Los Angeles-based conservative activist David Horowitz.

The eight-point manifesto calls for increasing intellectual diversity in academia by urging universities to seek more conservative professors, include more classics in the curriculum, invite conservative speakers to campus, and protect students who disagree with liberal professors from academic harassment.

A research survey released by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture last year found that liberal professors vastly outnumber conservatives on major university campuses. In a survey of 150 departments at 32 colleges, including the Ivy League, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a 10-1 margin.

A study commissioned by the center at the University of Colorado at Boulder last year found that 94 percent of the faculty were Democrats. At the University of Denver, it was 98 percent.

"Scholarship is not politics," said Mr. Horowitz, the center's founder.

The issue cropped up in Colorado in January, when Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, complained during a radio interview about the lack of ideological balance at state universities. In June, Mr. Horowitz met over breakfast with Mr. Owens and Republican legislative leaders to discuss his plan.

When word of the meeting appeared in the Rocky Mountain News last week, however, liberals exploded, accusing conservatives of holding a "secret meeting" to curb free speech and mandate university quotas for registered Republicans.

"When is a quota not a quota? When it benefits Republicans, it seems," said the Denver Post in a Saturday editorial. "The same party that's been squawking over race-based college admissions now apparently wants universities to check voter-registration rolls when hiring faculty to ensure more conservatives are added to the ranks."

Former Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, a Democrat, called supporters of the document "mind police" with a hidden agenda. "We aren't seeing an interest in encouraging real diversity of ideas; it is an interest in promoting a conservative political agenda," she said in a column in yesterday's Denver Post.

The Faculty Senate at Metropolitan State College of Denver called Friday for a probe into the meeting and "any possible threat to academic freedom and curricular responsibility that might flow from such meetings."

But proponents say they adamantly have rejected quotas from the start. The Academic Bill of Rights wouldn't force universities to hire a fixed number of Republicans, but it would provide a remedy for students and job applicants seeking redress for discrimination, State Senate President John Andrews said.

How the Academic Bill of Rights would be implemented remains fuzzy. Mr. Owens said he wasn't sure such a concept could be mandated. Mr. Andrews said he wants to see it adopted either by state universities, the state Commission on Higher Education or the state legislature.

The document also would offer support to students of any political stripe who want to push for a more diversified curriculum. The campaign reinforces that idea with the slogan, "You can't get a good education if they're only telling you half the story."

Mr. Horowitz hasn't confined his efforts to Colorado. He said he has spoken to Republican leaders in about 20 states, and that some also are planning action during the next legislative session, although he wouldn't name the states.

He has also taken the idea to campus, discussing it with the University of California Board of Regents, the University of Oregon administration and students at the University of South Dakota. The document's primary lobbying body is the student-run Students for Academic Freedom, which has representatives on 70 campuses.

The group's Web site includes a host of examples of discrimination against conservatives, including the following:

*An ROTC student at Bowling Green University in Ohio who was repeatedly singled out and harassed by a professor during an elective course on the Vietnam War. The professor refused to let the student drop the class, and gave him a failing grade.

*In May, a review committee at Smith College found that conservative economics professor James D. Miller's academic freedom was violated when he was turned down for tenure. It turned out that professors who had voted against him disapproved of his writing for a conservative publication.

*A highly qualified applicant for an Asian studies teaching position was rejected because he mentioned during his interview that he was in favor of school vouchers.

Supporters of the Academic Bill of Rights stress its political neutrality.

"At first, it's going to operate more often to protect conservatives just because American universities have been dominated by the liberal-left for 40 years," Mr. Andrews said. "But the pendulum will swing, and this will protect people across the spectrum from being treated unfairly."