There He Goes Again · 18 September 2003

The Wall Street Journal, 9/19

David Horowitz sure knows how to make college administrators squirm. The talent dates from his radical days in the early 1960s, when as a grad student he found himself hauled before Berkeley officials upset at a protest he had organized without first getting a permit. More than four decades later he's still unsettling the campus hierarchy, but this time it's over something it is already supposed to believe in: academic freedom.

That's right. Under the auspices of a national coalition of independent campus groups called Students for Academic Freedom, Mr. Horowitz is pushing for the adoption of an "Academic Bill of Rights" (see studentsforacademicfreedom.org). The gist of the measure is summed up in a sentence declaring that "no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors and researchers through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through any other administrative means by the academic institution." It goes on to state that "intellectual independence means the protection of students" as well as faculty.

Academic freedom has long been a battle cry on campus, but what makes this push distinctive is the student angle -- a reflection, no doubt, of the increasing discomfort of conservative students, many of whom believe that they suffer in the classroom for their views. Mr. Horowitz says that he has plans for about 70 local SAF chapters to be set up by students on their home campuses in the next few months.

Even so, the vehemence of the opposition has been surprising. When it leaked that Colorado lawmakers were planning legislation based on the Academic Bill of Rights (which exempts private colleges), the press responded with fury. Reports in papers across the country denounced it as a thinly disguised push for conservative affirmative action.

Though Mr. Horowitz can certainly give you chapter and verse on the lopsided ratios that prevail on campus faculties -- Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 10-to-1 margin in a recent study of political affiliation at 32 leading American universities -- the last thing he wants is political quotas. To the contrary, if this bill were adopted, hiring and firing by political quota would be expressly prohibited.

More broadly, that the push for academic freedom today emanates from the conservative side of the aisle says much about the prevailing orthodoxies on campus. And it's not only SAF's campaign for academic freedom. The new conservative challengers include everyone from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org), which is taking on politically correct campus speech codes, to the various conservative legal groups challenging race-based admissions policies.

Even Mr. Horowitz concedes that legislation is more a prod than a solution. "The only reason for these laws," he told us, "is to stimulate an attack of conscience." No one in SAF, after all, is out to drive liberal views from the campus public square. All its members want is to help ensure civility and fairness toward the roughly half of America that happens not to share those political views.

This piece was originially printed on September 19, in The Wall Street Journal.

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