Professors Gone Wild · 03 August 2009

By Jane S. Shaw - Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
If you need proof that our universities harbor Marxist-inspired propaganda masquerading as college courses, David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin provide it. Their new book, One-Party Classroom, singles out 150 courses that embody the angry leftwing anti-American and anti-Western attitude that has spawned so many “studies” programs —feminist studies, ethnic studies, peace studies, justice studies—and demolished traditional departments such as English literature.

The courses espouse the radicalism that came in with student activists in the 1960s and solidified into an accepted part of academia as those students became faculty members. Courses like “Rhetoric of Feminist Spaces” at the University of Texas, “Outlaw Genders” at the University of Missouri, and the ”Social Construction of Whiteness” at the University of Arizona may still sound odd to those over age 50, but young people in college have been exposed to such flimsy concepts from an early age and expect such courses—and perhaps even welcome them because they fulfill diversity requirements that schools now insist upon.

Other courses mentioned by Horowitz and Laksin have neutral titles that don’t blare their ideology, but are also replete with radical content. “Criticism and Theory,” an English course at the University of Missouri, for example, is organized around the concept of “empire,” and students read texts steeped in the conviction that the West has oppressed the rest of the world. “Twentieth-Century U.S. History” at Temple University is not a full-fledged effort to recount the main events of the modern U.S. experience; rather, its theme is protest, with topics ranging from the movement for “workers’ rights” to La Raza Unida. One section of freshman composition at the University of Arizona requires students to read Marxists Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and recommends media such as The Nation and The Progressive in order to understand war and terrorism.

The title of a sociology course at the University of California at Santa Cruz may be “Issues and Problems in American Society,” but the syllabus states that its goal is “not only to critically analyze the world, but ultimately, change it.” The three texts in this course are Are Prisons Obsolete? (by Angela Davis), The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them” (by Amy Goodman), and Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Marita Sturken). (Horowitz and Laksin supply links to course syllabi, so you can see for yourself how accurately they echo the descriptions).

The striking thing about these courses is that most of them sound very much the same—glibly hostile assertions against most societal relationships, past and present. What makes the classes similar is their Marxist outlook; that is, professors explain oppression through class conflict, but they expand class conflict to cover divisions between racial groups, between men and women, and between just about any other groups where one is viewed as dominant. To those faculty members, the world is composed of “identity groups,” not individuals. Resolution of conflict comes only through revisions in political power (revolution, perhaps, but, in the case of peace studies, not through war).

Understanding Marxist theory requires academic rigor. Yet these courses often exist in interdisciplinary “studies” programs that reject traditional methods of analysis, and they are often found in English departments, even though English criticism offers no systematic way to understand Marxist theory. So the faculty can simply choose a favorite topic and rant. (Reflecting the reality of university staffing today, these rants sometimes come from graduate students.)

The book should lay to rest any doubts about the claim frequently made by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) that some professors are out of control. It makes clear that publicized eccentrics such as Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado and Denis Rancourt at the University of Ottawa are not isolated figures.

Now, it is true that these are the “worst” courses at the twelve universities (ten public, two private) that Horowitz and Laksin investigated. The authors are not describing the “softer” but clearly leftwing and anti-market views that pervade myriads of classes at a typical university. They have selected examples where professors proudly tout their political goals in their syllabi and course descriptions.

Not all the courses in our universities are as bad as these, and Horowitz and Laksin aren’t trying to claim that they are typical. Rather, extremely radical professors find footholds in nooks and crannies of academia where their ideas fester and accrete and reinforce one another. The good news is that these professors don’t necessarily attract a lot of students. The bad news is that there are more than 2100 four-year degree-granting schools in the United States (excluding for-profits) and there is no reason to doubt that most of those schools feature similarly shocking substitutes for learning.

But there is something worse than these courses. That is the reaction of the administrators and trustees upon learning about them.

Given the extremism espoused by the “rogue’s gallery” assembled by Horowitz and Laksin, one would expect most intelligent and level-headed people to recoil from the courses described in One-Party Classroom. Yet the authors sent their reports to “trustees and top administrators” at each university. Except for one school, “the response was nil,” they write. The exception was Temple University, which revamped its one-sided freshman reading program, but not its curriculum.

Horowitz did exchange letters with the dean of the College Liberal Arts at Pennsylvania State University. Susan Welch told Horowitz that she had, at his suggestion, reminded the faculty of Penn State’s policy, known as HR 64, requiring faculty restraint when addressing “controversial” subjects. “[T]he faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supersession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators….” the policy says. Beyond that reminder, however, nothing was done at Penn State, to the authors’ knowledge.

I can think of three reasons for this negligence. First, administrators are afraid of the faculty, even small segments of the faculty, if they are outspoken and “know their rights.” Second, trustees are expected to tend to their narrow fundraising tasks and not ask many questions. Third, David Horowitz has been such an insistent advocate for change that he is treated as an enemy—a right-wing ideologue unworthy of attention. He can be ignored or, even better, can be wittily disparaged over martinis at university cocktail parties.

For years now, we have heard about the politicized faculty on our university campuses. Less known and equally disturbing is the lack of accountability by the administrators and trustees who are nominally their employers. One-Party Classroom reminds us, first, that the power of faculty to teach what they want is increasingly abused. It reminds us, second, that their supposed bosses are unwilling to take charge, even when the evidence of intellectual bullying is plain for all to see.