Academic Rights for the Alma Mater · 07 March 2004

Filed under: Press Coverage

By Chris, 03/08/04

Chris Beam, the interviewer, took notes rather than recording it, which accounts for some incoherent moments. -- The Editors

If U.S. Congress passes the Academic Bill of Rights that is currently under review, you will have David Horowitz, CC '59, to thank or blame, depending on which camp you fall into.

Last year Horowitz introduced the Academic Bill of Rights to affirm the responsibility of universities to preserve academic freedom by means of "intellectual diversity." The Bill asserts that university hiring practices should be based on professor competence rather than politics. The current ideological make-up of academia leans far to the left, Horowitz says, and the Bill calls for a more diverse representation of opinions.

A long-time writer and activist, Horowitz is also the editor of Front Page Magazine and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

A. Can I say something preliminarily? ... It was never my intention to make this a legislative matter. Columbia University as a private institution of course would not be covered in the legislation. It was disingenuous of Provost Brinkley to raise this [in a recent Spectator article] as a legislative implication, as an objection, when Columbia could adopt the Bill of Rights as University policy and protect students. ...

It was also disingenuous of the provost to endorse the presentation of different viewpoints in the classroom when his own faculty is so overwhelmingly one-sided and lacking in diversity.

Q. So what has changed in the past years that made you feel the need for an Academic Bill of Rights?

A. What's changed is two things. ... The first is an informal or institutionalized blacklist or, if you prefer, discrimination against conservatives in the hiring process, so that it's almost impossible for conservatives to be hired. There's no interest on the part of the faculty that does the hiring to hire conservatives. And the Columbia History Department often looks as if it is to the left of the Communist party on its view of American history ... But this doesn't seem to cause any anxiety on the part of faculty that proclaims its commitment to democratic values. ...

Parenthetically, the Bill of Rights does not deal directly with this problem [except] by asserting the principle that a professor should be hired on the basis of competence and not politics. It does not propose any other solution. What the Bill of Rights is addressed to is the second problem, that is, the politicization of the classroom and the campus.

The University is not a political party, or should not be. Education is not the same as indoctrination, or indoctrination is not equivalent to education. Yet all too many professors these days ignore this distinction. Historians Against the War, a subgroup of the American Historica Association, of which Eric Foner is a member, actually says that their agenda is to take political activism in to the classroom. ... As a 1959 graduate of Columbia University, I find that kind of attitude horrific and destructive of the academic mission. ...

I believe I'm in 100% agreement with Stanley Fish, who recently wrote an article [in the Chronicle of Higher Education] pointing out inherent conflict between ideology and scholarship....

Q. I read his article. What I took away from it was the idea that intellectual diversity itself is not a responsibility of education. Would you say that's correct?

A. It all depends on whether you regard diversity as inclusiveness or as a quota. I agree with him 100% that universities should not see that there's one of A, one of B, one of C, one of D. I'm a very vocal opponent of skin diversity. ... The University of Michigan case is not about diversity, it's about three groups: blacks, hispanics and Native Americans. It's not about Sri Lankans, not about Uzbeks, not about Jews, not about Iraqis. That's three groups out of a thousand.

So the statement really has no relevance. The bill does not call for "balance." It says that professors are teaching history from a Marxist point of view, when in addition to requiring Marxist texts, they should include a critique of Marxism. Everybody understands this, but a lot of professors don't observe the principle.

Q. But if the goal is to take politics out of the classroom entirely, how would hiring conservative professors change that?

A. Let's be clear here. There's no agenda in this bill to hire conservatives. I use it as an example that now there is political hiring. There probably is a quota against conservatives. Remove the quota and it's called equal opportunity. I think independence of the university is important, but it's been abused by Eric Foner.

Now what happens is they'll hire third-rate intellects like Manning Marable. Now's where you ask me, "Why do you pick on Manning Marable?" The answer is one of the reasons I came up with the Academic Bill of Rights was my experience in 2001 in attempting to introduce another side to the debate on [slave] reparations, because the universities themselves only allowed one side to be heard. That side was pro-reparations. There is no professor so disregardful of his academic future that he would oppose reparations, because he would be punished severely. This is a problem.

I tried to raise this, and forty college papers refused to print [my argument] on political grounds. When I went to speak [at schools] I had police guards. Universities are the most unfree institutions in America. Obviously there are many, many issues you can discuss at a university, but there are many you cannot discuss, like reparations.

I wrote Manning Marable ... suggesting he organize a forum on reparations. Not only did I never get a response, but when two of us were on [a talk show together] he attacked me as being a divisive influence. That's very interesting for a professor. Someone wants to raise the "no" side for reparations, and that makes them subject to attacks, ... Trying to create dialogue is treated as divisive, which is bad. Someone like that should not be a professor. An educator is the opposite: someone who encourages students to think outside the box....

Q. Going back to the larger issue of the two sides of the Academic Bill of Rights, it seems that both sides claim to be on the side of academic freedom...

A. That's what Hitler said when he was bombing Dresden.

Q. [laughing] Ok, but it seems like both parties can point the finger at the other as trying to suppress them.

A. Waaaaaiit, wait wait wait wait wait. You've been to enough Columbia courses to understand whose got the power. I couldn't oppress the provost or the Columbia faculty. ...

Q. But wouldn't you say having the United States Congress on your side is a measure of power?

A. The U.S. Congress is not on my side. Let me remind you that it was never my intention to go to congress. I spent a year trying to get a sympathetic ear. ... I don't know that Congress is going to pass this. But the point is that it has nothing to do with Columbia, whether [Congress] accepts it or not. There's a caveat that completely protects private schools. Legislation would have to go to extremes to exert power over Columbia. The University is private. Only if it says it's committed to academic freedom, then it's subject.

Q. You're saying the federal government doesn't have power over private institutions. Do you think that power might grow with this question of federal funding in the Higher Education Act?

A. First of all, that question is disingenuous.

Q. I'm sorry.

A. You're articulating one of the first objections, which is disingenuous because universities have welcomed skin diversity rules which have huge federal enforcement policies. Why don't you see how much money Columbia spends on diversity programs, advisers, counselors? Everything has been invaded by skin requirements. ... It's offensive to me. I don't see Alan Brinkley or Stanley Fish objecting to that. Why do they suddenly adopt a principled position when it comes to this question [of intellectual diversity]?

Q. Looking at it from the perspective of people who say, "No one should be interfering with the University's hiring practices,"do you think the bill's rhetoric turns them off--the idea of "protecting students," protecting freedom," "protecting diversity"....

A. Anybody who tells you that should say, do you object to skin diversity? It's so hypocritical. ... The American Association of University Professors that has attacked my bill went along and supported speech codes. What sort of definition of freedom are they supporting? Again, suppose Columbia were to adopt the Bill of Rights. How would it be enforced?

Q. It seems that a lot of universities have mission statements that include the same ideas.

A. I've had a look at them. The first line of defense is, "There's no problem." The second is, "There's a problem; we've already solved it." I'll say I haven't looked at Columbia's. Here's what I'll guess: If I'm wrong, then that's a good argument. One, they are very careful to protect professor's rights that my bill guarantees, of being hired and fired based on politics. I say they don't enforce that right. ... The reason I put that in was partly to demonstrate that I am concerned to protect professors whose politics I don't agree with. I wanted to make clear that this is not about removing radical professors.

But so far as professors go, they already have protection. This is really about students and protecting them from professorial abuses. If you look [in the university guidelines] you will find there is a gesture toward students. But protection for students will not be elaborated, codified, or specific and as an indication of the low priority the University gives to students, you don't know what your rights are because they haven't put them in your hands. You have been told what you should and should not do toward students of color. ... I'm sure minority students have been taken aside and told how to protect themselves. That's what I want in this matter.

Q. One argument I've heard is that it should be the role of universities to challenge that status quo ...

A. That's a spurious argument. The status quo at Columbia is far to the left....

Q. But don't you think that's because in the outside world it swings the other way?

A. Look, The New York Times and the Washington Post reflect ideas pounded into heads at the Journalism School. ... We're not funding schools to have them fighting the status quo. That's the arrogant, self-centered left talking. ...

When I went to Columbia, it was pounded into our heads that Columbia was committed to a "disinterested pursuit of knowledge." If you look at its literature now, it will call itself an agency for social change.

The idea that Columbia University's mission is to upset the status quo, that's a political idea, not an educational idea. They're not teaching [students] how to think, they're teaching them what to think. The status quo that Marxists like Foner don't like is what founded Columbia. How can an institution be dedicated to its own destruction? Students should be provoked into thinking. If people really believed that, they would be finding conservative professors who challenge the status quo at Columbia.

... These people have established an orthodoxy in the name of combating orthodoxy. That's what you call Orwellian. That's 1984: "slavery is freedom." Marxists at Columbia are the ruling class, but they like to think of themselves as victims. They are the ones with power, and abusive.

Q. You said you started out without legislation in mind. Would you support it if that passed?

A. Well, of course. Here's the thing: you can't get people's attention, you can't appeal to their conscience. ... If I give up the effort to get legislation, ... we wouldn't be having this interview. The Columbia Spectator wouldn't be writing a story about it. If I appealed to people's conscience, we wouldn't get anywhere. I say if you don't like legislation, then put the policy in place and there won't be any legislation. ...

I'm just quarreling with a very powerful minority that is willing to call you a racist if you oppose them. I'm trying to put a crimp in their style. The idea that there is going to be hordes of right-wing fascism who are going to come and fire them--that's so ludicrously absurd. The reality is I'll be able to affect only a little bit. But if it means students will be exposed to five people they haven't read, like Hayek or Thomas Sowell, then it's worth doing. If the department hires one conservative professor, good for them. If the student board brings more conservative speakers to campus, great.