Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reply to Critic: Attack of An Academic Zero

Michael Vocino is an academic profiled in The Professors who exemplifies both the problems of the academy the books addresses and the tactics used by tenured leftists in their attempts to discredit it. Vocino is a full Professor of Media and Film Studies, and simultaneously of Political Science, at the University of Rhode Island. He was asked to respond to the book by the editor of Academe, which is a newsletter published by the Illinois Association of University Professors.[1] Vocino wrote: “What Horowitz has said about me that is correct is that I am an out and proud queer who wants to see the U.S. economy based on Marxist principles and an end to that shameless imperialist war in Iraq. Everything else David Horowitz has said about me is a not so creative mix of fiction, lies, and distortions. He is a man without ethics, morality, and is the Master of the Big Lie.”

Horowitz is Hitler. Vocino probably has similar feelings about President Bush. Not surprisingly, Vocino’s views are not entirely stable. When The Professors was first released, Vocino was in a more playful mood, posting a mash note on his website titled, “Horowitz and Me: Thank You, David!” Vocino explained: “People have been calling me for two days, congratulating me,… And for someone like me, to be included among the great names on the Left…it’s like winning the Nobel. My department chair was among those offering congratulations and another of the many e-mails I’ve received from colleagues suggests that I include the book mention by Horowitz under ‘Awards and Honors’ on the University’s dossier forms.”

In between these flights of sauciness, Vocino referred to his profile in the book as tantamount to having “one’s academic record distorted and lied about by the omissions of truth.” In several subsequent outbursts posted on his blog which he artfully located at “Vocino69.blogspot.com,” the venting continued. In his reply to Academe, he charged that I had “lied, misrepresented, and distorted [his] classroom activities, [his] academic record, and [his] professional standing at the University of Rhode Island.”
The classroom activity to which Vocino referred was his sexual harassment of male students in his class: “David Horowitz’s first charges against me were that I am a homosexual who pushes for gay rights, sexually harasses students for doing so, and that I treat Christian students unfairly….” In fact, I didn’t accuse Vocino of being a homosexual or supporting gay rights. (How can one accuse a person of something he trumpets so loudly, even in inappropriate settings?) I did point out that, according to one of his students, Vocino opened his first day of class in “political theory” by poking his head in the door and announcing: “My name is Michael Vocino and I like dick!”

Vocino has never challenged this claim. Considering the slanders he accuses me of publishing, readers may wonder why Vocino has never threatened a libel suit or demanded a formal retraction of my comments on the harassment incident. After all, to lie about a man’s professional credentials in a way that discredits him, and to accuse him falsely of sexual harassment (not to mention religious bigotry), would seem to invite legal measures. Vocino is not a public figure and consequently the threshold for a libel suit is significantly lower for him than for those in the public eye. In short, Vocino does not have to suffer the slanders of carloads of character assassins, as I do, without the availability of legal remedies. Yet he has sought no such help; no attorney’s letter has been sent; nor has any protest been lodged with Frontpagemagzine.com (which printed the student’s story) demanding a retraction. Nor has he contacted the publisher of my book.

And why is that? A litigation remedy is available only in the event that the statements made about him are false. As it happens, they are true. This is why in a half dozen attacks on me posted on Vocino69, he has failed to specify one actual sentence or phrase from what I have written that is not true.

According to Vocino, I maintain that he “treat[s] Christian students unfairly.” But I don’t actually make this claim (just as I don’t “accuse” him of being gay). I have simply cited the account written by one of his students, Nathaniel Nelson, that Vocino asked him in front of his class, “Nathaniel, Why do Christians hate fags?” Vocino has never denied making this statement. Nor could he, since the statement was witnessed by his class. I leave it to the reader to judge whether this is unfair treatment of a Christian student.

Vocino warns readers: “Remember we are talking about a man who made up a department at Wellesley College and then attacked it because it was ‘too liberal’ at the beginning of his career as a right-wing operative.” Vocino’s source for this claim is Michael Berube, another professor profiled in my book and a member of the National Council of the American Association of University Professors. It is false.

To begin with, I have never accused an individual or institution of being “too liberal.” Anyone familiar with my work would know that I deplore the usage of the term “liberal,” because it functions as a fig leaf behind which frenzied leftists like Vocino often hide their radical agendas. I regard myself as “liberal” in the pristine sense of the word, which is why I am promoting an Academic Bill of Rights that supports intellectual diversity and inclusion. People like Vocino, who deny the existence of the problem are not liberals. They are leftists who are comfortable with the exclusion of conservatives from university faculties and are happy with the failure of administrators to enforce academic standards.

Vocino’s claim that I invented an academic department in order to attack it actually repeats – and embellishes -- a charge made in the Chronicle of Higher Education fourteen years ago, which was dredged up Berube for his blog. The charge referred to an item in the magazine Heterodoxy, which Peter Collier and I published in the 1990s. The one-hundred word Heterodoxy squib had claimed that the Women’s Studies Department at Wellesley sent e-mails to students who were planning to major in Modern European History, accusing them of “perpetuating the ‘dominant white male’ attitudes and behaviors that have been oppressing women for generations.”

Contrary to Vocino, the Wellesley Women’s Studies Department did (and does) exist. It was not invented so that Heterodoxy could attack it. The error the squib made was in claiming that there was a Modern European History major that students were planning to take (and who knows, this may have been just a confusion about names). Considering that the Heterodoxy squib was written at the height of the obsession with “Eurocentrism,” such an e-mail was entirely plausible. The story was reported to Heterodoxy by a student at Wellesley.

Whatever the truth of the claim, I myself had nothing to it. The reference appeared in a regular column written by Heterodoxy’s editor, Peter Collier, and was not reviewed by me before it was published. All these facts were made clear before Vocino’s post in a reader’s comment on Berube’s website correcting the false charge that Berube had made.[2] This has not prevented Vocino and Berube from continuing to make as much as they can of the fallacious story, despite the fact that it has been refuted. So there are really no excuses for either.

Berube retrieved this trivial episode about Wellesley from a book he had written a dozen years before, called Public Access. In it, he described Peter Collier and me, and our magazine Heterodoxy this way: “Combining the right’s financial clout with the aging Hitler Youth hi-jinx of Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Heterodoxy ….” Perhaps that was where Vocino picked up the idea that I was Hitler reincarnate. I mention this only as a way of providing insight into the state of academic discourse in some university quarters.

Professor Vocino’s main complaint focuses on the claim in The Professors that he lacks academic credentials to qualify him for the rank of full professor with tenure or to teach courses in politics and political theory: “Now Horowitz moves to my credentials and as he has done with a number of the ‘101 Most Dangerous,’ he charges that we are not qualified to teach those subjects we have been assigned by the University to teach… As an academic professional my record stands for itself in that rigorous review system and I have consistently been promoted and reached the apex of the professorship with a promotion last July to Full Professor.”

The fact that Vocino has been promoted to a full professorship, despite his lack of credentials, merely confirms the charges made in The Professors against a system that is deeply corrupt. Here are the specific facts I presented, which Vocino does not challenge: “Currently in his fifties, Vocino is still merely a Ph.D. candidate in his chosen field of ‘Cultural Studies.’ An enthusiast of the off-color cable series South Park, Vocino has made this cartoon show the subject of his uncompleted dissertation, which at this point is entitled: ‘They’ve Killed Kenny! Popular Culture, Public Ethics and the Televisual.’ Professor Vocino’s scholarly work is most notable for its absence. Aside from a short book on ethics for public administrators (1996), Professor Vocino has practically no original work to his name. Most of Professor Vocino’s publications are simply descriptive bibliographies of journals and newspapers already available in libraries – i.e., they are lists. His work in Film Studies consists of a 1998 conference paper on the film The Titanic. With his glaring paucity of both graduate training and independent scholarly achievement, Professor Vocino does not even qualify for the position of an assistant professor, let alone associate professor with tenure rank, let alone a full professor. That has not prevented Professor Vocino from posturing as an expert in all the many fields he teaches – which run the astounding gamut from ‘Film Theory’ and ‘Film History,’ to ‘Political Ideologies,’ to ‘Political Philosophy: Plato to Machiavelli,’ to ‘The American Presidency,’ to ‘Contemporary Italian Politics.’”

Vocino’s response to this damning summary of his academic resume is the only element of his attack on my book that contains a scintilla of candor. In his rejoinder, he doesn’t claim that these facts are false. There is a reason for this restraint. Previously, in an example of academic dishonesty that usually ends on the pages of Insidehighered.com, he did claim, on his official university website, that he had a Ph.D. When my staff checked with the university and reported that he didn’t, he was forced to remove the claim.[3] Since he has been warned against repeating such claims, all Vocino can muster in his present defense is that he has “three degrees, a certificate in graduate studies” and that he spent three months in a Ph.D. seminar in film studies. He also claims he has a life membership in Phi Beta Kappa, which means he did well as an undergraduate.

It happens that I also have a Phi Beta Kappa membership, which I haven’t thought to publicize in the 47 years since I acquired it; I also spent three months in a Ph.D. seminar when I was a graduate student; and I have two degrees. So what? Would this qualify me for a professorship, lifetime tenure, and academic authority in a classroom devoted to “Political Philosophy: From Plato to Machiavelli?” Obviously not. Vocino does not claim to have written a single scholarly article that is about political theory and not a single academic article about anything that would qualify him to teach a course in “Political Ideologies,” “The American Presidency,” or “Contemporary Italian Politics,” all of which he does. Academically speaking, Vocino is a librarian, his main graduate degree being an M.A. in Library Science.

But in Professor Vocino’s universe my refusal to regard his Phi Beta Kappa B.A., and M.A. in Library Science, and a three month graduate seminar in film as the equivalent of a Ph.D., or to regard an expertise in library lists and bibliographies as a qualification to teach political theory, or to hold a full professorship in the field, amounts to “misrepresentation.” Who is kidding whom?

This is the abysmal state of academic standards and academic discourse at the University of Rhode Island and -- since Vocino could not have achieved his appointment without twelve recommendations from outside experts in his academic field, in the university system at large.
[1] I have created my own website to deal with these attacks at www.dangerousprofessors.com
[2] http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/853
[3] For an example of the kind of trouble an academic can get into for lying about his career on an official university website, see Insidehighered.com for May 12, 2006. But even after Vocino’s lying on his website became known at the University of Rhode Island, he was still promoted to the top tier of full professors.

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