By David Horowitz—FrontPageMag.com–03/20/06
[John K. Wilson, who posed these questions, is the editor and publisher of Illinois Academe, the newsletter of the Illinois Association of University Professors. Wilson is the author of The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education, 1995]
Wilson: You are “grateful” to your own professors at Columbia University in the 1950s, where even though you were a Marxist, professors “never singled me out for comment” or asked, “why do Communists kill so many people?”(xlvii) I find it strange that someone who now regrets his youthful belief in idiotic ideas would praise his teachers for failing to challenge his beliefs. Is it possible that you might have avoided the left-wing political stands and affiliations you now repudiate if you had been pushed to analyze your politics more in college?
Horowitz: First, thank you for actually reading my text, which is far more than I can say for most of my critics. The answer to your question is simple. First, I was an English major at Columbia and the issues of Communism and Marxism would have been irrelevant to most of the subjects I took. To introduce Marxist themes into literature would have reduced the subject to ideology taught by people ignorant of what they were talking about, which is unfortunately all too often the case in today’s academy. You should read Stanley Fish and Frank Lentricchia, two well-known leftwing academics on this subject. Second, in my Contemporary Civilization course at Columbia we did read both Marx and his critics, in particular Bakunin and Hayek. So I was indeed challenged, but in an appropriately academic fashion. Unfortunately, it took me twenty years to benefit from the lesson.
Wilson: You say that you have turned to legislatures to pass the Academic Bill of Rights as a “last resort.” I believe that the first time you publicly introduced the idea of the Academic Bill of Rights was at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in July 2002. Is that correct? How many campuses had you contacted by July 2002 about adopting the ABR? Why would you discuss it at a conference for legislators if you didn’t intend to have it introduced as legislation?
Horowitz: You are wrong about both the date and the sequence. It was July 2003 and I had spent the previous academic year attempting to get my Academic Bill of Rights adopted by the State University of New York, which has 69 campuses and 400,000 students. In fact I drew up the Academic Bill of Rights for the chairman of the SUNY regents, Tom Egan, who was enthusiastic about it and told me he would get it adopted by his board. When I saw subsequently that he was paralyzed because of his fear of the radical caucuses on his faculties (the Larry Summers’ episode should tell you why) I realized that I would get nowhere with universities without outside help. Of course there were many other indicators that this would be so. That’s when I went to ALEC and to legislatures.
Wilson: Ohio and Colorado have enacted compromises in response to the Academic Bill of Rights. What do you think of the enforcement of these compromises so far in Ohio and Colorado, and what do you plan to do next if the response there is insufficient?
Horowitz: These were compromises under which the universities have agreed to adopt a version of the Academic Bill of Rights on their own, and they are important in two ways. First, they demonstrate my good intentions in not wanting a legislative solution – that’s why we made the offer of a compromise. Second, what happens in these states is an acid test for the universities. In Colorado, Republicans lost their majority in the legislature and therefore nothing has been done to implement the bills of rights that the universities have adopted. We’ll see about Ohio. Should nothing be done there as well, the only remedy seems to me to step up our public campaign, reveal more about the scandalous conduct of faculties and the equally scandalous dereliction of administrations and hope that the public outcry is great enough to change the dynamics. We have already launched a national student movement which will increasingly carry this fight to the campuses themselves.
Wilson: One of the terms used in the Academic Bill of Rights is a ban on “indoctrination.” How do you define indoctrination for the purposes of the Academic Bill of Rights? You have referred to the assignment of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed as “indoctrination”; does that mean you think it should be banned?
Horowitz: Indoctrination is the instilling of an ideology, as opposed to educating and opening minds. Clear indications of this would be the assignment of texts that exclusively support the doctrine and the exclusion of texts that criticize it. Or exams which feature controversial questions with only one right answer. Or grading systems that punish students for disagreements on controversial issues. I have referred to the assignment of Barbara Ehrenreich’s ideological screed Nickel and Dimed as indoctrination because it is the only text assigned in dozens of required freshman reading programs, not because it is an ideological screed. I have no objection to the assignment of Ehrenreich’s text as such.
Wilson: Do you support the legislative Academic Bills of Rights (such as in Tennessee) that impose the Academic Bill of Rights on private universities in the state and force them to create grievance procedures? How can you justify infringing on the rights of private institutions in this way?
Horowitz: I don’t. My Academic Bill of Rights explicitly excludes private institutions.
Wilson: Which of these 101 professors do you think should be fired, and why? Can you estimate how many of the 30,000 radical professors you would like to have fired from American colleges for expressing their political beliefs?
Horowitz: Thanks for the loaded question, but I have never called for the firing of any professor on ideological grounds. Ever. I defended Ward Churchill at the height of the scandal. I did so in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and criticized my friend Governor Bill Owens who was calling for Churchill’s head over his notorious Internet article. I would like to see universities enforce their existing academic freedom policies and professional standards. If faculty members continue to defy them, it is up to the universities to decide what action they will take. If any professor is fired for his political beliefs, I will be there defending him (or her).
Wilson: You have argued, “In the real world, a Marxist would be regarded as a flat-Earthist, yet in the university they occupy positions as professors of history, political science and even (at the University of Massachusetts) economists.” Do you think Marxists should be fired, or not hired, by colleges?
Horowitz: Look, current academic standards in certain fields – Peace Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, Queer Studies, Whiteness Studies, Social Work, Cultural Anthropology – are so abysmally low, so overtly political and so academically indefensible as to have created a monster problem for any administration attempting reinstate academic standards. The system has been corrupted and the task of fixing it is not going to be easy and will not be accomplished in less than a generation. In my view the place for a Marxist would be in the department of religion, certainly not political science, sociology, history or economics. But then I do not sit on any search and hiring committees, so what I think is irrelevant. If you look at the tens of thousands of words I have written on this subject you will see that I do not propose anything that would interfere with the right of academic departments and faculties to set the standards for academic hires. This has not prevented an army of academic liars – which include the leaders of the AAUP, the NEA, the AFT, and the business committees of the AHA and MLA, among others – from claiming the opposite and comparing me (unfavorably!) to Joseph McCarthy. It’s ironic that the academic witch-hunters who have purged their faculties of conservatives and libertarians should accuse me of being a witch-hunter. But it does not surprise me.
Wilson: Most of the profiles of these “dangerous” professors focus solely on their extramural utterances and include nothing about what they teach. How can you conclude what they’re teaching based on their political writings?
Horowitz: You haven’t read my book very carefully, and you make an assumption which is hardly convincing, namely that if someone regards themselves as a revolutionary, and the university as an instrument of revolution, they will keep their ideological prejudices views out of the classroom. Sam Richards, a lecturer profiled in my text, says on his academic website that “It is not possible to keep our ideologies out of the classroom or any other place where ideas are shared. SO I’M OPEN ABOUT BRINGING MY IDEOLOGY INTO THIS CLASSROOM BECAUSE I SEE THAT ALL EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS ARE IDEOLOGICAL TO THE CORE.” [emphasis in original] Do I need to go into his classroom to check that he means what he says? A more temperate and intelligent fellow, Professor Eric Foner, has expressed the view that activism is integral to scholarship. Same question: If activism is integral to scholarship how do activist prejudices not enter the classroom? My book is careful not to impute views or activities to these professors that are not checked and sourced. Professor Todd Gitlin is in the book, for example, not because I have evidence that he indoctrinates students in the classroom, but because he has written approvingly of the leftist takeover of academic departments and has offered no objections to the academic abuses I document.
Wilson: You write about Timothy Shortell: “Is it reasonable to think that someone with views like Shortell’s would approve the hiring of a sociology candidate with religious views or Republican leanings.”(xxxix) Do you think Shortell should be banned from search committees because of his biases? Should colleges ban religious conservatives from being department chairs if they think that atheists are morally inferior to Christians because they do not believe in a higher being?
Horowitz: Shortell is on record describing religious people – all religious people – as “moral retards” and Bush Republicans as “Nazis.” Just to set the question up fairly. Would you have any problem with a faculty search committee member who had written an academic article describing homosexuals as “sick” and critics of the war as “traitors?” In fact, I have not objected specifically to having Shortell on a search committee. I have not made any recommendations concerning the composition of search committees. What I have done is to suggest that there is a problem here that universities themselves need to pay attention to. What steps are universities taking to see that their hiring processes are not biased, but are fair? That is my challenge.
Wilson: You have claimed that professors shouldn’t be teaching classes, or writing textbooks, that are outside of their Ph.D. discipline. Does that mean you consider yourself unqualified to write a book about higher education, since it’s not your academic field of study? Would you argue that your writings should not be taught in college courses?
Horowitz: Well, I do not have a tenured position – a lifetime job – that earns me $100,000 plus a year for six to nine hours work a week with a four-month paid vacation do I? The point is not that someone with an expertise in one area might not have something useful to say in another. The point is that the entire structure of privilege and job protection for professors, not to mention the entire cost structure for students, is based on the presumption that they are experts in particular field. To have an institution that is set up to provide expert instruction instead offer amateurs to its customers is kind of a fraud, don’t you think. When you make your next hospital visit would you like to be operated on by garage mechanics?
To answer your question, not all texts are equal. The course text is one thing, and should be professional. But the readings assigned in the course are often by their very nature not written by academics. In a course on politics, you would read political writers for example, or writings by politicians. If the future of higher education has become part of a public debate, the texts which make up that debate, even if they are not by academics, are important to read. The only text I criticize in my book is a widely used 570-page textbook for Peace Studies which was written by an animal biologist who is frankly partisan (and appallingly simple-minded) and which has no critical apparatus or bibliography that would introduce students to views opposed to the author’s.
Wilson: You believe that professors should be banned from discussing politics in classes where it’s not directly relevant to the class. How much irrelevant discussion of politics would be a violation of student rights (5 seconds, 1 minute, 10 minutes)? And why shouldn’t irrelevant non-political comments or actions (about sports, weather, starting class late, etc.) be similarly prohibited?
Horowitz: Actually, the injunction against professors introducing controversial matter that it is irrelevant to the subject is part of the 1940 Statement on the “Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure” of the American Association of University Professors. It is incorporated into the academic freedom policies of innumerable colleges and universities. I myself would not have formulated the principle this way, but since it’s there it should either be enforced or eliminated. Perhaps you should ask the AAUP why they are attacking me for upholding their own doctrine. You could also ask them the question you have put to me.
My own position is the one stated by Stanley Fish. That while professors should discuss controversial issues in courses where they are relevant, they should not urge one side of controversial issues in their own classrooms.
Wilson: Do you believe that all Peace Studies Programs should be shut down? Are there any other kinds of programs that you think should be eliminated?
Horowitz: Well, an alternative would be to see that there is a professor of military science on every Peace Studies faculty along with courses explaining how the military keeps the peace. Then these programs might begin to look like academic programs instead of simply indoctrination and recruitment centers for the anti-military, anti-American left. I have already indicated above other fields that are not academic and that should be reformed. “Eliminated” is your word not mine.
Wilson: Do you know of any American colleges which do not allow students to challenge an unfair grade based on political affiliation?
Horowitz: No. Grievance machinery does exist for students to appeal grades they believe are unfair. But the idea of political discrimination has not yet been introduced into the anti-discrimination policy templates of any university to my knowledge. I believe that will change soon.
Wilson: Can you name a single professor in America who supported al-Qaeda and the 9-11 attacks? The closest you get to this allegation is asserting that Tariq Ramadan is connected to al-Qaeda (p. 264). Do you have any evidence to support this claim, and do you support banning Ramadan from teaching in America?
Horowitz: Actually there are many in my text who do. Professor Hamid Algar is a passionate follower of the Ayatollah Khomeni who called for an armed jihad against American before 9/11. Shahid Alam has compared Mohammed Atta and his friends to the American founders, and of course there’s our friend Ward Churchill who said America deserved the 9/11 attacks and deserves more. As for Tariq Ramadan, why do you think with all the conservative academics who have been persecuted of late, the AAUP should pick as its poster-boy someone whom our intelligence agencies has linked to terrorists?
Wilson: You have complained that professors are overpaid for working 9-12 hours per week. How much were you paid in 2005 by CPSC, and how much do you work? Approximately how much did you get paid in 2005 to speak at colleges, and for how many hours of speeches?
Horowitz: Now we’re getting personal. In contrast to the 6-9 hour academics, my average work week is seven days, roughly 15 hours a day. That computes to more than 100 hours a week. As for my income from my job and college speeches, let’s just say that it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars less than Cornel West’s.
Wilson: Back in 2001, you refused to pay The Daily Princetonian for running your ad because it had also written an editorial criticizing you (“I was not going to pay for abuse”). Did you ever pay that bill, and do you think you were entitled to refuse to pay people if they criticize you? Also, you threatened to sue public colleges where newspapers refused to run your ad; do you think
administrators should be given the power to control the content of student newspapers?
Horowitz: Wow, you follow me closely. Actually, the Princetonian called me a “racist” in a special editorial statement which they published in the issue in which they printed my ad about reparations (“10 Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Are A Bad Idea — and Racist Too.” The opposed a plan to have Mexican American immigrants who had nothing to do with American slavery pay reparations to millionaires like Jesse Jackson and Johnnie Cochran who had never been slaves. The Princetonian editorial was not criticism; it was slander. And no, I’m not going to pay people to slander me. Your question as to whether I refuse to pay people who criticize me is odd, since I have paid for ads in literally hundreds of college papers that criticize me.
The abdication of university administrations in regard to “student” newspapers (they are not actually run by students) which carry the university name and take advantage of its captive audience is an outrage. But I haven’t devoted much thought as to what to do about it. The only papers I have threatened to sue were papers that were actually owned by state universities where the censorship of my ads was a violation of my First Amendment rights.
Wilson: Your Individual Rights Foundation sued the University of California for refusing to hire Michael Savage as dean of journalism, although his Ph.D. and books are not in the field of journalism and he has never been a professional journalist. Do you think the courts should have forced the University of California to hire Savage? If the Academic Bill of Rights passes, do you plan to sue colleges that refuse to hire conservatives?
Horowitz: You have your facts a little wrong. We sued the Journalism School of the University of California for running a patronage operation in a state institution. Our complaint was that despite his qualifications as a radio journalist, Savage was denied an interview because the search committee headed by Marxist Troy Duster had already decided to hire a Berkeley crony, Orville Schell. Savage’s qualification was that he was a radio columnist and the ad for the position in the New York Times had said that members of the electronic media were especially being sought. Savage didn’t even get an interview. The judge seemed quite favorable to our case, but Savage dropped out and we had to drop the suit.
In other words, the suit had nothing to do with forcing the University to hire Savage. It had to do with forcing the University to conduct a fair-minded search, which would have included giving Savage an interview before hiring or rejecting him. There was also an NPR editor with far better journalism credentials than Orville Schell – a pig farmer who had written a couple of books – who didn’t get a fair shot. As to forcing colleges to hire conservatives, the first principle of my Academic Bill of Rights bars colleges from hiring professors on the basis of their political views.
Wilson: You denounced speech codes because of the chilling effect on free speech when campus committees investigate the comments of students. Are you concerned that a similar chilling effect might occur if hearings are held to investigate the political comments of professors if students can file grievances under the Academic Bill of Rights?
Horowitz: The speech codes I opposed were those that barred certain forms of speech and were clear violations of the First Amendment. The chilling effect was on free speech. My Academic Bill of Rights deals with professional discourse, with what is appropriate discourse for a classroom. This is not a free speech issue. It is an issue of professional standards. We are dealing with violations of professional standards and violations of the principles of academic freedom. A chilling effect on violators of professional standards and the principles of academic freedom would a good thing, don’t you agree? Lawyers don’t have free speech in the courtroom. If their speech abuses professional standards of courtroom conduct they are cited for contempt of court. What we are dealing with here is contempt for the classroom and contempt for students. We are not dealing with the free expression of ideas. I say in so many words in my book that views representing the political spectrum from left to right are legitimate in the classroom. They should just be appropriately expressed. Do you have a problem with that?