Saturday, September 27, 2003

Conservative Correctness in Colorado

David Horowitz’s war on academia is showing some alarming signs of success in Colorado and around the country.
In an op-ed for the Rocky Mountain News on Sept. 12, Horowitz explicitly admitted the conservative agenda behind the Academic Bill of Rights he’s pushing: “In the course of my visits to college campuses I became aware of problems that led to the drafting of this bill of rights. Among these were overt politicizing of the classroom (for example, one-sided faculty ‘teach-ins’ on the war on terror); faculty harassment of students - generally conservatives and Christians, but increasingly Jews; politically selective speakers' programs and faculty hiring practices, which have led to the virtual exclusion of conservatives and Republicans from the university public square.”

According to Horowitz, the Academic Bill of Rights is intended to force colleges to provide more conservative voices, and presumably would even ban any teach-ins by faculty that he might regard as “one-sided.” Considering that Horowitz believes (according to his survey of commencement speakers) that almost all journalists (including Jim Lehrer and Ted Koppel) are left-wingers, it is clear that his proposed ban on “one-sided” teach-ins and speakers would demand incredible quotas for conservative speakers.

Horowitz claims that this isn’t an effort to create affirmative action for conservatives. But it’s hard to believe someone who is a liar and a hypocrite.

Horowitz is a liar because he claimed in his Sept. 12 op-ed, “I have no idea what Owens or Colorado legislators are proposing in their efforts to deal with the troubles on our college campuses.” In reality, Horowitz knows exactly what these top Republicans want to do. Christopher Sanders, a Republican staffer who helped arrange a June 12 meeting between Horowitz and the Colorado Republicans about the Academic Bill of Rights, told the Rocky Mountain News: "They had the discussion . . . on how to put teeth into it, to make them accountable to the legislature and the governor, how to create it in such a way that it was enforceable and that the schools had to do it, so it wasn't just a nice warm-fuzzy statement…The discussion involved their funding on an annual basis, when their budget is renewed."

Horowitz is a hypocrite because he’s trying to convince them to impose these rules on colleges by the threat of budget cuts, and the Academic Bill of Rights that he’s pushing declares, “Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through its control of the university budget.”

(Horowitz’s hypocrisy on academic liberties is nothing new: In the fall of 2002 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Horowitz reported in his blog [Nov. 5, 2002], he came upon a sign denouncing him as “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay.” Horowitz wrote, “I didn't regard this as speech so much as a gesture like kicking me in the groin. It seemed extremely perverse of her to be defending her right to slander me to my face. So then and there -- in front of her and the university official -- I ripped down her sign.” Are we supposed to take lessons on open-mindedness and diversity from someone who destroys signs that criticize him and then brags about it?)

Horowitz is basing his campaign on distorted surveys of party affiliation, looking at only the most liberal fields in the social sciences and humanities rather than a random sample of the entire faculty.

Party affiliation and ideology don’t always match. John Silber, president of Boston University, is one of the most conservative academics in the country, and he’s run as a Democrat for governor. Many academics at elite universities live in major urban areas where you have to vote Democratic to have a meaningful vote in local politics. Many of them may be Democrats out of self-interest, because Democrats support more funding for higher education.
Of course, there are clearly more Democrats than Republicans in academia, and more liberals than conservatives. So what? There’s no evidence that faculty discriminate against students or hire faculty based on how they vote. (Horowitz doesn’t even bother to look at the party affiliation of the Ph.D.s in these fields.)

I agree that there are not enough Republican and conservative faculty on college campuses, because well-educated Republicans largely are not interested in spending years getting a Ph.D. in order to qualify for low-paying jobs. The problem is that faculty aren’t paid enough, particularly in the humanities and the social sciences, and Republicans seem more interested in good-paying jobs. If you have more tenure-track jobs and pay faculty more money, more professors will become Republicans, and more Republicans will be attracted into academia.

I do not object to a single word in the Academic Bill of Rights. But it all comes down to who enforces it. An analogy can be made to journalistic ethics. We all want journalists to be fair and accurate and truthful. But we don’t legislators to pass laws that compel journalists to be fair and accurate and truthful, and punish them if someone deems them to fall short of this standard. The very same words are perfectly appropriate when adopted by professionals as guides and extraordinarily dangerous when imposed by the government.

An Academic Bill of Rights might be a good idea for each college to consider. But if this is imposed on colleges by state law, it could create a tidal wave of litigation against colleges, and allow any student who got a B+ instead of an A- to sue for breach of contract. And if legislators are allowed to enforce it, the threat to academic freedom is severe.

Horowitz says he first proposed an Academic Bill of Rights at a July 2002 conference of the Association of Legislative and Economic Councils, where Gov. Bill Owens and Colorado Senate President John Andrews heard about it. In June 2003, Horowitz came to Colorado and met with Owens and Andrews to convince Colorado to impose this Bill of Rights.

Horowitz is also creating front groups on campuses called Students for Academic Freedom, which declare that “SAF clubs at public universities will appeal to governors and state legislators to write The Academic Bill of Rights into educational policy and law.”

Horowitz isn’t satisfied with conservative correctness at the state level. He wants to impose his views on the entire country. Horowitz announced last week, “Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston, who's one of the leaders of the House, is going to introduce the Academic Bill of Rights as legislation.”

The notion of the federal government attempting to impose Horowitz’s brand of conservative correctness on every college in the country is frightening. During the McCarthy Era, the enemies of academic freedom were explicit about the need to attack academic integrity. Now the enemies of academic freedom are cloaking their attack on liberal professors in the rhetoric of academic freedom. But although the attacks have become much more sophisticated, the aim is still the same: to purge left-wing and liberal ideas from college campuses.

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