Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Horowitz Debates Politics on Campus with Me

David Horowitz wrote me in response to my previous entry about Temple University:
"What is it that you don't understand about institutional neutrality? Why is it so difficult for people on the left to imagine what it would be like if the university were dominated by conservatives who had the same disregard for professionalism that leftists seem to have and used the university as a recruiting platform for the right? This is not about the expression of ideas. It's about an unprofessional approach to the university as an institution."

Here was my response:

First, I'm not sure that institutional neutrality is a more important value than freedom. But let's assume that it is. However, there are two kinds of institutional neutrality. Your view of institutional neutrality says that any "biased" events must be prohibited from any sponsorship or promotion by the university. My view of institutional neutrality says that the university should promote and sponsor events of any viewpoints.

An example: every college has a news office. Should a news office be prohibited from promoting an event unless it is politically "neutral" whatever that means? Or should a campus news office promote a wide range of events regardless of the viewpoint expressed?

If you can show me that Temple refused to promote events organized by conservative students, then you would have a valid claim that institutional neutrality has been violated (however, the appropriate response would be moral suasion, not appeal to some formal rule). Unless you can show me some kind of viewpoint bias, I have to reject your approach to institutional neutrality. You are no longer demanding equal treatment, you are demanding the prohibition of ideas deemed "political"--and who do you trust to decide that something is "neutral" and something else isn't? What exactly is the harm caused by knowing about an event?

Here is the reply Horowitz wrote to this:

"I would be willing to consider the promotion and sponsorship of a variety viewpoints if I saw the slightest commitment on the part of university administrations and people like yourself to the principle of equity in regard to existing programs -- invited speakers, commencement speakers, allocation of departmental budgets to forums representing more than one (left) viewpoint.
"I have never objected to college news offices promoting campus events.
"I do object to groups of professors organizing students for political agendas using university facilities. It transforms their scholarly roles into political roles and interferes with the teacher-student relationship which is the core of their professional responsibility. There are plenty of town hall type arenas where professors can exercise their citizenship rights. We expect doctors, DMV employees, social security administrators and so forth to behave professionally and politically neutrally while they are on the job. Why should teachers be an exception?"

And here's my response:

The key principle of a university is freedom, not equity. Thus, any student or professor should be free to invite any speaker; we should all reject the idea of an administrator deciding to limit one point of view because of an "equity" principle. And you can't impose a ban on political expression simply because you don't trust universities to promote your view equally. You have the responsibility to promote your own ideas and allow freedom for any perspective.

Now, there is a desirable goal of "equity" in the sense that hearing different and competing ideas promotes learning. So we should figure out ways to encourage more conservative views in academia (as well as more centrist and liberal and radical ideas in many cases). But you don't achieve true equity by sacrificing freedom. Banning an administrator from promoting an anti-war protest doesn't do anything to encourage the debate of ideas or make contrasting conservative ideas heard.

The reason why universities are different from other kinds of jobs is that the discussion of ideas (including political ideas) is one of the core job duties of a professor. If discussing ideas is essential to a university, then punishing professors who do so in unpopular ways will be destructive to the essence of a university. We need to figure out how we can encourage faculty and students to express more controversial ideas in and out of class, rather than seeking to silence them.

However, I also believe in freedom for other employees. Consider doctors. Even though the debate of ideas is not a core function of a doctor, they should nevertheless be free to speak on the job. There is absolutely nothing in the Hippocratic Oath or the American Medical Association code of ethics prohibiting a doctor from expressing controversial political ideas on the job. Maybe it's not good for a doctor or professor to express a particularly stupid political idea on the job; but in that rare case, we have a system of counterspeech and public criticism that should always be preferred to government regulation and administrative censorship.

: Horowitz has a reply:
"You are dead wrong. Of course equity in regards to views on controversial matters is a core principle of education in a democratic society. The reason the university forum is now so one-sided is that there is a political determination to make it so. This has nothing to do with education or knowledge. It has to do with politics, and it is a corrupting influence on the academic enterprise and has resulted in the lowest intellectual standards in American universities ever. The fact that you do not see this or see it only partially is a big part of the problem. No one on my team by the way has called for a ban on political expression as you assert. I have made many overtures to the AAUP to work together on areas we can agree on -- as for example the positive things you say in your responser about encouraging under-represented conservative voices. I have yet to get a response out of the organization. The moment the AAUP is ready to work constructively on this issue, I'll be there to work with them."

"You haven't thought through the doctor analogy. You go to a hospital to get medical help regardless of your politics or religion. If the hospital staff inflicted their politics or religion on you I am sure you would quickly see the problem. Yes, the university deals in ideas. All the more the reason why it should approach ideas in a professional manner -- dispassionately, skeptically and fairly. Agitating for political goals in an educational context is the quickest way to destroy those values."

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