Why O'Connor Is Wrong about the AAUP Statement
Erin O’Connor attacks the latest AAUP statement on Politics in the Classroom. In O’Connor’s view, the AAUP shouldn’t be defending cases where professors have been attacked for legitimate discussions of politics; instead, she thinks the AAUP should be denouncing the cases of alleged misuse of politics. O’Connor claims, “the statement falsely suggests that charges of classroom indoctrination are chimerical.” What, does that mean that every charge of classroom indoctrination has been true? Actually, the AAUP statement takes it for granted that professors can’t grade students based on politics, and instead focuses on the cases where there is a genuine debate. O’Connor claims that the issue is faculty “compelling them to adopt certain viewpoints in order to complete assignments.” If this were the main issue, the AAUP would have no argument with it. O’Connor and others who accuse the AAUP of creating “straw men” need to read carefully the views of Horowitz, the leader of their movement and the man they refuse to criticize. Horowitz is in fact even more extreme than this.
O’Connor cites the “non-example of the UNC controversy” where conservatives tried to stop the University of North Carolina from having students read Barbara Ehrenreich’s excellent book Nickel and Dimed over the summer. This is a “non-example” because O’Connor likes the book and (rather weakly) opposed the right-wing movement’s attempt to censor leftist views. Frankly, the case is an embarrassment to the right-wing, so she’d prefer not to have the AAUP discuss the most widely-publicized summer reading case, suggesting the AAUP instead analyze some minor case of dubious discussion questions at Baruch College.
O’Connor claims, “academics have shown a distressing tendency not to police themselves when it comes to classroom conduct.” They have, and for good reason. Should we be policing professors for the content of views expressed in the classroom? No, and that’s precisely what the right-wing movement of Horowitz and ACTA, and O’Connor seems to embrace this effort to ban criticism of the government from the classroom (I suspect she doesn’t fully agree, but must hold her tongue to keep her job running ACTA online). That’s what should alarm everyone, and if anything the AAUP statement is far too thoughtful and reasonable and fails to sharply condemn the Horowitz movement to ban politics from the classroom for the politicized attack that it is. What we need is not policing, but more criticism of faculty who fail in their responsibilities. If ACTA and Horowitz were only engaging in critiques, I might disagree with them sometimes, but I would respect their approach. Instead, the right-wing has sought restrictions of classroom speech using the power of government and administrators, and that is what I object to, as should anyone who cares about academic freedom.