Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Interview with David Horowitz

Illinois Academe editor John K. Wilson interviewed David Horowitz via email about his new book, One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy (Crown Forum).

Q: What, exactly, should be done to the professors teaching these classes? Should they be banned from teaching these classes? Should they be fired? Should their course readings be controlled by someone else?

A: The university presents itself as an organization of professionals with standards of performance and excellence. If professors fail to meet these standards what is the remedy? Isn’t that a question for the organization itself to answer? Contrary to the misrepresentations of my efforts by many of my opponents I have never suggested that universities be governed by outside authorities whether governmental or otherwise. The best remedy in my view would be for these problems to be handled by faculty at the departmental level. However, that requires an interest from faculty in holding itself accountable. So far I have seen very little interest on the part of faculty in correcting the malpractices documented in One-Party Classroom. In some cases such as Women’s Studies, moreover, the violation of long-standing academic standards takes place at the departmental level itself. In these cases there would have to be an academic committee consisting of faculty peers at the level of the college, or even the university. However, I am optimistic by nature (otherwise I wouldn’t be spending my time banging my head against these stone walls) and don’t see why it shouldn’t be possible to change these attitudes and get on with the task.

Q: Who, exactly, should have the authority to do any of these actions to these professors? Should it be faculty in the department, faculty senates, administrators, trustees, accreditation agencies, legislators?

A: This is the same question, probably because no matter how many times I say that I do not advocate and would be adamantly opposed to governance of the university by legislatures or any other outside agency, people like you refuse to believe me. But that’s my position and that’s what I think. As to how academic standards are enforced by the academic community, that is properly a question for the academic community to answer.

Q: You “extrapolate” that there are up to 10,000 classes “whose primary purpose is not to educate students but to train them in left-wing ideologies and political agendas.”(6) How did you get that number? And considering that there are more than one million faculty across the country teaching millions of classes every year, this is far less than 1% of all classes.

A: In One-Party Classroom, Jacob Laksin and I examined roughly 150 courses offered at 12 universities. This comes out to about 10 indoctrination courses per school, although this does not represent all the indoctrination courses that violate academic standards at the 12 schools, but rather the ones we could identify with the resources we had. Since we picked the universities at random and they reflect a fair sampling, public and private, of university offerings, it is reasonable to extrapolate what we found by multiplying that figure by the number of colleges and universities nationwide. I believe there are over 4000 universities in America. If you do the multiplication that comes to roughly 40,000 courses. Some of the schools we examined were quite large, and there are many small colleges; none of them were religious however. So in our view 10,000 courses was a conservative estimate. We probably should have used a figure closer to 20,000. I am puzzled by the percentage question. If it was one course rather than 10,000 it would or should still be a problem. Moreover, entire fields — Women’s Studies would be the prime example — have been corrupted by the intrusion of ideological agendas, and the ideologues associated with these fields have been integrated into other fields as well.

Q: You attack a class for assigning a book written by “an `investigative journalist’ with the Chicago Reporter, a local throwaway published by a community activist group.”(106) The Chicago Reporter is a highly respected, award-winning magazine, not a local throwaway, and it is strange to dismiss a book based on where the writer is employed rather than the content of the work. Did you actually read this book? If not, how can you claim that “this course is not interested in educating students in the range of factors that affect minority health, including inadequate care.”

A: This is an answer posing as a question. We did not attack the class in “Minority Health” for assigning a book. We pointed out that according to the instructor’s own course description, the class was not an academic inquiry but the exposition of an ideological point of view — the view that racism causes minority groups “to have much higher rates of disease than other groups.” Instead of asking the question, the instructor precludes the possibility that a question exists and proceeds to give his answer and his answer alone. The fact that this is a propaganda exercise not an academic course is further evidenced in the requirement of two course texts that reflect the instructor’s prejudices - one by the notorious Marian Wright Edelman who claimed that Clinton’s welfare reform would result in the death by starvation of a million minority children, and the other by a journalist who worked for an activist publication with similar views.

Q: You claim that in a Penn State Women’s Studies class, “students have no option to take different or dissenting views.”(96) Where is your evidence for this claim? Did you talk to any students in this class?

A: The course is billed by the instructor as an “introductory feminist survey course,” in other words not a dispassionate analytical course about feminism, but an indoctrination in feminism. The instructor declares that her intention is to “examine (and challenge) the nature of power and privilege in our lives and institutions.” The course agenda is to “challenge” power and privilege, not to examine whether power and privilege may have useful and beneficial functions, as well as negative ones. Since the course is set up to provide only radical feminist answers to the questions it poses - that is to deny legitimacy to alternative views, the answer to your question should be self-evident.

Q: You complain that in Women’s Studies programs, “gender is regarded not as a fact of nature but as an artificial construct that society imposes on individuals or that individuals choose for themselves.”(196) In reality, this just seems to be the dictionary definition of gender: “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex”(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender). I understand why you might make the common mistake of confusing sex and gender, but do you (or anyone else) actually believe that there is no such thing as the social construction of gender, and that everything associated with gender in our society is biologically determined?

A: It is you who are confused, since it is clear from this question that you believe the social construction of gender is a scientific fact. It isn’t. The claim that gender traits, which are behavioral and psychological (I think your dictionary has been seduced by feminist fashions when it includes cultural traits) are environmentally determined is just that — a claim. It has been proven empirically wrong in many crucial areas by modern neuroscience and biology. As to whether I believe that all gender traits are biologically determined, the answer is no.

Q: You object to a women’s studies course because “the course does not ask whether and how women have been subordinated, but accepts that subordination as a given.”(81) Are you arguing that women are not subordinated anywhere in the world, and have never been subordinated in history?

A: Since I have conducted a national campaign to protest “the oppression of women in Islam,” why would you even ask me such a question?

Q: You complain that the University of Missouri Women’s and Gender Studies Program has a website that includes links to feminist groups, and promotes a racism workshop on its newsgroup.(206) What’s wrong with having links on a website, or mentioning controversial events on a newsgroup? Who do you think should be given the power to regulate what links are permitted on websites, and what events should be allowed to be mentioned on a newsgroup?

A: Our complaint was about the Women’s and Gender Studies Program itself. It describes itself as a program to indoctrinate students in feminism, which is a violation of fundamental professional guidelines and academic standards. The links on its website are merely expressions of its ideological agendas. No link is in itself illegitimate if the purpose of the link is to give students the opportunity to examine critically its contents. That is not the case here where the object of the Women’s Studies Program, as clearly laid out in its Mission Statement, is to recruit students to feminist causes. This is the third time you’ve asked me who should enforce academic standards. Obviously in the case of Women’s Studies, since the entire field has been defined in a way that is political rather than academic, we have a much bigger problem that cannot be resolved at the departmental level. I leave it to the academic community — whose credentials and prestige are undermined by the current practices in Women’s Studies — to figure this one out.

Q: You claim that the UC Santa Cruz Department of Community Studies is “requiring students to adhere to a political orthodoxy” and assert, “The way the department frames the subject matter automatically excludes students who do not subscribe to this left-wing party line.”(255) Where is your evidence of this? Why would the framing of subject matter “automatically” exclude students who disagree?

A: Regarding your first question, you should re-read the section of our book on the Department of Community Studies, where the answer is self-evident. As to the second, if the subject matter of the course is framed entirely within one ideological perspective, where is there intellectual room for the student to challenge it, since the ideology is not presented as an ideology but as a scientific point of view?

Q: You claim it would be indoctrination to “examine the doctrines of conservatism from an exclusively conservative perspective.”(210) Many years ago, I took a course on “Conservative Jurisprudence” at the University of Chicago Law School. It was taught by Michael McConnell, who is now a judge in Utah, and I recall that the readings were overwhelmingly made up of conservative thinkers taught sympathetically by a conservative professor. Do you think conservative courses and programs should be prohibited in academia?

A: I didn’t take Professor McConnell’s course so I can’t comment on the way it was taught. I don’t think a conservative or for that matter a leftist is incapable of teaching the subject of conservatism or leftism in properly academic and professional way. I don’t even believe it is wrong to teach a course in feminist thought — provided the subject is approached critically and analytically — so why should I think that conservative thought should not be examined in a critical and scholarly way as well?

Q: You have in this book, by my count, exactly zero instances where a professor unfairly graded a student, or prohibited a student from disagreeing in class with a professor. If a student voluntarily takes a class and knows what’s in the class, and is free to disagree with the class readings or comments, why shouldn’t a professor be free to teach the relevant books he or she wants to, even if these texts don’t represent the full spectrum of possible perspectives about the topic?

A: This is many questions. First we did not deal with grades or professorial abuse in class because the past response of organizations like the AAUP to our evidence that students are unfairly graded and otherwise abused in class has been to call our students liars - or more precisely to call us liars for representing their cases. One-Party Classroom demonstrates, clearly and definitively that indoctrination on a massive scale is taking place in our universities, without recourse to student testimonies. Second, the idea that a student takes a course knowing what’s in it is preposterous. Many students don’t know what was in the course after they took it. Third, what does “free to disagree” mean when the professor holds the grade in his or her back pocket, particularly in the cases under discussion where the very framework of the course expresses the ideological prejudices of the instructor and presents them as scientific facts? Fourth, professors are and should be free to teach the relevant books they want to, including texts that have one ideological bias and do not represent a spectrum — provided the purpose of assigning the book is to examine it analytically and critically and not to recruit students to its ideological agendas.

Q: You twice object to geography professors discussing social movements with “no professional credentials” to do so.(214, 256) You seem to think that a geography professor should not discuss anything related to race, gender, class, sociology, anthropology, or economics. Is that correct? What do you think a geography professor should be teaching?

A: Geography.

Q: You often condemn teachers for dealing with issues you believe are out of their expertise, yet you assert, “Most disturbing of all is the unwillingness of administrators and trustees to defend their institutions and enforce the professional standards of a modern research university.”(278) How can administrators and trustees impose academic standards in fields where they have no academic training to determine what is the “proper” content of a course?

A: We didn’t say that administrators and trustees should define what is the proper content of a course. We said they needed to defend the professional standards of a modern research university. How? One example of the way to fulfill this responsibility occurred recently at the University of Colorado where administrators assembled a panel of Ward Churchill’s faculty peers to inquire whether he had violated those standards, and concluded that he did.

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