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(Editor’s note: This is a speech David Horowitz gave in Washington D.C. on August 3, 2010 in accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Young America’s Foundation. Tributes to David were made by Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner and Senator Jeff Sessions, and by Senator Jon Kyl, Representatives Jack Kingston, Ed Royce and Michelle Bachmann.)
I am deeply touched, as I am honored, by these tributes from my friends Senator Jeff Sessions and Ed Feulner. I am grateful for the effort that went into this gracious and generous evening. I am especially honored that the organization, which has gone out of its way to make this evening possible is the Young America’s Foundation, which I regard as the foremost organization fighting to restore our campuses to sanity and health, and more importantly to restore their respect for American principles and values.
As it happens this is the first time a conservative organization has paid tribute to our campaign for academic freedom. I do not think that this is merely incidental. My own origins, as you know, are anything but conservative, and my radical roots are always showing. I am not going to apologize for retaining traces of this radical heritage, in particular for being combative and confrontational. We are in a war with enemies both internal and external who seek our destruction. Such a war requires character traits that may not be conservative, but are nonetheless necessary if we are to win it.
The conservative temperament – skeptical of apocalypse and civilized to a fault — is often hamstrung by these dispositions when it comes to defending itself. I am inclined to believe it is this conservative instinct that accounts for the coolness, which my campaigns have sometimes been met with in conservative quarters. I also think the warm relationship I have enjoyed with the Young America’s Foundation over the last quarter century reflects its own recognition of the nature of the battle in which we are engaged. This is certainly the reason why the Young Americas Foundation is in the forefront of the struggles on our college campuses.
As we speak, the conservative movement is undergoing a historic change, one that I welcome. The advent of the Tea Parties reflects a new passion among conservatives for the political struggle and a growing recognition that the stakes are high and the issue existential. This exciting change in the conservative movement reflects a path that the Young America’s Foundation has been blazing for years.
I am therefore doubly honored that this evening’s tribute to my efforts is the work of the founder of Young America’s Foundation and its leader for more than two decades, Ron Robinson. I have known and collaborated with Ron for nearly 25 years. In that time he has supported me in my campus efforts and invited me to support him in his.
A more unlikely political couple, on the other hand, would be hard to find. Mr. Unflappable and Mr. Explosive. Mr. Pat Buchanan Republican and Mr. Neo-Conservative Red (although neither of us, I suspect, would be entirely happy with these labels). Despite our differences, in 25 years I have never had a falling out with Ron Robinson over politics, or a bone of contention to pick with him over organizational matters. In part this cooperation has been made possible by our mutual understanding of the struggle our country faces and the need for its conservative defenders to stand together whatever their differences. But a greater part of it is because of the kind of person Ron is — a consummate gentleman; a man of superlative decencies and redoubtable virtues who underneath all that unflappability and calm has a fire burning in his heart for his country and its survival. A more disciplined and dedicated soldier in the fight for freedom than Ron Robinson you will not find. I am honored to have him as a friend and this country is fortunate to have him as a leader.
The school battles that Ron and I have engaged in these many years are, in my view, the third – and in many ways most important — front in a war to defend America against the existential threats that we face. The other two are the integrity of our national borders, and the war on terror, which is the inept way our government after 9/11 defined the violence that is directed at us by the forces of radical Islam and their leftwing accomplices.
Seven years ago I launched a campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights for American college students. Its larger purpose was to combat the efforts of anti-American radicals to indoctrinate future generations. The Academic Bill of Rights seals to guarantee college students the right to be exposed to more than one side of intellectual controversies in their academic classrooms.
The principles embodied in my academic bill are simple, and 25 years ago there would have been no need to articulate them, so integral are they to what was once understood to be the essence of a democratic education. These principles hold that the opinions of professors are not to be imposed on students or presented to them as uncontroversial facts. Therefore, professors are obligated to present students with opinions that diverge from the classroom orthodoxy and to do so in a fair-minded and judicious manner. To encourage students to think for themselves, professors are expected to assign materials reflecting divergent views. To be professional and scholarly, class reading lists must include texts reflecting more than one side of outstanding controversies.
These basic principles are still so widely accepted that no one can really challenge them, at least not directly. Nonetheless, my campaign to support them has been met with a wall of opposition and ad hominem slander by the academic establishment — the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, faculty unions and professional associations — and the Democratic Party, both locally and nationally. Since opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights understand that they cannot openly defend the practice of classroom indoctrination they have resorted instead to campaigns of distortion, defamation, and denial.
They have claimed that the Academic Bill of Rights is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They accuse me of making up both the problem and the facts that describe it. Though my stated goal is to promote intellectual diversity in the classroom, they have denounced me as a “McCarthyite” bent on thought control. They have sought to dismiss me as a right-wing extremist whose real agenda is to fire leftwing professors and hire conservatives to replace them.
All these slanders are brazen falsehoods but this last one – which has been made by faculty spokesmen, by Democratic politicians and by mainstream editorial writers is a particular outrage. The claim that the Academic Bill of Rights is a plan to fire leftwing faculty is refuted by its own first principles, which state in plain English that professors must not be hired or fired on the basis of their political opinions.
The fact that professors and editorial writers on the left are willing to tell such an easily exposed lie betrays both their arrogant confidence that they control the media and their determination to defend a status quo in which conservative students are harassed by leftist professors and students of all persuasions are denied the opportunity to receive an education in which respect is paid to the pluralism of ideas.
I have described and documented all these matters in a book called Reforming Our Universities, which will be published by Regnery at the end of this month. It is a detailed account of our campaign whose achievements –despite the obstacles placed in its way — are not small. We were able to get the American Council on Education, which represents 1800 universities and colleges, to support our core principles and to secure students unprecedented academic freedom rights at more than a dozen major schools including Ohio State, Penn State and Temple universities.
We could have succeeded in securing these rights to many more students at many more schools if we had been able to enlist the conservative movement and the Republican Party in our efforts. As it is we have had only one consistent, boots-on-the-ground ally, and that is Ron Robinson’s Young America’s Foundation. But this support has been enough to help us make the Academic Bill of Rights the most discussed classroom issue in the university world, and the subject of literally thousands of discussions in the national media. And we are only beginning.
I want to use this evening’s platform to inform you about a new campaign I am launching this month, which in my view is the most effective way available in the present political climate to advance the principles of intellectual diversity and academic freedom.
In a democracy there cannot be orthodoxy on matters of opinion. Students must have the right to hear more than one side of controversial issues. This is so basic you might well ask who could oppose it? The answer is the same enormously powerful coalition that has opposed the Academic Bill of Rights – the coalition of anti-democratic and anti-intellectual forces who call themselves, Orwell style, “progressives,” “liberals” and Democrats. They are determined to ensure that there is no other voice in the room but theirs. That is why they harass conservative students and suppress conservative books. And that is why the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign is so important.
The inspiration for the campaign was a visit I made last spring to the University of Massachussetts, Amherst. While there I audited an hour-and-a-half political science lecture about the Warren Court’s landmark decisions on civil liberties. This particular class was the choice of the students who invited me to UMass, many of them members of Young America’s Foundation and also of College Republicans. The lecturer was a well-known political scientist, a nationally recognized expert in the field.
My conservative student hosts recommended this particular class because its professor was in their words, the best available, and also, they assured me, the most fair-minded. The University of Massachussetts is itself a depressingly radical school where the indoctrination of students in leftwing ideologies is routine.
The students said to me, “We know this professor is a liberal because sometimes he leaks his prejudices to us. But he’s very fair and he doesn’t indoctrinate us.” When I entered his classroom I saw that half my student hosts were taking the course, or – I should probably put it – taking refuge in his course from the harassment they experienced in other political science courses. One of them had told me that his professor had given a test that consisted of a speech by Ronald Reagan and a single question, although it wasn’t really a question. It said: “Explain why Reagan is Wrong.”
In the event, the lecture by the fair-minded professor turned out to be an eye-opener for me because it bore only a slight resemblance to what I had been led by the students to expect. Previously, I had been of the opinion that professors who use their classrooms as platforms for their political prejudices represent a minority of faculty. I estimated this minority to be about ten percent based on the fact that that was the percentage of Harvard faculty who forced Larry Summers’ resignation because his ideas were politically incorrect. That would be 60,000 leftwing faculty ideologues nationally. I now have to revise my estimate upwards — significantly upwards — because that Massachusetts classroom showed me that even liberal professors with a reputation among conservative students for fairness will not give democracy a chance.
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