The current president of the AAUP, Cary Nelson, is also a well-known political activist, author of Manifesto of a Tenured Radical. During a debate at a conference in 2007, Professor Nelson said: “You cannot take politics out of my classroom anymore than you can take it out of life. It’s built into my subject matter and it’s been built into my subject matter for the whole 37 years in which I’ve taught.” Professor Nelson went on to criticize what he regarded as the timidity of colleagues who refrained from expressing their political views in the classroom.
Attitudes like these may explain the unscholarly responses that The Professors elicited. Professor Nelson’s review in the AAUP’s journal, Academe, began with this injunction: “Please ignore this book. Don’t buy it. Don’t read it. Try not to mention it in idle conversation.” These were strange instructions for an educator, but not so strange for a political activist outraged by the fact that his agendas were being scrutinized.
To combat the author (no other verb will do) the American Federation of Teachers organized a coalition of leftwing organizations it called “Free Exchange On Campus.” When The Professors appeared, the union issued a press release describing the reaction of its newly created front organization: “Free Exchange On Campus … has condemned a new book that attacks individual professors for their personal political beliefs. The book is The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, by David Horowitz, who is also the author of the so-called Academic Bill of Rights legislation making its way throughout the states. The book is essentially a blacklist of academics, says Free Exchange On Campus, and is based on inaccurate and misleading information.”
Any fair-minded reader of The Professors will readily see that these political sound-bites bear no relation to the text. The Professors does not “attack individual academics for their personal political beliefs,” nor does it suggest that any professors should be fired for their political beliefs. It cannot be described by any reasonable standard, therefore, as a “blacklist.” The author makes quite explicit in the introduction the fact that he did not design the text to attack professors’ political beliefs: “This book is not intended as a text about leftwing bias in the university and does not propose that a leftwing perspective on academic faculties is a problem in itself. Every individual, whether conservative or liberal, has a perspective and therefore a bias. Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their individual points of view. That is the essence of academic freedom.” A defense of unpopular professorial views could hardly be more clearly expressed.
Yet, the cynical misrepresentation of The Professors as a McCarthy “witch-hunt” is the substance of virtually all the hostile responses to this book. Not a single academic who condemned The Professors bothered to address its argument, or demonstrate a familiarity with the 17,000 words of explanatory material. Instead critics read their own agendas into the profiles and responded to whatever it was they had made up.
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