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[This interview is reprinted from CollegeFreedom.org.]
I (JKW) interviewed David Horowitz (DH) via email about his new book, “Reforming Our Universities” for the Fall 2010 issue of Illinois Academe. Below is the full, unedited text. In the comment section, I will post my response to what Horowitz said, and invite him to respond.
David Horowitz: I don’t think that administrators or trustees should have direct power over faculty in the selection of books in the classroom. The point of this exercise is to find people within the academic community who will encourage recalcitrant faculty to do the right thing, the liberal thing by providing students with texts that reflect more than one perspective on controversial matters so they can draw their own conclusions.
I would like to see an office of academic standards created by the administration with a review board whose majority would be faculty with representation from the administration and student body. The standards should be set by faculty. It’s important that they be written and made public within the university community. A grievance procedure should be provided for students or faculty members feel they are not being observed. A review committee composed of a faculty majority should then examine complaints and this board should be empowered to make recommendations in a manner suited to the requirements of academic freedom.
JKW: It’s clear from your book that you think the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” should be banned from all social science courses in the entire country, and only allowed in environmental studies if critical views of the documentary to oppose it are included. What punishment do you think should be imposed on a professor who illicitly shows the documentary?
DH: I said no such thing, nor have ever suggested anything like it. I have never called for the banning of any book or reference material from any course nor would I. I believe that academic standards and academic freedom principles require that students be provided with materials that will allow them to think for themselves. Consequently a controversial film such as “An Inconvenient Truth” should be accompanied by critical materials that provide students with the means to compare claims and evidence and make up their own minds. I think this is particularly true when the film is shown in social science courses whose instructors are not professionally qualified to evaluate climatological claims. This is probably where your misunderstanding of my intentions originates. I have never suggested any “punishments” for any teachers. In the only specific case I have been involved in regarding an infringement of academic freedom by a professor I endorsed without reservation the course of action taken by the Dean (in this case of Penn State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) who was a faculty member herself. I have described this case and its result at length in my book.
JKW: You write, “I had a talk delayed for twenty minutes by demonstrators at the University of Chicago and had to deliver my speech while a large undergraduate stood in the middle of the room with her back to me in protest (she was not removed by the Dean and police officers present because she was black, and they feared adverse publicity).”(10) Why would a person standing in silent protest prevent you from speaking, and how do you know that the university refused to remove her because she was black?
DH: I did not say that I was prevented from speaking. I said my talk was delayed — which it was — until a group of demonstrators (with the exception of this one student) were persuaded to sit down. The twenty minutes were taken up by a university provost (or perhaps its was a dean) attempting to persuade the demonstrators to allow me talk. The lone remaining protester did not prevent me from speaking, nor did I say she did. I knew the campus police were deterred by the fact that she was black because I asked them why they had not enforced university rules and removed her and they told me of a recent similar incident which had resulted in a photograph in the campus paper, The Daily Maroon, with a caption that referred to them as the campus “gestapo.” Obviously it’s not good pr for a campus authority to be portrayed as a Gestapo oppressing a minority.
JKW: You write, “The legislative resolutions I had sought were merely instrumental—a way of getting universities to focus on the problem and take steps towards a solution. It was never my intention to seek government management of universities, as my opponents claimed (and continue to claim).”(72) Yet the Students for Academic Freedom Handbook currently on your website notes that legislators might pass the Academic Bill of Rights as a state law “imposing penalties for non-compliance” and declares, “you and your SAF organization need to be ready to support and assist legislators in their efforts.” Aren’t you expressing support for government management of universities?
DH: Although the fact remains and the record will show that I have never supported legislative control of university curricula or government penalties for non-compliance with the Academic Bill of Rights, you have certainly embarrassed me with this one. I had never read those sentences before and no one before you ever brought them to my attention or referred to them in a critique of my efforts. They do not appear in any of the previous attacks on my campaign and if they had I would have removed them from this particular document at the time. I have already done so now, having been alerted by your comment. I apologize for this oversight, but since you are the only person who has ever raised it, I cannot think the sentences have resulted in any damage, particularly since I have said so much to the contrary since the beginning of my campaign. This lapse has been generally overlooked.
The handbook you mention was not written by me and does not list me as one of the authors. I did write a guide for our students which is listed on our website as “Mission and Strategy” and can be found here. Section 4 of this document is titled: “To Secure the Adoption of “The Academic Bill of Rights” as University Policy” This reflects the unwavering aim of my academic freedom campaign which has been to make academic rights for students university policy. I have never said that the wording of the Academic Bill of Rights is the only wording of an academic freedom policy that would be acceptable to me. I have said yes on each and every occasion where university officials have asked us to withdraw our legislation if they would put their own version in place. I cannot see how I could be any clearer about my intentions. The phrase you single out does not reflect anything that I have written or said in the seven years of my campaign. I have never sponsored legislative measures that would be statutory or include penalties, and never supported such an idea. I have never supported the idea that government should manage universities. It is an idea that I find both dangerous and absurd. I have from the beginning of my campaign and in all my public statements said very clearly that I believe universities themselves should establish academic freedom standards for students where they do not already exist — which today is everywhere in the university system except for the public universities in Ohio and Pennsylvania that our campaign has directly affected.
JKW: You recount your conversation with Elizabeth Hoffman, president of the University of Colorado: “I was quick to point out that I was not asking her to hire conservative faculty. I said the university could insulate itself from an attack by…bringing conservative academics to campus as visiting professors.”(67) Isn’t hiring conservatives as visiting professors precisely a demand to hire conservative faculty?
DH: Hardly. A visiting professor is a visiting professor. He or she is brought to a university to provide a fresh or unrepresented perspective or experience, and is not brought in as a permanent member of the faculty. That’s the difference. Aren’t you and other members of the AAUP – as self-professed “liberals” – even slightly embarrassed by the fact that university faculties in the liberal arts have become so monolithic in recent decades? That most students go through four years of a university education without ever encountering a conservative adult? How do you think faculties got that way? In a fit of absent-mindedness?
JKW: You also celebrate Hoffman being “fired” because she failed to get rid of Ward Churchill quickly enough as “an important message to university administrators.”(115) This isn’t actually true (Hoffman resigned), but why would you support the firing of presidents who refuse to immediately purge left-wing faculty?
DH: I have never called for the purging of leftwing professors, although this is a frequently deployed AAUP slander. I publicly defended Ward Churchill and UC Irvine Law School dean Erwin Chereminsky when efforts were made to dismiss them for their extreme leftwing political views. I would never support the firing of a professor or the firing of a president for refusing to purge faculty for their political views. Where did you get such an idea? I did not ask Elizabeth Hoffman to get rid of Ward Churchill, either before or after the fracas over his Internet article.
Not did I ever celebrate Hoffman’s departure from the University of Colorado. I suggested that if she had followed my advice and found ways to encourage intellectual diversity at her campus (by methods short of hiring faculty for their political views) she would have been in a better position to defend herself from public attacks when the Churchill scandal broke. I never said I supported such attacks. The message her dismissal sent was that having an intellectually diverse academic community would insulate universities against such attacks.
You are correct in pointing out that she wasn’t formally “fired” (and I accept that I should have made that clear in my text). Nonetheless, her “resignation” was a mere formality. She was forced out. Hers was not a voluntary departure.
JKW: You claim that “Contracts had been signed which allowed government officials to decide whom universities could hire, what salaries they could pay, who they could admit as students to their institutions, and even what kind of statements teachers could make in the classroom.”(96) The footnote you offer for this statement is about high school proficiency exams, and has nothing to do with higher education (or anything you wrote). You also claim that “diversity statutes” such as Title IX “gave large government bureaucracies power over such matters as curriculum, course content, and faculty personnel decisions.”(147) Since you offer no footnotes, I was curious to know in what contracts or cases has Title IX or other statutes given the Executive Branch control over college curricula, courses, or personnel decisions?
DH: C’mon. The diversity policies of the federal government and diversity investigations conducted by the Department of Education have had a profound effect on the hiring of faculty at universities and you know it. Do I need to burden my text to provide chapter and verse of specific cases to make this point? In fact I did give a horrifying example in my text of the chilling impact of federal sexual harassment statues on classroom discourse by noting that Alan Dershowitz had been forced to tape his rape law lectures to protect himself from harassment suits by over-zealous feminists and that one of his colleagues had stopped teaching rape law all together for this very reason.
JKW: You denounce AAUP president Cary Nelson as “politically correct” because he changed his view of a poet after discovering some of her anti-war poetry.(143) You seem to think that Nelson changed his view of the poet solely because she opposed World War I, rather than because of the quality of the newly discovered poetry. How do you know this?
DH: I didn’t denounce Cary. I suggested that his attitude towards the poet Sara Teasdale was dictated by political rather than literary judgments. He said that he had regarded her as a “sentimental poet” until he discovered she had written anti-war poems. Since he didn’t explain how adopting an anti-war position was not sentimental or how the texts of these poems were not sentimental I think the evidence speaks for itself.
JKW: You praise schools such as Temple and Ohio’s colleges for adopting a variation of your Academic Bill of Rights to allow student grievances. Can you name one example where any college has enforced any of these new provisions to stop the kind of “indoctrination” you oppose?
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