Reforming Our Universities

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[This interview is reprinted from]

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.

John K. Wilson: In your new campaign to “Adopt A Dissenting Book,” you urge students, “If your professor refuses to grant your request, appeal to the next higher authority, which would be the Department Chair, and after that the Dean of Students. If you are unsuccessful with this appeal, then take the request to the university administration beginning with the Provost or President, then the Board of Trustees.” What power do you think that administrators or trustees should have to order faculty to add books to (or subtract other books from) a course?

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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  • Chezwick_Mac

    The misconceptions and falsehoods reflected in the questions abound. Another telling indicator of the extent to which the AAUP has defamed David and obfuscated the defining issues.

  • USMCSniper

    Public education at all levels based on dismal results and outrageous costs ($10,000 average per student in elementary and high schools and at $30,000+ at the college level) so by any objective criteria itis a collossal failure. The only way to make any major improvement in the educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction – meaning the majority of all educational services are rendered to individuals by private enterprises. Nothing else will destroy or even greatly weaken the power of the current dismal educational establishment — a necessary pre-condition for radical improvement in our educational system. And nothing else will provide the public funded schools with the competition and incentives that will force them to improve.

    • Jim_C

      Send your kid to a private school, then. Something holding you back?

      As for the public schools, we continue to supply the country with doctors, engineers, computer scientists, teachers, cops, and ditch diggers. What seems to be the problem?

      • USMCSniper

        I already have, Both my children, St Johns at Prospect Hall, Georgetown Prep for high school, Loyola of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University. Read Dr. Walter Williams: "Only 14 percent of Washington's fourth-graders score at or above proficiency in the reading and math portions of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. Their national rank of 51 makes them the nation's worst. Eighth-graders are even further behind with only 12 percent scoring at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent in math and again the worst performance in the nation. One shouldn't be surprised by Washington student performance on college admissions tests. They have an average composite SAT score of 925 and ACT score of 19.1, compared to the national average respectively of 1017 and 21.1. In terms of national ranking, their SAT and ACT rankings are identical to their fourth- and eighth-grade rankings – dead last. And the documented cost is $25,000 per student."

        • Jim_C

          I'm not against a move toward privatization; my concern would be for social order in the meantime.

          Two things: I'd like to see the federal government "one size fits all" approach to policy removed. If they want to write checks, fine; leave the schools to states and communities.

          I'd like to see a modicum of tuition charged at every single school. Tuition means investment.

      • USMCSniper

        China's decision to send scholars and students to the United States at the end of the 1970s. Today, about 50,000 Chinese students are studying in the United States, accounting for 10 percent of the total international students in the country. More Chinese students have gone to other countries to study. According to statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), China sends more students than any other country to study abroad. In the other direction, more students from the United States and elsewhere are going to China to study language, culture, history, traditional Chinese medicine, science, engineering, and other fields. The increasing number of international students worldwide demonstrates a relatively quick change in the integration of global education. In addition it is estimated that Chinese graduate students and medical students make up 25% of all graduate students in the sciences, engineering, and medicine.

        You should have said crooked lawyers, incompetent teachers, dishonest journalists, government ard core unemployables, and left wing academic activists.

  • Carolyn

    Mr. Horowitz, I am so-o-o-o proud of you! I appreciate your thorough and convincing answers to the interviewer; and by the way, I'm so glad you saw the light and left liberalism behind – way behind in the dust!

  • Ilana Luncsford

    Excellent evaluation, loads of valid items in there which I’ll have got to think about before acquiring the cell phone.

  • MNWilliam

    The American public education system from kindergarden to university is a philosophical and financial monopoly. It should be broken.

  • Josiepal

    As the parent of a conservative student in a liberal college, I resent having my tax dollars going to support the propaganda that is polluting our children's minds. I can't afford private university and am stuck with the state schools. When is someone going to be brave enough to tackle this immense problem?

    • Jim_C

      I think your question should be "When is someone going to be intelligent enough to recognize the "problem" is much bigger than 'Wahh, my kid was exposed to ideas I don't approve of/understand in college!'"

  • 080

    David is right on the front line where the war to save America is being fought. The next battle has to be fought over the United Nations. Why do we give subsidies to countries that consistently vote against us or are openly hostile?

  • James

    We don't need 1000 professors teaching their own Ideology to 50,000 students. A few professors teachung the same ideology is enough.

    Student loans have given a lot of professors large salaries for doing nothing more than getting some thing off their chest.

    Student loans in this economy are almost impossible to pay back and should be reconstructed as contingency loans. As it is now the student can't shake it even by declaring bankruptcy

    These extra Professors only add more expence to going to school.

    • Jim_C

      Are you saying professors aren't doing their jobs? That we are not graduating professionals in every field? Do you understand why some professors are paid "large" salaries? Hint: it's the same reason the football coach makes a salary that dwarfs all the professors' salaries: Competition. Competition between institutions, competition with the private sector.

      Here's the thing: part of college is being exposed to new ideas. But the vast, vast majority of these professors have to teach their subject.

      The disrespect for, and scapegoating of teachers at all levels in this country is appalling.

  • MKS

    No tax money should EVER go directly to an educational facility at any level, whether pre-K, K-12, college, university, or post-graduate. If tax money is used at all (which is questionable), it should go to the guardian or to the student in voucher form, who then can use it at the educational facility of his or her choice.

    In this manner, the student or guardian becomes the educational "customer," and the administration and faculty provide educational services to these customers. In a few years, it would become known which institutions were providing real educations, and which were providing ideological indoctrinations.

    • Jim_C

      And what choice would people in small communities have? This is the whole problem with charters and privatization. I have no problem with these things in theory, btw.

      Is it that you don't consider an educated citizenry a worthwhile public investment, or that you do, but don't like the results?