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[Reprinted from Academic Questions.]
Reforming Our Universities: The Campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights
Washington, DC: Regnery
Publishing, Inc., 2010, 285
pp., $27.95 hardbound.
David Horowitz’s latest in a series of books on the corruption of higher education by radical politics is an account of a campaign that he began in 2003 to persuade universities to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR). The ABOR is a brief declaration consisting of eight points based in large part on the venerable 1915 statement by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Its most important provisions are first, that both faculty hiring and grading of student work be based on merit alone without regard to political or religious beliefs, and second, that “exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty.” These two provisions would effectively prevent instructors from using their courses for purposes of political indoctrination.
Horowitz’s earlier book Indoctrination U.: The Left’s War Against Academic Freedom, written in 2006, already included the text of the ABOR and a brief account of what had happened up to then, but he now gives us an updated and altogether fuller account of how the ABOR has fared.
Two previous books by Horowitz were attempts to document the extent of the problem of politicized higher education: One-Party Classroom (2009) and The Professors (2006). The former documented political indoctrination in one hundred-fifty courses on representative American campuses, the latter profiled one hundred professors who, though plainly political ideologues rather than scholars, hold prestigious posts on elite campuses. The aim of Horowitz’s new book is not to document the extent of the problem, but rather to chronicle his attempt to deal with it through the ABOR. Yet paradoxically, it ends up being the most convincing documentation yet of how serious the problem is, and it is his opponents who give us that documentation. The inevitable objection to The Professors and One-Party Classroom was that one hundred-fifty courses and one hundred professors constitute a small fraction of 1 percent of the total: how representative are they? There is a perfectly good answer to this objection. These cases are tolerated even after they become well-known, and are not corrected. Nevertheless, the idea that cherry-picking the worst cases doesn’t prove very much won’t easily go away.
What Horowitz’s ABOR campaign has done is to force the other side to declare itself. It says, in effect: very well, if the problem is really as insignificant as you say it is, you should have no trouble in subscribing to some very simple, innocuous language that says that hiring and grading should be free of political discrimination, and courses should carefully analyze complex issues rather than simplify them through omitting everything that might impede proselytizing for one side. Horowitz’s opponents faced a choice whether to accept or reject his language. In retrospect, one can easily see what their best move was.
Language close to that of the ABOR already exists in many places throughout the academy. The 1915 AAUP statement is incorporated by reference in the regulations of countless universities but is routinely flouted everywhere, because administrations are afraid to enforce it. It would have been easy enough to add the ABOR to these already existing statements, to go on ignoring all of them, and to keep insisting that there was not a problem. Horowitz’s opponents lost their heads and made a foolish strategic mistake: they attacked the ABOR with great ferocity. Rather like the shrewd old Zulu king in the classic movie Zulu, Horowitz had in effect drawn their fire so that it could be seen how much of it there was and where it would come from. And the fire came thick and fast from everywhere: from professional associations that represent almost all professors in a particular discipline like the Modern Language Association of America or the American Historical Association (AHA), from the American Civil Liberties Union and the AAUP, from unions and from the Democratic Party, as well as from individual legislators, faculty, and administrators.
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