Reforming Our Universities

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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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  • MKS

    Thanks to David Horowitz for his tireless efforts in a very worthy cause.

    The universities and colleges, which produce journalists, judges, and future professors, contribute greatly to our chronic slide to the left, and to non-analytical thinking.

    I would like to see that no public funding whatsoever go directly to college administrations or faculties, but be eliminated, or all go directly to prospective students or their guardians. Perhaps this would be implemented by means of vouchers for higher education. If colleges no longer handed out grants and scholarships from the public treasury, but competed for students' tuitions, they would be forced to provide quality education instead of second-rate political indoctrination. Or else they would close.

  • yrd4soundingoff

    I feel David is exceptionally qualified to lead the fight in reforming our colleges and universities. His unique position of radical liberal convert to rationality and sanity puts him in the best place to help make rational and sane the outrageously biased American college campus. I for one will be consulting his work extensively before choosing a college or university for my children. With his help I am raising my children to think for themselves and when it is time for them to go to a place for "higher learning" I know that I will be able to guide them to the right place because of David's tireless efforts.

  • aspacia

    Don't forget the k-12 system needs reform too.

  • MKS

    You are correct; the k-12 very much needs reform. But as long as colleges and universities are the ones granting the diplomas in education, reforming k-12 schools without addressing higher education is like trying to mop up the puddle without turning off the faucet. You keep getting indoctrinated administrators and teachers to unravel the good reforms that good administrators and teachers achieve.

  • Rochmoninoff

    David opened my eyes years ago.
    Let's hope that this latest foray opens the eyes of others.

    My oldest is just entering high school and we're "thinking college thoughts" at home.
    The fact that this nonsense occurs and that it is amplified 100-fold by Pell grants and student loans sickens me.

    25 years ago when I went to university I recall getting a B in literature class because I didn't agree with my teacher's social agenda (fool!). Maybe it's hopeless. Professors are human and they're going to grade based on their values no matter what highfalutin bylaws they sign up to.

    My personal dream is that balance can be restored. That would be enough for me.

  • Yetwave

    1 of 2
    Another big WTG for David's efforts.
    An interesting aside to this campaign is the recognition in the shift of academic endeavor that today's students undertake. The canting of thought and the passing off of ideology as knowledge occurs in disciplines that are mainly soft disciplines. In the study of history, literature, sociology , psychology, and the raft of useless curricula that end with the suffix 'studies', answers to questions are subject to variying shades of correctness that are primarily determined by the instructor.
    Hard studies, engineering, science, business and language among others, demand definitive answers to questions or problems that are either right or wrong.
    The works of Walt Whitman may be studied in one class solely in the context of its importance to the body of American literature while under the guise of another professor, the same body of work may be studied only as 'gay literature'. No tangible effect occurs if upon graduation if one English major construes Whitman as a great American poet while the other perceives him as a great homosexual poet….

  • Yetwave

    2 of 2
    Students who become engineers understand that there are no variations from the formulae that provide for the suspension of a bridge across San Francisco Bay.
    The gravitation of the majority of today's students to soft curriculum where they may never have a required language or science course or have to answer a question in with a definitive answer has a lot to do with why they are som impessionable. Afterall, every grade, for the difference it makes, is subject to the professor's interpretation of what is right and what is wrong.
    I hope that part of David's argument is the reintegration of science and language into the curriculum of American universities. The more that our children learn to think in terms of correct or incorrect, the better they will be able to weigh the wishy washy relativism with which so many instructors infuse their classes

    • Carrie

      I agree that there should be less ideology, which is why I can't stand creationism taking over biology in high schools, and text books being re-written to reflect Christian beliefs. This should horrify anyone who is against ideology in our schools – whether it be liberal or conservative. History, and especially biology – like physics, should represent fact not falsehoods.

  • clarespark

    The erstwhile "progressives" who have created Indoctrination U. are not only anti-intellectual, they drastically distort their own past and the past of some of our most articulate artists. I wrote about the latter here, with respect to "the melting pot' and its associated notion of American exceptionalism. http://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-m…. Your comments welcome. I am with David H. all the way. His is a noble, if quixotic adventure in social change and advocacy.

    • scum

      Horowitz's claim that students go through 4 years of college without having ever being introduced to a 'conservative adult' is trash. He doesn't even realize that Cal- Berkeley (that 'hotbed of radicalism') actually has gone out of its way to hire conservatives. Arthur Jensen in Anthropology was a case in point. Jensen spent considerable time espousing his own ideology, ragging on his colleagues in Cultural Anthropology (you know, the 'radicals'), and generally bragging about being a 'racist' (based on biological differences). Even in Political Science, in a class entitled 'Revolutionary Change', Chalmers Johnson (who has since moved to the Left), spent considerable time outlining why we had to be in Vietnam, and such. None of this fits Horowitz's own ideological distortion of the Indoctrination U. as he describes it (except that these professors pushed conservative doctrine).

  • Wanda

    Clarespark – I tried to read your link – but found it incoherent and half of it was quotes from other people. I think the topic was interesting, and would love to read an edited version.

  • clarespark

    Wanda, thanks for trying. The quote was from one author, Mordecai Grossman, who was indeed confusing and full of double talk, but that is what many "progressives" do. I was trying to show that he was confusing, and that he had misrepresented what the melting pot was. It did not mean that immigrants were stamped into robots, but that the blend of new Americans with old, including the descendants of slaves, would create a unique and vibrant new culture, unmatched anywhere in the world, and that would leave the feuds of the Old World behind. If you get that, you will have the meat of the article. In a way, Zangwill, the author of the famous play The Melting Pot (1908) was seeking a new liberating form of unity.

  • scum

    Horowitz is at it again: An outsider, non-academic, trying to impose centralized state rule on academia. Of course his Stalinist methods will fail, but in the meantime we have to continue to hear his blathering on college campuses. Pure, unadulturated vitriolic bombast.

  • scum

    The fact is that Horowitz's argument doesn't hold up at all. If one looks at academia before the 1960s, it was radically different. Historians still taught that 'slavery wans't really all that bad' and that 'Reconstruction went too far'. He can't explain how conservative schools suddenly 'turned radical' (unless conservative professors discriminated against conservatives, which seems. . . uh. . . unlikely). So what is the truth? Simply that there was a GENERAL CULTURAL SHIFT in the 1960s that led the children of the upper middle class to radicalize, while the working class which has the most to lose from conservative politics, to turn to the GOP. This also explains Horowitz's mistaken notion that 'radicals hijacked the Democratic Party in the 1960s. Both theories are based on his usual conspiracy-minded tunnel vision.

  • Carrie

    John, the hyperlink doesn't work but I found it on google, thanks for the posting!
    Here it is http://collegefreedom.blogspot.com/2010/11/interv