Adopt a Dissenting Book

A modest proposal to restore democracy to college classrooms.

(Editor's note: This is a speech David Horowitz gave in Washington D.C. on August 3, 2010 in accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Young America's Foundation. Tributes to David were made by Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner and Senator Jeff Sessions, and by Senator Jon Kyl, Representatives Jack Kingston, Ed Royce and Michelle Bachmann.)

I am deeply touched, as I am honored, by these tributes from my friends Senator Jeff Sessions and Ed Feulner. I am grateful for the effort that went into this gracious and generous evening.  I am especially honored that the organization, which has gone out of its way to make this evening possible is the Young America's Foundation, which I regard as the foremost organization fighting to restore our campuses to sanity and health, and more importantly to restore their respect for American principles and values.

As it happens this is the first time a conservative organization has paid tribute to our campaign for academic freedom. I do not think that this is merely incidental. My own origins, as you know, are anything but conservative, and my radical roots are always showing. I am not going to apologize for retaining traces of this radical heritage, in particular for being combative and confrontational. We are in a war with enemies both internal and external who seek our destruction. Such a war requires character traits that may not be conservative, but are nonetheless necessary if we are to win it.

The conservative temperament – skeptical of apocalypse and civilized to a fault -- is often hamstrung by these dispositions when it comes to defending itself. I am inclined to believe it is this conservative instinct that accounts for the coolness, which my campaigns have sometimes been met with in conservative quarters. I also think the warm relationship I have enjoyed with the Young America's Foundation over the last quarter century reflects its own recognition of the nature of the battle in which we are engaged. This is certainly the reason why the Young Americas Foundation is in the forefront of the struggles on our college campuses.

As we speak, the conservative movement is undergoing a historic change, one that I welcome. The advent of the Tea Parties reflects a new passion among conservatives for the political struggle and a growing recognition that the stakes are high and the issue existential. This exciting change in the conservative movement reflects a path that the Young America's Foundation has been blazing for years.

I am therefore doubly honored that this evening’s tribute to my efforts is the work of the founder of Young America’s Foundation and its leader for more than two decades, Ron Robinson. I have known and collaborated with Ron for nearly 25 years. In that time he has supported me in my campus efforts and invited me to support him in his.

A more unlikely political couple, on the other hand, would be hard to find. Mr. Unflappable and Mr. Explosive. Mr. Pat Buchanan Republican and Mr. Neo-Conservative Red (although neither of us, I suspect, would be entirely happy with these labels).  Despite our differences, in 25 years I have never had a falling out with Ron Robinson over politics, or a bone of contention to pick with him over organizational matters. In part this cooperation has been made possible by our mutual understanding of the struggle our country faces and the need for its conservative defenders to stand together whatever their differences. But a greater part of it is because of the kind of person Ron is -- a consummate gentleman; a man of superlative decencies and redoubtable virtues who underneath all that unflappability and calm has a fire burning in his heart for his country and its survival. A more disciplined and dedicated soldier in the fight for freedom than Ron Robinson you will not find. I am honored to have him as a friend and this country is fortunate to have him as a leader.

The school battles that Ron and I have engaged in these many years are, in my view, the third – and in many ways most important -- front in a war to defend America against the existential threats that we face. The other two are the integrity of our national borders, and the war on terror, which is the inept way our government after 9/11 defined the violence that is directed at us by the forces of radical Islam and their leftwing accomplices.

Seven years ago I launched a campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights for American college students. Its larger purpose was to combat the efforts of anti-American radicals to indoctrinate future generations. The Academic Bill of Rights seals to guarantee college students the right to be exposed to more than one side of intellectual controversies in their academic classrooms.

The principles embodied in my academic bill are simple, and 25 years ago there would have been no need to articulate them, so integral are they to what was once understood to be the essence of a democratic education. These principles hold that the opinions of professors are not to be imposed on students or presented to them as uncontroversial facts. Therefore, professors are obligated to present students with opinions that diverge from the classroom orthodoxy and to do so in a fair-minded and judicious manner. To encourage students to think for themselves, professors are expected to assign materials reflecting divergent views. To be professional and scholarly, class reading lists must include texts reflecting more than one side of outstanding controversies.

These basic principles are still so widely accepted that no one can really challenge them, at least not directly. Nonetheless, my campaign to support them has been met with a wall of opposition and ad hominem slander by the academic establishment -- the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, faculty unions and professional associations -- and the Democratic Party, both locally and nationally. Since opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights understand that they cannot openly defend the practice of classroom indoctrination they have resorted instead to campaigns of distortion, defamation, and denial.

They have claimed that the Academic Bill of Rights is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They accuse me of making up both the problem and the facts that describe it. Though my stated goal is to promote intellectual diversity in the classroom, they have denounced me as a “McCarthyite” bent on thought control. They have sought to dismiss me as a right-wing extremist whose real agenda is to fire leftwing professors and hire conservatives to replace them.

All these slanders are brazen falsehoods but this last one – which has been made by faculty spokesmen, by Democratic politicians and by mainstream editorial writers is a particular outrage. The claim that the Academic Bill of Rights is a plan to fire leftwing faculty is refuted by its own first principles, which state in plain English that professors must not be hired or fired on the basis of their political opinions.

The fact that professors and editorial writers on the left are willing to tell such an easily exposed lie betrays both their arrogant confidence that they control the media and their determination to defend a status quo in which conservative students are harassed by leftist professors and students of all persuasions are denied the opportunity to receive an education in which respect is paid to the pluralism of ideas.

I have described and documented all these matters in a book called Reforming Our Universities, which will be published by Regnery at the end of this month. It is a detailed account of our campaign whose achievements --despite the obstacles placed in its way -- are not small. We were able to get the American Council on Education, which represents 1800 universities and colleges, to support our core principles and to secure students unprecedented academic freedom rights at more than a dozen major schools including Ohio State, Penn State and Temple universities.

We could have succeeded in securing these rights to many more students at many more schools if we had been able to enlist the conservative movement and the Republican Party in our efforts. As it is we have had only one consistent, boots-on-the-ground ally, and that is Ron Robinson’s Young America's Foundation. But this support has been enough to help us make the Academic Bill of Rights the most discussed classroom issue in the university world, and the subject of literally thousands of discussions in the national media. And we are only beginning.

I want to use this evening’s platform to inform you about a new campaign I am launching this month, which in my view is the most effective way available in the present political climate to advance the principles of intellectual diversity and academic freedom.

In a democracy there cannot be orthodoxy on matters of opinion. Students must have the right to hear more than one side of controversial issues. This is so basic you might well ask who could oppose it? The answer is the same enormously powerful coalition that has opposed the Academic Bill of Rights – the coalition of anti-democratic and anti-intellectual forces who call themselves, Orwell style, “progressives,” “liberals” and Democrats. They are determined to ensure that there is no other voice in the room but theirs. That is why they harass conservative students and suppress conservative books. And that is why the “Adopt a Dissenting Book” campaign is so important.

The inspiration for the campaign was a visit I made last spring to the University of Massachussetts, Amherst. While there I audited an hour-and-a-half political science lecture about the Warren Court’s landmark decisions on civil liberties. This particular class was the choice of the students who invited me to UMass, many of them members of Young America’s Foundation and also of College Republicans. The lecturer was a well-known political scientist, a nationally recognized expert in the field.

My conservative student hosts recommended this particular class because its professor was in their words, the best available, and also, they assured me, the most fair-minded. The University of Massachussetts is itself a depressingly radical school where the indoctrination of students in leftwing ideologies is routine.

The students said to me, “We know this professor is a liberal because sometimes he leaks his prejudices to us. But he’s very fair and he doesn’t indoctrinate us.” When I entered his classroom I saw that half my student hosts were taking the course, or – I should probably put it – taking refuge in his course from the harassment they experienced in other political science courses. One of them had told me that his professor had given a test that consisted of a speech by Ronald Reagan and a single question, although it wasn’t really a question. It said: “Explain why Reagan is Wrong.”

In the event, the lecture by the fair-minded professor turned out to be an eye-opener for me because it bore only a slight resemblance to what I had been led by the students to expect. Previously, I had been of the opinion that professors who use their classrooms as platforms for their political prejudices represent a minority of faculty. I estimated this minority to be about ten percent based on the fact that that was the percentage of Harvard faculty who forced Larry Summers’ resignation because his ideas were politically incorrect. That would be 60,000 leftwing faculty ideologues nationally. I now have to revise my estimate upwards -- significantly upwards -- because that Massachusetts classroom showed me that even liberal professors with a reputation among conservative students for fairness will not give democracy a chance.

It is true that the UMass professor did not indulge in anti-Republican or anti-capitalist or anti-American rants, a widespread practice among his radical colleagues. Nor did he seek in an overt manner to discredit conservative opinions and those who voiced them, also a common faculty trope. His manner was properly academic. But my conservative student hosts had also assured me that he didn’t indoctrinate them, and what I heard with my own ears was quite the opposite.

The Warren Court, the subject of his lecture, changed the face of America and is responsible for much of the bitter polarization of our politics today. It is the reason why Supreme Court nominations are now so polarized and almost entirely political. It is why the judiciary is now less a check on the power of the legislative and executive branches than an extension of the political forces that affect both. It is why the constitutional pillars of our democracy have been eroded. But no student taking the course I audited at the University of Massachusetts would come out of it understanding these facts.

If the professor had presented the liberal rulings of the Warren Court along with the objections of the conservative minority – and presented them in a respectful manner -- and then had said it was his personal view that the Warren Court’s decisions were correct, I would have had no problem with his lecture.

But he did not do this. Instead he presented the liberal Court’s decisions as a salesman for the majority’s point of view. He did not explain the conservative opposition, and he left the distinct impression that no one who thought of himself as a modern person, or a rational person or a moral person could fail to approve what the liberal Court did. This was a sophisticated form of indoctrination. It was so effective that none of the conservative students who recommended his class to me understood that that is what it was.

When the professor discussed the establishment of religion clause in connection with the 1964 decision to ban prayer in the schools, he never once mentioned the fundamental conservative objection -- that the establishment clause refers to the establishment of a particular religion and was not intended to enjoin public institutions from acknowledging that a Creator exists.

After all, the Founders were largely religious refugees (or descendents of refugees) who had been persecuted by the Church of England, which was able to use government powers against rival denominations. They came to America to seek religious freedom not to create a government that distanced itself from worshipping the source of that freedom, as they themselves had proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.

Prayer in the schools was a routine practice in this country for nearly 200 years before the liberals banned it. Such prayer may or may not qualify as the kind of establishment of religion on which the Founders frowned, but clearly it is possible for reasonable, and moral, and modern people to disagree on this matter. Yet that was something no student in this professor’s class could possibly understand from his lecture.

The professor then turned to the abortion issue and the precedent-setting case of Griswold v. Connecticut. The Griswold case involved a Connecticut law banning contraceptives. In order to declare the law unconstitutional, the liberal majority had to invent a “right to privacy” which it alleged was in a “penumbra” – or shadow -- of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, since not even a liberal could find that right in the daylight of what the Constitution’s authors had actually written.

This penumbra became the basis for Roe v. Wade, the Court decision outlawing abortions as unconstitutional because they violated the “right to privacy” which the court liberals had just invented.

The UMass professor did concede that a “right to privacy” cannot be found in the Constitution, but then he argued that its invention out of whole cloth was a gift, allowing Americans to march into the progressive future. We could all be thankful to the Court’s liberals, because none of us really want the police knocking on our doors and asking to search our bedrooms for contraceptives. What modern, enlightened, progressive person could disagree with that?

What the professor was hiding from his students was the fact that opposing Griswold was not the same as supporting the bad law, which was in fact constitutional. What conservatives supported was the principle that Supreme Court justices were obligated to base their decisions on what the Constitution actually said and not to rewrite it to their taste, so that it could be used to strike down laws they didn’t like.

The conservatives were opposed to having nine un-elected judges remake the Constitution every year to suit their prejudices however progressive. The only constitutional way to remake the Constitution is to amend it through an electoral process. That is the way a democracy works. What the professor did not tell his students was that there is another perfectly simple and democratic way to get rid of a stupid law, which is to have the legislature repeal it and write a new one.

The deceptive and manipulative lecture I witnessed would have been less a problem if at least one of the assigned texts for the course had been written by a conservative critic of the Warren Court. That would have allowed students to make up their own minds. But in fact there was only one text assigned for the course and it was written by a liberal, and a strong supporter of the Warren philosophy, Jeffrey Toobin. Assigning only one leftwing text is in itself a not-so-subtle way of telling students that there is only one acceptable view of these controversial and divisive issues, which are so crucial for the future of our country.

The following week I visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there I learned that the identical course was being offered for political science majors. The only difference was that this professor, according to the students, was indeed a raving and ranting leftist who overtly inflicted his partisan agendas on his captive subjects. As with the course at the University of Massachusetts there was only one assigned text, and it was the same text written by Jeffrey Toobin.

The most troubling aspect of this whole experience for me was the fact I have already mentioned -- that the conservative students didn’t realize they were being indoctrinated. It is not an unfamiliar experience for me. When I visited Carleton College, the extremely bright conservative students I met told me they were not being indoctrinated. But when I asked them if they were being taught as a scientific fact that race, class and gender hierarchies rule America, every one of them told me they were being taught exactly that. I have encountered this situation at hundreds of universities across America. If it should continue unchallenged, the idea that there is only one set of opinions appropriate to people who consider themselves educated will insinuate itself into the national culture. And when that happens it will spell the end of our democracy as we know it.

My experience in Massachusetts led me to devise the campaign to Adopt a Dissenting Book. It showed me that the trend towards politicizing our university classrooms is not confined to radical ideologues in Women’s Studies and Peace Studies departments. It is pervasive. If professors are not recruiting for revolutionary parties, they are recruiting for the Democratic Party. This is what schools in totalitarian countries do. They tell students what to think; they do not teach them how to think. They indoctrinate students in political orthodoxies and recruit them to political agendas.

At the end of the month, we will launch our campaign to prevent this from happening in America. At that time the students I met in Massachusetts will begin asking their professor to assign an additional text in his class, one that is written by a conservative and is critical of the liberal majority on the Warren Court. Two sides to an argument is the American way. In the long run a democracy like ours cannot survive if its schools insist there is only one.

If the professor rejects the idea of books with differing views, we will take the request to the chairman of the department. If his answer is negative we will take it to the dean of the college, and then to the chancellor and then to the president and the board of trustees. And we will take it to the press and the public. We will hold “Adopt A Dissenting Book Days” and “Awareness Weeks” especially when parents are visiting a school to look it over as prospective consumers. We will do everything in our power to embarrass university officials by exposing their hypocrisy on this issue so fundamental to our democracy. Universities should not be claiming to educate students when in fact they are indoctrinating them; or claim to be defenders of academic freedom when in fact they are suppressing ideas with which they disagree.

The strength of our mission lies in the fact that its purpose is to defend what this country has stood for since its creation. Because of this fact universities are unable to defend in public what they do behind closed doors, as Alan Kors observed many years ago. If they are made aware of what is happening, the American public – the consumers of the university product – will not stand for a school system that is one-sided; that censors dissenting views; and that attempts to impose a political orthodoxy on its students.

The problem we are facing, in other words, is one that is in our own hands to solve. We have lost our schools because we have not been in the fight, and for the most part are still not in the fight. Radicals were able to suborn our universities and turn large segments of them into indoctrination and recruitment centers because we did nothing to stop them. Our academic freedom has been eroded because we have done nothing to defend it. Our academic standards have been debased because we have done nothing to uphold them. How did an anti-American charlatan such as Ward Churchill become a tenured professor and department chair teaching students that America is a genocidal nation, which deserves to be destroyed? Because we did nothing to uphold the academic standards that would have denied him the ability to do so. The unrepentant terrorist, now “Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Education,” Billy Ayers is another case in point. And there are tens of thousands like him.

If you do not think we can lose this country, think again. There has never been a President in the White House as radical as the man who occupies it now. There has never been a moment in our country’s history when the assault on its institutions and principles was orchestrated by the federal government itself, as is the case now.

The battles we face are about more than just elections. They are about the culture, the framework of ideas and institutional values that sustain the democratic outlook. They are about the very idea of freedom and what it means: whether it is conceived as the liberty of the individual, requiring limits on government, or whether it is conceived as a collective power to enforce the will of a political elite, justifying the expansion of government into a totalitarian state.

Right now, we are the problem. The enemies of freedom will be there tomorrow, as they were there yesterday, and are there today. The only difference will be whether we are there as well. The tea parties are a beginning. The decades of effort by the Young America’s Foundation are a beginning. But we have to swell our ranks and multiply our efforts many times to think about being able to stop them. I hope you will all go out and redouble your efforts to defend what you know is right. I hope you will join us in our campaign to get university professors to assign books that defend the principles of the constitutional founding; that defend the free market and the free enterprise system; that defend individual freedom, and that defend our country.  I hope you will take your stand in this fight for our future, and will not let up until our institutions are restored and our liberties are secure.

To get involved in The Adopt a Dissenting Book Campaign, contact Jeffrey Wiener at The Freedom Center Student Center at [email protected].