The Magazine

Truth to Power

David Horowitz vs. the professoriat.

Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By PETER WOOD
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Reforming Our Universities

Truth to Power

David Horowitz and his security guards


The Campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights

by David Horowitz

Regnery, 256 pp., $27.95

Why doesn’t David Horowitz give up?

That question will occur to most readers well before they reach the end of Reforming Our Universities. This is a narrative of frustration, disappointment, resurgent optimism, further defeat, and finally the rescuing of small consolation from the wreckage of high hope. For his trouble, Horowitz endures vilification piled on calumny; gets to see his olive branches to the academic left treated as though they were curare-tipped arrows; and secures the support of allies that range from faint-hearted Chihuahuas to politically clueless puppies. So why doesn’t Horowitz give up? For the publication of this volume is ample proof that he has not; and though Horowitz has much to complain about, Reforming Our Universities seems untouched by self-pity. He has indignation to spare, but the spirit of this narrative of his six-year campaign to persuade American universities to embrace fair-minded intellectual inquiry is the spirit of undaunted determination.

The “Academic Bill of Rights” itself is a 400-word, eight-point list that is so blandly wholesome it could be printed on the side of a grass-fed organic milk carton. Who would really object to universities hiring faculty members “on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise” (that’s article one) or committing themselves not to exclude people on the basis of their “political or religious beliefs” from tenure and search committees (article two)? Who would think it seriously amiss to declare, as article three does, that students “be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs”? Those aren’t rhetorical questions. The American Historical Association adopted a unanimous resolution, on January 9, 2006, condemning “so-called Academic and Student Bills of Rights” on the grounds that they would transfer important academic decisions to “governmental authorities and other agencies .  .  . violate academic freedom .  .  . and undermine professional standards.” That is a highly imaginative reading of the document that Horo​witz was promoting. Of course, the Academic Bill of Rights says nothing about changing the locus of decision-making authority, and it leaves traditional notions of academic freedom and professional standards intact.

The AHA condemnation was but one cobble in the fusillade. The Modern Languages Association and the American Library Association made similar pronouncements. Other organizations engaged in even greater belligerence: The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers undertook what can only be called campaigns of systematic calumny against both Horowitz and the bill, and at the center of these campaigns was the attempt to depict Horowitz as a fabulist and liar who had invented the stories he used to illustrate why students need to have some recourse when their professors substitute ideological indoctrination for disciplined inquiry. Horowitz became vulnerable to this charge because he sought the testimony of students who had had firsthand experience with thuggishly ideological professors. For example, an honors student at Georgia Tech, Ruth Malhotra, suddenly started receiving Fs and was forced to withdraw from a public policy class after she revealed to her professor that she was attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. With Horowitz’s help, Malhotra brought her case to the public, and Georgia Tech, which had initially sided with the professor, backed down. The course was reassigned to another instructor, and Malhotra finished it with an A.

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