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Truth to Power

David Horowitz vs. the professoriat.

Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By PETER WOOD
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Horowitz did, of course, find friends and allies along the way. Legislators in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia took an interest. Some introduced bills that encouraged colleges and universities to adopt Horowitz’s proposal. He also got support from a handful of university officials and trustees around the country, and some support from the leadership of organizations that promote reform in higher education. Steve Balch, chairman of the National Association of Scholars, testified to the Pennsylvania legislature in favor of the bill, but Horowitz registers disappointment with conservatives, libertarians, Republicans, and higher-ed reformers of all stripes. In his view, they have made the case many times over that American higher education is sunk in a mire of political correctness, but the reformers seem to do little beyond complain and try to fix things at the margins. Why did they make themselves so scarce when a forthright and powerful instrument of reform was put on the table? And for the few who came forward, why were their efforts so faint?

This indictment of the mainstream conservative movement and Republicans is clear-cut: They both essentially ceded higher education to the left and to the teachers’ unions a generation ago, and rarely can work up interest on anything other than the cost of tuition and the mismatch between college credentials and the needs of industry. To be sure, those are important matters in their own right, but by focusing exclusively on them, the right has given enormous power to the left to shape the worldview, the attitudes, the dispositions, and even the ignorance of generations of Americans. David Horowitz is an alarm clock trying to rouse the right from its torpor. He is, however, an alarm clock that will not be heard by some because he is so alarming. His talents for sharp-eyed observation, pithy pronouncement, and provocative framing make him awkward company. Even people who agree with his ideas shy from being his battle companion, partly for fear of errant missiles but also out of a need to draw their own distinctions and plan their own moves. Of course, Horowitz understands this, more or less, and there are some sad moments here when he acknowledges that he is most successful when he can erase himself from his own projects.

I am persuaded that the Academic Bill of Rights didn’t get a fair hearing, but I am less certain about what comes next. I know a good many of my fellow members of the National Association of Scholars were queasy about it—and probably on the mistaken grounds (incessantly promoted by the AAUP) that it is a call for government control and a demand for the politically motivated hiring of conservative scholars. Even if those misimpressions were cleared away, however, Horowitz and other proponents of the bill would have to find a new point of departure, and I don’t doubt that he has one in mind.

Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars.

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