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T he politics of fear-mongering have been given yet another target: education. Conservative activists who have long bemoaned the changing face of the university in U.S. society have mounted a campaign for education “reform” in college classrooms. Unfortunately for college students, this campaign is not driven by a concern over the quality of education in this country, but rather by nostalgia for a bygone era when the university was the exclusive domain of wealthy white men. As the demographic makeup of the student population has steadily become more diverse over the past several decades, so too has the content of college curricula. This move away from the canon of dead white men has prompted many conservatives to charge that institutions of higher learning are afflicted with a “liberal” bias so deep-seated as to undermine academic freedom and alienate conservative-minded students.
Indeed, it seems as if history is gearing up to repeat itself. In the days of the “red scare,” the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)—and similar investigations by the infamous Joseph McCarthy—selectively targeted the country’s colleges and universities. The ivory tower was thought to be overflowing with Marxist professors and Soviet sympathizers.
To many in America after World War II, the thought of communist agents masquerading within sectors of U.S. society was terrifying. The government used this paranoia to broaden its definition of communism and, by extension, the communist threat. The public’s perception of the red menace gradually evolved from initial tolerance for dissent and hesitations about violating people’s basic civil liberties to the conviction that communists were so uniquely dangerous that their rights could be ignored. The weight of public opinion, along with considerable pressure from the government, forced the academic community to purge itself. In the name of national security, many left-leaning teachers were driven out of the school system amid charges that they were unfit to teach. University of Washington president Raymond B. Allen expressed the views of many in 1948 when he insisted that communists, by virtue of their party membership, were “incompetent, intellectually dishonest, and derelict in their duty to find and teach the truth.”
In a stunning display of hypocrisy, many of the nation’s leading educators completely ignored the research and teaching of supposed communist professors on their campuses. They claimed that because party members were, by definition, unable to speak and think independently, they could not be objective scholars and were thus, in the words of Harvard president James Bryant Conant, “out of bounds as members of the teaching profession.” In other words, they fell victim to the very same intellectual conformity that was the basis of their charge against communists in the first place.
Today, U.S. colleges and universities are once again the subject of an ideological witch-hunt. Under the guise of protecting academic freedom, conservative groups are pushing state governments to adopt what is being disingenuously referred to as the Academic Bill of Rights. The bill—which has also been introduced in the House of Representatives—is the brainchild of ultraconservative ideologue David Horowitz and his group, Students for Academic Freedom. Despite its seemingly democratic handle, the Academic Bill of Rights is nothing more than a transparent political attempt to silence the opinions of those with whom Horowitz and other conservatives disagree. Also outrageous is that this bill attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
In order to “prove” that conservative professors are treated unfairly in the hiring process, Horowitz surveyed professors’ political party affiliation. Because the number of registered Democrats was significantly higher than the number of registered Republicans, he made the dubious inference that liberal professors receive undue preference when being hired. But the only thing proved by a head count of Democrats and Republicans is that there are more Democrats than Republicans. This is hardly evidence of a massive liberal bias.
As for the second charge—that professors are brainwashing their students with radical liberal ideas like evolution and the minimum wage—Horowitz has compiled a list of anecdotes by students who have been upset by the conduct of their professors. These complaints indicate that some students aren’t too happy about hearing different viewpoints, but they do little to suggest indoctrination. However, the nature of this claim makes it harder to disprove. There is no objective standard for classifying non-offensive material and thus the only way to assess the validity of these allegations is by a case-bycase investigation. I have no doubt that the student’s interviewed by Horowitz were outraged by the conduct of their professors, but that does not mean that we must automatically recognize their complaints as legitimate.
This last point is especially important given Horowitz’s tendency to distort the truth in order to buoy his political crusade. This past March a well publicized complaint from a student at the University of Northern Colorado was found to be patently false. The circumstances surrounding this complaint are particularly important, as it formed the basis for a great many of Horowitz’s speeches promoting his bill. In his version, the student (who remains nameless) was asked on a test to “explain why George Bush is a war criminal” and when she submitted an essay on why Saddam Hussein was a war criminal, she received an F. In reality, the test question was not the one Horowitz described and the grade was not an F. The professor who was held up as an example of out-of-control liberal academics is a registered Republican.
Aside from being completely baseless, the Academic Bill of Rights undermines what it supposedly aims to protect: academic freedom. Although Horowitz would have us believe that pluralism is needed to enforce the American Association of University Professor’s neutrality principle—which states that “no political, ideological, or religious orthodoxy should be imposed on professors and researchers”—in truth, it’s a Trojan horse for his right-wing agenda. Under the cover of pluralism, the Academic Bill of Rights would force teachers by law to adopt political instead of scholarly standards when evaluating what does and doesn’t belong in the classroom.
The danger here is that diversity will be measured by the political standards of mainstream conservatism and not by the criteria of academia. For example, no department of political science should be obligated to establish a “plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by hiring a professor of Nazi political philosophy if that philosophy is not considered to be a reasonable option within the discipline of political theory. The only measure of diversity should be academic judgment guided by the relevant disciplinary standards of the day. The reason this wasn’t written into the bill (aside from the fact that it is already the established policy of the AAUP) is because Horowitz isn’t really interested in balance and even-handedness, he’s interested in silencing liberal professors. In order to do this, the Academic Bill of Rights would literally prevent faculty members from exercising their own judgment.
Currently, the line between pedagogy and indoctrination is determined by reference to scholarly and professional standards as interpreted by the professors themselves. In other words, we leave it up to a biology professor to decide whether or not, as President Bush has said, “the jury is still out on evolution.” By contrast, the Academic Bill of Rights proposes that such distinctions be made by the college and university administrations or by the courts.
The difference is fundamental. At its most basic level, the purpose of higher education is to teach students to exercise responsible judgment. This objective can only be fulfilled if the faculty has the authority to freely and independently guide and instruct students. Horowitz would deny professors this authority and thus prevent colleges and universities from achieving their fundamental purpose. When coupled with the skepticism of professional knowledge that is the central theme of the bill, we find ourselves in a situation where decisions that should be grounded in professional competence and expertise are being based on political criteria—like the number of Republicans on the faculty.
There is an ugly irony to all this. The problem, according to Students for Academic Freedom, is that “You can’t get an education if you’re only hearing half the story.” The solution, it seems, is to sacrifice the quality of everyone’s education in the name of an illegitimate and artificial diversity. Consider this passage from the bill: “Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints…. Academic disciplines should welcome a variety of approaches to unsettled questions.”
All this begs the question: if the Academic Bill of Rights undermines academic freedom, what is the real motive behind Horowitz’s campaign? Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as many of the bill’s opponents may think. The Academic Bill of Rights is not just the work of one person, but is the mantelpiece of a much broader conservative crusade to “reclaim” the university.
The social transformations of the last half-century—civil rights, women’s liberation, and the rise of multiculturalism—have legitimatized new disciplines of study and college curriculum has been reformed accordingly. As with most progressive cultural shifts, it was only a matter of time before a backlash developed. Horowitz is currently riding the wave of this reactionary movement, a movement that marks another battle in the seemingly endless culture wars. What remains certain is that the Academic Bill of Rights is this decade’s blacklist. Like Joseph McCarthy before him, Horowitz is prosecuting a witch-hunt. This time around, let’s make sure that history does not repeat itself. The education of America’s youth hangs in the balance.
Morgan Cohen is a student at Dartmouth College.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.