Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

How much do we need "friends like these"?

I remember reading Ramparts magazine when I was a teenage wannabe leftist in the early 70s. And after I had migrated rightward (my first Republican presidential vote was in 1980), I noticed that David Horowitz, the erstwhile editor of Ramparts had done so as well. To be sure, his migration was much more consequential and courageous than mine, which required little in the way of repudiating publicly-taken stands, cost me only one or two high school friends, and demanded only that I let my dad tell me "I told you so."

One thing that hasn’t changed about Horowitz is the take-no-prisoners style he honed in the 60s, now deployed over at Front Page Magazine and on behalf of the Academic Bill of Rights. It was on display over at MSNBC’s Scarborough Country this past week, where he claimed that there were "thousands" of Ward Churchills on college campuses across the country. Now, I’d be the last person to say that political discourse on college campuses isn’t skewed to the left and that there are not more Wards than Winstons to be found behind the lecterns in the ivy-covered halls. But Horowitzian hyperbole invites this sort of response from a prominent liberal political theorist:

SCARBOROUGH: He says there‘s not. But let me say this, though. I mean, last year, two professors did a large-scale survey of American professors and how they vote. Politically, this is what they found.

Anthropology professors vote Democratic by 30-1, sociology professors 28-1, political science professors 6-1. And on average, professors vote Democratic 15-1.

I suppose Scarborough’s "let me say this, though" acknowledges that he’s changing the subject. It would be hard to say with a straight face that the evidence of lopsided party membership — and I’ve already insisted that universities should be more diverse — supports the claim that there are thousands of Ward Churchills. Or even 1,000. Before Scarborough produced that data, Horowitz had suggested a link:

HOROWITZ: ... It‘s a well-known principle of group psychology that, if you fill a room with like-minded people, the center of the room is going to move to the extreme. Our faculties are 90 percent to 95 percent people of the left, so, of course, you are going to get a lot of Ward Churchills as a result.

His "a lot" quickly followed his "thousands." I doubt the "well-known principle" generates thousands of Churchills. I doubt it partly for empirical reasons: I don’t know any, and I’ve been in universities for decades. No, don’t try suggesting that I wouldn’t even notice. And I doubt it partly because it’s very hard to imagine the effect could be so extreme. Does your church generate martyrs and saints?

(I’ll let the last sentence go, for the moment, though there are plenty of
contemporary martyrs and "sainthood" may not have to be conferred by the Roman Catholic Church.)

The point is that Horowitz’s extreme claims are easy for academics to dismiss. As Don Herzog (the theorist I quoted above) points out, Horowitz is really not talking to those of us inside the academy, but uses his inflammatory rhetoric to mobilize external constituencies, like state legislators. Now, Horowitz insists that if universities regulate themselves, he’ll back off:

Look, the bill is necessary. The legislatures are necessary because the other side, as represented by Mr. Bowen [Roger Bowen, of the AAUP] and by these university presidents, will not even acknowledge that there‘s a problem until they have a hammer over them. The minute they recognize that and take steps to reform their institutions, we will withdraw the legislation.

What troubles me about the entire undertaking is what remains of Horowitz’s 60s-era political sensibilities, that politics is everything and that it essentially determines the way faculty approach their classrooms and their students. If that’s true, then the only way to achieve "balance" on campus is to engage in "affirmative action" for conservatives or conservative viewpoints. But what if what we’re trying to accomplish is not so much equal ideological representation as a return to fair-mindedness? Horowitz’s willingness to turn up the heat doesn’t get us there, because it essentially concedes that ideology is everything, which means that there’s no possibility of genuine intellectual community, no possibility (ultimately) of genuine rational discourse, and hence, in the end, no real univers[al]ity. If Horowitz is right, we will have met the enemy and found that they are us.

Discussions - 13 Comments

No, Horowitz doesn’t get us there but he does draw attention to the fact that universities are allowing small cadres of tenured leftist bullies to have free reign.

If univesity administrators were doing an evenhanded job of insisting on professional standards of behavior from all professors and staff regardless of political convictions, FIRE would go out of existence. They’re not and the heat has to be turned up until they do.

"If univesity administrators were doing an evenhanded job of insisting on professional standards of behavior from all professors and staff regardless of political convictions, FIRE would go out of existence."

Hmmmm...so, if I’m following your argument here, the idea is that if a certain organization exists to deal with a problem that they (and their members and/or supporters) claim is burdening society in some way, then the problem must be real. If the organization (FIRE) exists, the problem (Leftist indoctrination and bullying on univ. campuses) exists. I also know of organizations that say that they are working to fight against racism (in various forms), sexism, environmental destruction and deterioration, animal cruelty, and American militarism and imperialism, among, of course, many other issues. Yet, somehow, I doubt that you necessarily see all of the issues that they address as real. If I were to take the right-wing approach to dismissing the group FIRE, I’d just say that they are "a bunch of whiners" and be done with it. But I know that kind of thing isn’t sufficient. There’s a whole debate to be had. Anyway, I think the argument that the existence-of-an-organization proves the purpose-of-an-organization is valid is pretty weak.

What is a "Ward Churchill" anyway? Horowitz’s statement has to be taken as rhetorical. I think Noam Chomsky - in certain respects - is a "Ward Churchill."

Perhaps a "Ward Churchill" is a tenured academic who primarily uses his position to advocate his political positions. In other words, he is making minimal contributions to his discipline. There are plenty of academics who fall in that category.

Churchill, of course, was a fraud from the beginning whose "field" is a pseudo-discipline that is inherently political. I doubt that there are thousands of people who fit that description.

There are tens of thousands of academics and administrators who, consciously or not, use their positions in a dishonest way to further the political agendas of the secularist left. This is the real issue. These are the people who grant the Ward Churchills of the world tenure.

I agree that some kind of affirmative action program for conservatives on campus is not the answer.

I do not think the Academic Bill of Rights is workable for a host of reasons, first among them being that the academy this legislation is crafted to protect no longer exists. However, Horowitz’s numbers are not as fanciful as one might think. Let us consider the "studies" departments - Womyn’s studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, Chicano/a studies, Native American Studies, etc. These exist for one purpose - indoctrination. When Dr Knippenberg thinks about how many humanities professors could really be as bad as Ward Churchill, I suspect his default category of "professor" is a tenured instructor in an legitimate academic discipline - English, History, Political Science, Economics - or at least a useful pseudo-science like anthropology or sociology. While there are, no doubt, some shrill folks indoctrinating rather that teaching in these disciplines, I am sure they are a minority, even a tiny minority. However, when you broaden your gaze to these travesty "studies" disciplines, I would argue you can have nothing but fanaticism and advocacy, fear and guilt mongering. These are not legitimate disciplines, they are hives of indoctrination. Now the numbers - consider first that every state McUniversity has one or two such departments. Now add to the mix the really big state Universities that have three or more pseudo-disciplines represented in their humanities programs, and consider also those scores of trendier than thou private schools which do the same. There you have it, thousands of fanatics ramming their hate-america victim studies agenda down students’ throats, exactly like Horowitz said. The difference between Ward Churchill and anyone else working in these "disciplines" is one of shrillness, and degree. In substance, there is no difference whatsoever. Otherwise, these quacks and cranks could make it as lecturers in legitimate disciplines, and not have to be secluded in a no criticism, no reasonable peer review, fanatics-only-need-apply self imposed "studies" ghetto. Of course, for a legislature to suggest demolishing these intellectual rotten boroughs, which are the source of 90% of the problem, would be to listen to tenured fanatics and their indoctrinees howling about "racism," "hate," "genocide," etc until the end of time. I doubt anyone has the stomach for that. So the taxpayers continue to fund the hundreds, if not thousands of Ward Churchills, who in turn indoctrinate the natural leaners and followers among their children, all because legislators and Boards of Regents are afraid of fanatics calling them names. Profiles in courage! David Horowitz is not the problem...

Tony,

Is this going to be one of those tiresome epistemological-empirical debates where you intend to keep moving the goalposts in terms of what, to your undefined satisfaction, would constitute " proof " of the problem’s existence ? Or is this going to be a substantive dialogue ?

If the problem of left-wing bias on campus distorting due process and standards of scholarship is in your view, a non-issue,fine, make the case.

If you think it exists but David Horowitz is engaged in counterproductive jihad, fine, give me an alternative solution that works.

I’ll listen and respond to either but I’m not here to perform hoop-jumping tricks while you avoid the central issue entirely.

Mark - I’m not going to bother with any number of possible critiques addressing the alleged problem, primarily because you’ve demonstrated that you are a faithful partisan on the issue who’s not interested in logical arguments or analysis. The full extent of your "case" confirming that it’s a problem is that a group exists to confront it, and since that group continues to exist, the problem also continues (read your comment again, if necessary). So, if expecting you to follow basic standards of logic is asking you to "jump through hoops," I will cease and desist. I am considering starting a new organization though - BAMSLL: Blog-readers Against Mark Safranski’s Logical Legerdemain. As long as my group exists, the problem of your sophistry persists. You’ve helpfully provided me with the first piece of anecdotal evidence - thanks!

Joaeph: Since you clearly dont care for the Horowitz approach, please tell us how you would constructive increase the return to "fair mindedness". How would you measure success? And please dont forget the facto in the attitude of many on the left, as you can partially in Mark posts above, essentially its "Bias? What bias?" How will you get change form poeple who refuse to see and acknowledge a problem? This is the same refrain we hear about the media ( ie What bias). But I will have to concede that noone has yet tried, with a straight face, to say that Academia has a right bias, like some have tried to peddle about the Media.

Does Horowitz not bring external pressure to bear wear no internal pressure exists.

I wrote about this issue here and have posted on it here with many links to previous posts on the same subject.

In short, I think that it is important to publicize political abuses of the classroom wherever they occur and bring "market" pressure to bear on the institutions that tolerate or encourage them. By "market pressures," I mean students, parents, employers, philanthropists, and opinion makers, who "vote with their feet" by going elsewhere for education or employees, by celebrating examples of academic integrity, and supporting alternative centers of excellence. This will not happen overnight, but I would prefer to see a change in the academic pecking order or the emergence of new institutions rather than a ham-handed effort to impose political control on the universities.

I welcome the light Horowitz shines on particular abuses, for that helps to educate the consumers and funders. And perhaps he knows that his is an outside game, intended to force self-regulation, i.e., the voluntary reestablishment of traditional norms of scholarly discourse and pedagogy. But I think he runs the risk of simply posing one kind of politics against another, of even more pervasively politicizing higher education.

As parents and potential students, you can investigate more carefully the behavior and statements of faculty and administrators at the colleges and universities you’re considering. Don’t just go by the U.S. News and World Report rankings; look closely and choose less well-known institutions with more integrity over those prestigious places whose faculty have "shown their true colors," so to speak. As an employer, engage in the same kind of inquiry: products of highly-politicized environments are perhaps less likely to know where to draw the line in the workplace. If you have money to give, don’t throw it away on the wealthy schools that (1) don’t really need it and (2) often are the worst offenders when it comes to political abuses. Look for places that are genuinely keeping the light of liberal learning alive; help them grow.

Tony, instead of getting hysterical or engaging in irrelevant personal attacks why don’t you simply put your cards on the table and make an explicit argument about the topic at hand? Just fire off one of your " several possible critiques ". It doesn’t have to be your best effort or an extended essay, just reasonably unambiguous and coherent enough to avoid the string of ad hominem errors plaguing your previous post ;o)

Fair enough, but your initial post took issue with Horowitz’s "thousands." I think he is essentially right, as long as whole departments dedicated to nothing but advocacy "scholarship" exist - the number of Ward Churchills, to varying degrees of shrillness, is probably accurately reckoned in the thousands. Why is there only one person on the right saying this? Why are we embarassed of it?

Furthermore, a kid who cannot afford Hillsdale, Grove City, Wheaton, Baylor, et al - or who does not have the scores for those elite alternate institutions but still wants to go to college - will end up at state schools where "studies" departments participate in the laughable core cirriculum, and where taxpayers continue to subsidize this nonsense. "As for me and my family" is not a sufficient response to institutionalized victim studies at taxpayer funded institutions, is it?

Tony Are seriously implying that Leftist bias is not a problem on many if not most University and College campuses in the US? My first exhibit would be Prof Jensen at UT Austin. The college that invited Ward Churchill to speak and their little center for Creative nothingness which wanted to hire a Weather Underground member in the 60s who was unrepentant is exhibit two and on and on and opps we reched the posting limit!

If columnists from the Mew York Times proclaim that their newspaper is mainstream (and they do), how would you get leftist college professors to achieve ’balance’? it’s not possible. the community in colleges is so one-sided that they believe they ARE balanced. The only way to create a different environment is to introduce new points of view... new idiologies.

Mark - I can’t see how a reasonable person could describe any of my comments here as "hysterical." I also don’t know how I’ve personally attacked you. You were the first person to chime in on this post. You pushed a rather illogical point to support the "fact that universities are allowing small cadres of tenured leftist bullies to have free reign." This caught my attention, so I focused on it. I pointed out that there are lots of liberal "cause" groups fighting problems which you might feel are non-existent. To emphasize the point (existence of a group doesn’t prove that a problem that the group addresses actually exists) I even joked that I was starting a group whose entire purpose was to point out an alleged flaw in your overall thinking. If you can’t simply concede that you made a weak point (about the lefist bullies and the existence of FIRE), or explain how it actually WAS a logical argument, then I’ll leave you to your world of self-satisfied ideology and dogma.

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