Putting the Horror[-witz] in Academic Freedom

Unsurprisingly, David Horowitz is using the Ward Churchill affair to pimp his “Academic Bill of Rights” on the national talkshow circuit this week. Right now he’s chumming up to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough while sparring with Roger Bowen from the American Association of University Professors; I’ll post snippets from the transcript in a separate post.

It seems that Horowitz is quite the multimedia multi-tasker, for as of late he’s been crowbarring TV and radio interviews in between his current flame war with Michael Berube. In his most recent blog post, Horowitz manages to 1) call for Churchill’s dismissal; 2) urge the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents to “put the entire Ethnic Studies Department at Boulder on probation”; and 3) mischaracterize Berube, Sociologist Todd Gitlin and other “academics like them,” who “inhabit a monolithic academic universe where they don’t have to answer their critics because they’ve effectively purged them from the faculties of the universities they so gracelessly dominate.”

Horowitz, of course, is a well-funded (and, thus, well-known) right-wing politico, who actively encourages college students to employ a variety of search and destroy methods against their assumedly left-leaning instructors and administrators. One of my personal favorite methods implores students to scour voter registration databases to ferret out their professors’ voting habits and then report the results to Students For Academic Freedom, one of Horowitz’s plethora of non-profit organizations and political blogs that have spread and multiplied across the internet like the Nimda virus.

What I find particularly interesting is the specific targeting of “tenure and tenure-track” professors. Given the fact that 50% of all courses in American colleges and universities are taught by part-time faculty, it’s clear to see Horowitz’s real targets here are the hiring and promotion/tenure practices in higher education. On average, the institutions at which I have taught have 3:1 part-time to tenured-track faculty ratios; a couple have been as as high as 10:1. Why Horowitz doesn’t consider the voting habits of adjuncts or graduate students to be as important as those of their full-time, tenured colleagues probably has a lot to do with the inherent ebb and flow of the academic labor marketplace; however, this doesn’t acknowledge the very real reality that the Average Undergrad at Average University or (Average Community College) will have a large percentage of her first and second year classes taught by adjuncts or grad students. As part-time instructors are frequently the most exploited of all American workers, their inspirations to activism of any striation are held duly in check by their all-too-real political and economic realities. Surely, Horowitz knows this.

An arguably more odious method is this Academic Bias Complaint Form, which will send an electronic “complaint” to the Students For Academic Freedom website. Checkboxes are provided for the following harrowing academic abuses:

  • Required readings or texts covering only one side of issues.
  • Gratuitously singled out political or religious beliefs for ridicule.
  • Introduced controversial material that has no relation to the subject.
  • Forced students to express a certain point of view in assignments.
  • Mocked national political or religious figures.
  • Conducted political activities in class (e.g. recruiting for demonstrations).
  • Allowed students’ political or religious beliefs to influence grading.
  • Used university funds to hold one-sided partisan teach-ins or conferences.

The series of checkboxes is followed by a field that urges the student to describe the incident in as much detail “as possible, including quotes from your professor.” The “complaint” can be submitted anonymously; once submitted, the complaint form disappears and the complainer is redirected to the main Complaint index. It is not clear what happens to these complaints once they submitted, but it appears that someone/something screens them; the “most recent” post as of today’s date (24 Feb 2005) is dated “Sunday, February 13”).

This “complaint” highlights obviously harrowing problems with this reporting process in particular and Horowitz’s advocacy/agency at large:

Nature of Complaint—Required Readings

Description of Complaint—Fortunately, this isn’t my college I am having to report. A friend of mine attends Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA. He is a liberal which is fine, but he does not really pay much attention to politics. Therefore, he really does not have much of a clue as to what is going on. It is because of that I believe him to be vulnerable to his professor’s biases. His professor, Barbara Moore, who teaches a Critical Thinking and Writing class at Mt. SAC, assigned “Stupid White Men” and “Dude, What’s Happened to My Country?”, (both by Michael Moore), as required reading for this class. According this friend of mine, the class was told to write an argumentative paper on “Stupid White Men”. I do not know for certain what the professor will do, grade-wise, to those who hold a conservative stance on the book and I do not want to speculate. However, I was also told that after having read “Stupid White Men” and checking out the links given in the book, much of the typically conservative class expressed doubt and skepticism about their previous convictions. Of course, from an outsider’s perspective, I am thinking these people are being brainwashed. Many of them are young and still very impressionable. For the most part, I think it is safe to assume that they do not know enough about politics to be able to dispute the professor’s convictions. (That is just me contributing my two cents, though.)

Action Taken—I asked my mother what she thought might be a wise course of action and she recommended that I report the incident to your organization. After researching S.A.F., I decided that her recommendation was probably a good one. (I should have known from the start that it would be…)

Response from Professor or Administrator (If Any)—There was no response from the professor because I did not attempt to contact her.

It’s plain to see that the above “complaint” is entirely speculative and largely without merit. The anonymous person who submitted this does not attend the school in question, and therefore has no primary knowledge of what really happens in Barbara Moore’s classes at Mt. San Antonio College. And while this anonymous person may be concerned enough for her/his “friend” to single out Professor Moore, notice how that concern doesn’t translate into any action beyond what “my mother…thought might be a wise course of action,” namely that “I report the incident to your organization.” Good old Mom. She always knows best. Surely Mom knows that directly contacting Professor Moore wouldn’t be nearly as effective as posting to Horowitz’s website. I mean, really, what could Moore do anyway? She’s merely an adjunct in a community college English department, who can’t be reached directly via a campus phone number or email address (however: she can, apparently, be contacted via her email account at disney.com!).

Assuming Mom doesn’t know these things, though, she certainly knows “brainwashing” when she sees…errr…hears about it. Students who express “doubt and skepticism about their previous convictions” in a course titled “Critical Thinking and Writing” should naturally expect those convictions to remain perfectly intact. I mean, after all, the course’s stated objective to increase “the student’s capacity for logical analysis and argumentative writing” is, if nothing else, an overt indoctrination into that “monolithic academic universe” populated by part-time radicals who clearly hate America (why else would they moonlight at Disney??). Right?

*sigh*

As the Churchill debate doesn’t look like it’s going to die down anytime soon, you’ll undoubtedly be seeing and hearing a lot more from the likes of “anonymous” and Mr. Horowitz, as both are striking while the iron’s hot, with impunity and on multiple fronts. While UC-Boulder’s Board of Regents ponders the legal ramifications of firing Churchill (recent public comments by the university’s president Elizabeth Hoffman suggest as much…), a cadre of Ohio lawmakers are introducing legislation that literally takes a page or two from Horowitz’s book on so-called “academic freedom.”

Brrrr!!!! What’s that chill in the air?? How strange. I distinctly thought I smelled something burning..

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