Horowitz Country

As previously mentioned here, David Horowitz tangled with the AAUP’s Roger Bowen on yesterday’s Scarborough Country. MSNBC has posted a video clip here.


SCARBOROUGH: David Horowitz, do you really think that it’s a safe thing to put governments in charge of what professors can and can not say?

HOROWITZ: Well, look, the reason I have gone to legislatures, I went to the president of Colorado University two years ago, and I told her that she was going to have a problem with radical professors in the time of a war on terror who are going to step out of line and damage the university, and that the solution was not to fire these professors, although Churchill is a fraud and should be probably fired on those grounds, but not to fire radical professors but just get some diversity in the mix, get other points of view.

The American public will support a marketplace of ideas in education. What they won’t support is a left-wing monolith with extremists like Churchill as their part of the mix…

BOWEN: …I think you asked David the right question. Do you want government to intervene? Ask the question, do you want government to make sure the Joe Scarborough show has a liberal or a radical to counterpose your values and your statements? I think it’s a bad idea. If you believe in the marketplace of ideas, marketplace of ideas should not be regulated. And I find it ironic that we have a conservative here who is known for his lack of balance insisting on regulation in the marketplace of ideas. There’s a contradiction there, and I think Mr. Horowitz needs to deal with it in an honest way. And pointing to the Ward Churchills of the world—and there are not thousands of them. I am amazed that Mr. Horowitz has done the math. There are not thousands. I think pointing to him is feeding into a public frenzy.


BOWEN: And I think that’s wrong.

HOROWITZ: Well, look, it’s only leftists that think that I lack balance…

BOWEN: I would love to have more conservatives, but I think many of them prefer to go into banking or perhaps into economics…We do need more conservatives in the academy. I encourage conservatives to go into the academy. I encourage Mr. Horowitz to apply for an academic job. And the first thing that he will discover is that the search committee will not ask him whether he is a Republican or a Democrat, but, instead, they will look at his credentials. And if he has a Ph.D. and he is well trained, and certainly smart, I grant that, I think he has got a good shot of getting a job in the academy.

SCARBOROUGH: There you go, David.

BOWEN: Now, come on, Mr. Horowitz.

SCARBOROUGH: There you go, David.

HOROWITZ: That’s completely ridiculous.

Look, the bill is necessary. The legislatures are necessary because the other side, as represented by Mr. Bowen 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.

There are a couple of points I want to make here. Rhet students, take particular notice:

1) When Horowitz dodges Scarborough’s question about the role the state should play in college governance, Bowen quickly calls him on it. Horowitz’s paltry answer towards the end of their exchange argues legislation is a necessary “hammer” to get U.S. colleges and universities to toe the line. It’s not clear who he means by “we” when he announces that “we will withdraw the legislation” when they “reform their institutions.” I think it’s important to point out Horowitz is no more a legislator than he is an academic; he is a lobbyist and social activist beholden to the respective Olin, Bradley and Scaife foundations that have paid his bills for the last 20 years. Are these right-wing foundations the “we” he means?

2) Bowen’s setup for a very subtle ad hominem attack on Horowitz’s credentials is quite ingenious. “If he has a Ph.D,” Bowen cheerfully explains, “…he has got a good shot of getting a job in the academy.” Bowen must know that Horowitz’s post-graduate degree is an M.A. from UC-Berkeley; without Ph.D in-hand, Horowitz would be almost certainly be ineligible for the overwhelming majority of tenure-track jobs in the academic marketplace. Horowitz smartly refuses to take the bait here, but begs the question nonetheless: what part (if any) does Horowitz’s personal lack of a terminal academic degree play in his ongoing war against hiring and promotion/tenure practices in U.S. colleges and universities?


2 responses to “Horowitz Country

  • P-BS-Watcher

    At least your post takes the subtlety out of the ad hominem attack. Difficult to see how Horowitz’ qualifications for academia affect the validity of his claims. Interesting that Bowen and others want to dispute the numbers of Ward Churchills in academia. See Thousands of Little Ward Churchills

  • Trevor Dodge

    I was merely raising the question as to Horowitz’s qualifications as one possibility for his selectively targeting tenured professors. Again, I don’t think his real beef is with “academic freedom,” but the process by which academics are hired (and, ultimately, promoted). Again, 50% of all college classes in the US are taught by part-time instructors, yet Horowitz and his “Student for Academic Freedom” organization tends to ignore this very basic fact by urging students to investigate the voting patterns of tenured faculty. Horowitz is incredibly well-educated, but he doesn’t hold a terminal degree, and tenure-track jobs in the humanities and social sciences at four-year institutions almost universally require the candidate have a terminal degree (Ph.D, MFA, J.D., etc). I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the equation here. It very well may not be, but, then again, it easily could be too.

    Because, at least as far as I understand it, Horowitz’s problem with the whole Churchill flap has nothing to do with anything Churchill has written or said; rather, Horowitz is pointing towards the falliability of the institution that should have properly vetted and hired him. If Churchill should be fired, Horowitz says, it should be based solely on his academic credentials. Paramount to this problem, Horowitz claims, is that hiring committees are composed of lefties who all think the same and are protecting some sort of radical clergy. I myself have only served on one hiring committee so far, so I have limited experience in what he’s talking about, but I don’t recall any conversations about the political beliefs or voting patterns of potential candidates.

    As to Churchill’s essay itself: his comparison of World Trade Center workers to “little Eichmanns” is a logical stretch at best, and a deliberate outrage at worst, but it is, regardless, still a comparison, and something that we should probably talk about beyond our initial reactions. I tend to look at that “Some People Push Back” essay as a product of his writing process on September 11, 2001. The essay careens from point to point, at times making large assumptions about the reader that could easily backfire, at other times making very salient points that would hopefully lead a reader to conduct further investigation.

    His choice of examples in places is certainly questionable, but I wouldn’t categorically say that the essay is entirely out of line or somehow dangerous to anyone reading it. In the end, I think it forces us to clarify our positions in relation to Churchill’s, and invites us (however backhandedly) to a pretty important conversation about why 9/11 happened, beyond the pat and paltry “they hate our freedom.” Academics like Churchill and Noam Chomsky are fairly blunt about why 9/11 happened; they may or may not be right, but at least they’re raising the question in ways that will get people to engage. If we can’t–or shouldn’t–have these conversations in the first place, we’re no longer living in a free society, and academia is no more than calculated job training.

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