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Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2002 / 27 Elul 5762

David Horowitz

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The problem with America's colleges --- and the solution | Universities are among our most important social institutions. They educate our youth, train future leaders, provide information and research, advance scientific and medical knowledge, generate technological innovation, and shape the attitudes that define us as a people. Yet universities are also anomalies in our national framework. Vital as they are to the functioning of our democracy, they are themselves undemocratic.

Overall, there is little or no accountability on the part of these institutions to the wider community that supports them and underwrites the affluence to which their principals have become accustomed. Whether private or public, whether operating under the aegis of state-appointed boards or private corporations, universities are effectively ruled by internal bureaucracies, which operate under a cloak of secrecy and are protected from oversight by privileges and traditions that date back to feudal times.

Thus, academic hiring committees are elitist and self-selecting, and function like medieval guilds to insulate themselves from external scrutiny. Once an academic hire is made, faculty "tenure" provides lifetime employment to the competent and the incompetent, the scholar and the ideologue alike. This means that outside the hard sciences and practical professions, there is no bottom-line in the university for bad ideas or discredited doctrines. Working in combination with these academic realities, the tolerant attitudes of a free society have made it possible for ideological minorities in the social sciences and related fields to enforce a political conformity otherwise incomprehensible in a modern democracy.

As a result, while the red and blue electoral map reveals an America that is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, in the nation's universities Republicans (and conservatives) have become almost as rare as unicorns. In most schools, Republicans are less well represented than Greens, Marxists and sects of the far left. This is an indefensible situation with far-reaching implications.

"Diversity" may be one of the contemporary university's most cherished values, but university officials with near universality have interpreted diversity to mean anything but a plurality of viewpoints - arguably the most important diversity of all. What is knowledge if it is thoroughly one-sided, or intellectual freedom if it is only freedom to conform? And what is a "liberal education," if one point of view is for all intents and purposes excluded from the classroom? How can students get a good education, if they are only being told one side of the story? The answer is they can't. Even for $30,000 a year.

In the spring of 2002, a dinner was held at Harvard to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Salient, a conservative campus paper not supported by the university. One of the dinner speakers was the Salient's lone faculty sponsor, Professor Harvey Mansfield - so notorious for being the only outspoken conservative at Harvard that this oddity was the focus of a New York Times feature story. The other speaker was National Review managing editor Jay Nordlinger, whose talk was titled, "The Conservative on Campus:"

I attended the University of Michigan, class of '86. To say the place was soaked in political correctness is to say too little. You got the clear sense that if you weren't careful in what you said or did things could turn out badly for you. Ideology - not scholarship, not learning - was king on that campus ("dictator" would be a better word.)

A fellow student who took chemistry, physics, and the other hard sciences came back to the dorm one day to say that one of his instructors had spent the whole session talking up the Communist guerrillas in El Salvador. This was in math or some similar subject. Professors and - even more - teaching assistants were using their lecterns as political podiums. They were proselytizing and indoctrinating. I thought this was wrong - quite apart from my own political beliefs, which were just forming. I thought: "You know, I wouldn't do this, if I had this power, this responsibility - the academic lectern."

Political indoctrination in the classroom and the exclusion of conservatives from college faculties are violations of academic freedom and an offense to the very concept of a liberal education. The introduction of political agendas into the curriculum is a product of forces unleashed in the 1960s, which have consciously transformed universities into the political monoliths they have become.

It is time to remind ourselves that not so long ago the consensus of educators was that political indoctrination in the classroom by professors of whatever persuasion was an unacceptable abuse. The 1967 "Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students" adopted by the American Association of University Professors clearly states that the "freedom to teach and freedom to learn" are inseparable. Responding to a controversy over a course at UC Berkeley in the spring of 2002, UC Chancellor Robert Berdahl said, "It is imperative that our classrooms be free of indoctrination - indoctrination is not education." Unfortunately, there is virtually no college administration today - including that of UC Berkeley - that is willing to defend this student right.

What can be done about the current state of affairs? The answer begins with the recognition that this situation has developed because of the public's inattention to what happens inside the institutions that its tuition fees, tax dollars, and voluntary contributions make possible. The remedy lies first in insisting on greater scrutiny of these institutions, and second on resolving that the abuses will be corrected.

The Center for the Study of Popular Culture in conjunction with other interested organizations is therefore launching a "Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion in Higher Education." Its agenda is to call on university administrations to implement the following five demands:

  1. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the hiring process for faculty and administrators, and seek ways to promote fairness towards - and inclusion of - diverse and under-represented mainstream perspectives;
  2. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the selection of commencement speakers and seek ways to promote fairness towards - and inclusion of - diverse and under-represented mainstream perspectives;
  3. Conduct an inquiry into political bias in the allocation of student program funds - including speakers' fees - and seek ways to promote fairness towards and inclusion of diverse and under-represented mainstream perspectives;
  4. Institute a zero tolerance policy towards the obstruction of campus speakers and meetings and the destruction of informational literature distributed by campus groups.
  5. Adopt a code of conduct for faculty that ensures that classrooms will welcome diverse viewpoints and not be used for political indoctrination, which is a violation of students' academic freedom.

Some may be skeptical of an appeal to university authorities, to solve a problem which they have helped to create. We believe, however, that the principles of fairness and inclusion resonate so deeply with the American people and the American character that they will find a response in the university community. Chancellor Berdahl's statement is evidence of this potential. But because the violation of student and faculty rights has been so long-standing and systemic, we are appealing directly to the trustees and state-appointed governing bodies of these institutions as well.

We call on state legislatures in particular to begin these inquiries at the institutions they are responsible for and to enact practical remedies as soon as possible. We do not think this would pose any significant problem for academic freedom. Quite the contrary. The principle of diversity is well established in federal law and has been accepted by virtually all existing collegiate administrations. By adding the categories of political and religious affiliation to Title IX and other existing legislation, the means are readily available - without jeopardizing the integrity and independence of the university system - to redress an intolerable situation involving illegal and unconstitutional hiring methods along with teaching practices that are an abuse of academic freedom.

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JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . To comment, please click here.


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© 2000, David Horowitz