Below is Bruce Thornton's review of David Horowitz’s new book, [“The Left in the Universities"](“The Left in the Universities") which is volume 8 of The Black Book of the American Left, a multi-volume collection of David Horowitz's conservative writings that will, when completed, be the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to define the Left and its agenda. (Order HERE.) We encourage our readers to visit BlackBookOfTheAmericanLeft.com – which features Horowitz’s introductions to Volumes 1-8 of this 10-volume series, along with their tables of contents, reviews and interviews with the author.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The corruption of American higher education has been in the news a lot in the last few years. “Snowflakes” and “safe spaces,” crowds of thugs shutting down conservative speakers, craven administrators caving in to demands of activist students and faculty have become increasingly common since the rise of Donald Trump sparked a “resistance” movement. Even progressives who have run afoul of campus Robespierres are writing books about free speech now that their revolutionary children have started devouring their own. What David Horowitz has been warning about in his books and speeches for more than thirty years -- the ideological hijacking of the university and the betrayal of its traditional mission -- has finally grabbed the national spotlight.
The essays in his latest book, The Left in the University, are indispensable for anyone who wants to understand how we got to this pass.
The first chapter, “The Post-Modern Academy,” is a succinct analysis of the left’s takeover of the university. He starts with one of the most publicized and representative incidents that illustrates how far our campuses have descended into preposterous political correctness and left-wing shibboleths. Ward Churchill was the University of Colorado professor who called the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks “little Eichmanns,” and whose exposure in 2005 led to a national scandal when his academic and personal frauds were revealed. What is less well-known is the enthusiasm that many universities had shown in inviting Churchill to speak at their campuses -- 40 invitations before the scandal broke -- despite his vicious anti-Americanism and shoddy scholarship. As Horowitz explains, such views were “far from obscure to his academic colleagues. They reflected views comparing America to Nazi Germany that were part of the intellectual core of his academic work.” The widespread agreement with such nonsense implicated not just one rogue college professor, but “the academic culture itself.”
How did such a consensus of belief in ideas more at home in the pages Pravda or Granma happen? The Gramscian “long march through the institution” on the part of Sixties radicals began the redefinition of academic work from a search for truth according to professional norms, to a political activism that in the name of “relevance” and “social justice” shaped research and teaching to confirm leftist ideology and discredit whatever alternatives students might believe. These new academic departments and programs like Women’s Studies and Black Studies, Horowitz writes, “maintained no pretense of including intellectually diverse viewpoint or pursuing academic inquiries unconnected to the conclusions they might reach.”
That these new “disciplines” were political rather than academic was obvious in their creation, which resulted from political protests and sometimes threats of violence, most famously at Cornell, where in 1969 black radicals with loaded shotguns occupied the administration building.
Soon, Horowitz continues, other “studies” like Post-Colonial Studies and Social Justice Studies proliferated to promote “narrowly one-sided political agendas,” and create “institutional settings for political indoctrination” and the “exposition and development of radical theory, and education and training of a radical cadre and the recruitment of students to radical causes.” Moreover, their claims to be pursuing “social justice” or “equality” have created an end-justifies-the-means rationalization, a “logical consequence of decades of university pandering to radical intimidators and campus criminals who regularly assault property, persons and reputations” with charges of racism, sexism, or even rape. “If the ideas are correct, it’s okay to silence anyone who disagrees.” In the last few years this phenomenon has become public knowledge, as Antifa thugs have disrupted campus events. Way back in 1998, Horowitz presciently called such behavior “brown-shirt activism.”
Horowitz in his essays frequently makes an important point: it’s not just the ideological prejudices of this or that faculty member, but a whole institutional, professional, and administrative apparatus that has made possible today’s overwhelmingly leftist and progressive university.
For example, the problem of conservative speakers being underrepresented at campus events is not a dearth of interest among students. At Vanderbilt, a conservative student group called Wake Up America was formed to invite conservative speakers to campus. But the university refused to provide the same sort of funding it gives to other student groups. When challenged, the administrator in charge of Student Life hid behind the Speakers Committee, which Horowitz describes as “a partisan student group dedicated to bringing left-wing speakers to campus.” With $63,000 a year to spend, the Committee had brought expensive lefties like James Carville and Gloria Steinem. Wake Up America, Horowitz writes, in its entire existence “has never been granted a single cent to bring conservatives” to Vanderbilt.
Such largess for leftists go beyond funds dedicated to speakers. In 2002, when Horowitz was invited, Vanderbilt disbursed over a million dollars to student groups ostensibly to promote a “diversity of activities,” in the words of the university. At the same time that Wake Up America received nothing, other identity-politics groups received over $130,000. Horowitz recounts other appearance he made across the country where left-wing speakers received tens of thousands of dollars, while his visit had to be financed by funds raised off campus. As Horowitz notes, such political bias is “completely normal in the academic world.”
The bulk of Horowitz’s book documents his efforts to get state legislatures and college administrators to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights (ABR) as a way of stopping such abuse. After some initial successes, particularly in Colorado, the campaign was stalled by relentless misrepresentation and outright lies on the part of colleges, the media, and academic organizations. For example, the ABR called for common sense principles similar to those colleges adopted over a century ago. But the principle that universities should base hiring on a candidate’s “competence and appropriate expertise in the field,” and foster “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives,” was transformed by the Colorado media into “affirmative action for conservatives.”
Most reprehensible was the reaction of the American Association of University Professors, which has long touted its dedication to academic freedom. In 1915 the AAUP promulgated a report that gave impetus to a wider recognition of the need for universities to respect the freedom of its professors to practice research without fear of retribution for challenging any ideologies, preferences, and prejudices. The AAUP report became the template for most of higher education’s policies on academic freedom.
The University of California’s Berkeley campus, for example, in 1934 established the “Sproul” rule, named for its author, university president Robert Gordon Sproul. This rule identified the function of the university as the effort “to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty.” If “political, social, or sectarian movements” are to be considered, they should be “dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts.”
In 2003, the Berkeley Faculty Senate voted 43-3 to scrap this noble aspiration. The distinction between indoctrination and education was tossed, and the faculty were made the arbiters of teaching and research standards “by reference to the professional standards” and “the expertise and authority” of the faculty, which now should govern the acquisition of knowledge. As Horowitz writes, “academic freedom is whatever the faculty says it is.” The proliferation of “studies” and programs nakedly political and designed to pursue politically correct ideology, rather than a dispassionate search for truth through disinterested professional methodologies, guaranteed that “professional standards” would be politicized. The academic freedom created to protect scholarship has now been changed to a “substitute for it -- a license for professors to do what they liked.” As a result, courses like “The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance” replace traditional history courses that present all the documented evidence of a historical event gathered by the neutral protocols governing research. The decline of professional competence, as Martin Kramer documented regarding Middle East Studies programs in his Ivory Towers on Sand, creates a vacuum filled by political ideology and faddish theory.
Of course, the AAUP, its board dominated by leftists, had long ago abandoned the principles of the 1915 report, tending instead “to overlook infringements” of it, like the excising of the Sproul rule, “and even defend them,” Horowitz writes. So it is no wonder that the AAUP went after the ABR, misrepresenting its clear meaning. During the debate over the Colorado state legislature’s bill to codify the ABR into law, the AAUP went on the offensive, calling the ABR “a grave threat to fundamental principles of academic freedom,” and recommending that it should be “strongly condemn[ed].” It also blatantly distorted the bill’s language, saying it required that “universities... maintain political pluralism,” a phrase that doesn’t appear in the bill, which called for “the fair representation of conflicting viewpoints on issues that are controversial,” as Horowitz explained. The numerous other misrepresentations that Horowitz analyzes show that the AAUP, much like the UN, no longer believes in the principles of one of its foundational documents.
With such concentrated opposition by university faculty, administrators, unions, and professional organizations, the ABR didn’t have a chance. As Horowitz writes of the AAUP response,
If any act might serve as a symbol of the problems that have beset the academy in the last thirty years -- its intense politicization and partisanship and consequent loss of scholarly perspective -- it is this unscholarly assault on a document whose philosophy, formulations and very conception have been drawn from its own statements and positions on academic freedom.
Such an abuse of language to serve power and ideology, first described by Thucydides and memorably expressed in George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” is now standard operating procedure in the American university.
Now that Donald Trump’s success has driven the academic left into even greater absurdities and thuggery, perhaps conditions are right for cleaning the Augean Stables of campus corruption. But such change will require the efforts of congressmen, state legislators, the Department of Education, university trustees, and the taxpayers who directly and indirectly fund American higher education. And we need many more champions of the university’s mission to study and teach “the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically,” as Matthew Arnold wrote.
David Horowitz has long tried to hold accountable the presumed guardians of the university’s mission. It’s time for more citizens to join him and dismantle the “stock notions and habits” of the left that are responsible for so much of our country’s political and cultural “mischief.” Reading The Left in the University is the place to start.
About Bruce Thornton
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.
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