Letter to David Horowitz

January 20, 2005

Dear Mr. Horowitz,

Thank you for joining me and AAUP Associate Secretary, Marcus Harvey, in last Saturday’s exchange on 1360 AM KLSD (Air America Radio, San Diego). I’m glad that you feel you fared so well in that exchange. In the interests of furthering the conversation, I would be delighted to have another live discussion with you, or with any of the so-called Students for Academic Freedom. Perhaps, in the interests of balance, any future debate can be held in a conservative venue.

To the extent that it continues the dialogue, I also welcome your blog response to our debate, and to my article ” What’s Not to Like About the Academic Bill of Rights.” Given your many misconstruals of my own position, I feel compelled to respond. To keep it relatively brief, I will confine myself to some remarks on the central issue of left-right balance.

In your blog you describe my article as

…an attack on me personally and on imaginary demands of the academic freedom movement for “balance” and equal representation (there are no such demands).

Your insistence that the supporters of the ABOR make “no such demands” for left-right “balance” (a claim that I think you also made in the radio interview) is bizarre, since from the start you have successfully framed the whole issue in terms of the need for intellectual or ideological balance, equity and diversity. Whatever else you might have said, you have persistently used the very term “balance” when promoting the ABOR. For instance in your article The Campus Blacklist (April 18, 2003), you note that

I have encouraged students to demand that their schools adopt an “academic bill of rights” that stresses intellectual diversity, that demands balance [my italics] in their reading lists, that recognizes that political partisanship by professors in the classroom is an abuse of students’ academic freedom, that the inequity in funding of student organizations and visiting speakers is unacceptable, and that a learning environment hostile to conservatives is unacceptable.

I’m assuming that this is not a casual phrase, given that you quote a version of this passage, complete with the reference to “balanced” reading lists, in a later article. There, you also note that the ABOR will ensure that “[s]election of speakers, allocation of funds for speaker activities and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual balance [my italics].” Just last month, in your article ” It’s Time for Fairness and Inclusion in Our Universities,” you opened a defense of the ABOR by pointing to the ideological “imbalance” among American university faculty. Later in that article you refer again to “the faculty imbalance.”

The repetition of these key terms is no mere semantic detail, given that politicians and the press have followed your lead in construing the Bill as means of ensuring balance, or correcting imbalance. To confine myself to a few examples republished on your FrontPage Magazine and Students for Academic Freedom websites, the New York Times reports that your movement was inspired by “political imbalance on faculties,” and a Washington Times editorial supporting the ABOR concludes that “[t]he issue here is balance.” A press release by Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) states that the Bill “encourages university and college officials to even out the imbalance between liberal and conservative influences in higher education.” These examples are taken at random. There are at least a hundred more pleas for “balance” or denunciations of ” imbalance” scattered throughout articles describing the ABOR on the Students for Academic Freedom website. This is not to mention the repeated calls, by the Bill’s supporters, for “equality,” “equity,” “evenhandedness,” “fair-mindedness,” and other terms implying balance.

How, in the face of all this evidence, can you claim that your movement makes “no demands” for balance and equal representation? No amount of retroactive spin can reverse the fact that the ABOR’s supporters have campaigned relentlessly to legislate ideological “balance” in American universities.

In the same blog, you ask why I didn’t “reel off half a dozen conservatives in [my] own department” in response to your allegations of faculty imbalance. The answer should be obvious to anyone who has actually read my article. It explicates, in meticulous detail, the deficiencies of your jaundiced habit of labeling everyone as either “leftist” or “conservative.” I really mean it when I write that “[i]t is hard to think of any method that would provide us with reliable statistics about such a subtle and complex phenomenon as personal ideology–not least in environments, such as elite humanities departments, which actively cultivate ideological subtlety and complexity.”

You dismiss as “pure invention” my claim that you compartmentalize (as you put it) “all ideas into only two categories, left and right.” And yet, in the space of the same few paragraphs, you repeatedly brand me as a “leftist.” I would prefer for you to have acknowledged my self-characterization, in the very article you are critiquing, as one of the people “who feel we have little to gain–intellectually, professionally, or financially–by accommodating ourselves to either of Horowitz’s two stifling compartments.” As a self-appointed authority on freedom and diversity, you would do well to respect peoples’ right to resist your labels.

Now let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that I were to correspond to one of your imagined ” two sides .” What makes you think I would end up in the “leftist” camp in my opposition to the ABOR? Wouldn’t it more likely be the conservative in me who resents your radical efforts to enforce a ” diversity of approaches ” and ” appropriate knowledge ” in the academy? After all, as the libertarians have been quick to point out , such efforts at diversity legislation are little more than a sick parody of political correctness.

Thankfully, no such legislation has yet taken root in our own state of California, although it might in the coming months. Until such time as the opponents of academic freedom succeed in their devious campaign to prevent me from ” [taking] unfair advantage of a student’s immaturity by indoctrinating him or her with the teacher’s own opinions ,” I will continue to treat my students like grown-ups, with the blessing of the First Amendment and the sane precepts of the AAUP.

Thank you for your attention. In the interest of promoting “both sides” instead of just “half the story,” I hope you will be kind enough to link to this letter, or to republish it complete with my links, alongside your own postings on the FrontPage Magazine and Students for Academic Freedom websites.


Graham Larkin
Stanford University, Department of Art & Art History
CA-AAUP VP for Private Colleges and Universities

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©2005 CA-AAUP

This article was first published on the California AAUP website and is republished here by permission.

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