‘More Than a Stretch’

The first casualty of David Horowitz’s effort to impose ideological “diversity” on American campuses has been the truth. Horowitz initially supported his proposal for an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) with “independent” studies pointing to a vast predominance of “leftists” on American campuses. As I pointed out last September, neither of the studies in question seems to be independent of Horowitz’s own Center for the Study of Popular Culture. (Nor does the help of the notoriously mendacious Frank Luntz serve as any guarantee of credibility.) In a subsequent exchange with me, Horowitz underwent breathtaking contortions in an effort to back out of bogus claims he had made in support of his ABOR campaign. For instance, in order to deny that he had repeatedly called for the institution of ideological “balance” on American campuses, Horowitz disclaimed all responsibility for a letter written in the first person, bearing his name and a photograph of his signature, and published in his own FrontPage Magazine. I responded with a reflection on “Academic vs. Horowitzian Truth Standards.”

Despite the clear widening of his credibility gap, Horowitz has continued to propagate lies about the academy and the ABOR. Just last week, in an article posted on his Students for Academic Freedom website without comment, Horowitz is quoted as saying that university professors are a privileged elite who work between six to nine hours a week, eight months a year for an annual salary of about $150,000. As anyone with even a passing knowledge of actual university life would know, this is a ‘fact’ that even Frank Luntz would have trouble substantiating.

Let’s consider a second claim in greater depth. In “A Campaign of Lies” (a recent fulmination against the AAUP and the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations) Horowitz states that

[w]hen I drafted the Academic Bill of Rights — and before I published it — I took pains to vet the text with three leftwing academics — Stanley Fish, Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube — and with Eugene Volokh, a libertarian law professor at UCLA, who is one of the nation’s leading experts on First Amendment law. Anything in the original draft of the Academic Bill of Rights that so much as irritated these gentlemen I removed.

This case for a solid academic fan base is audacious even by Horowitzian standards. Could it be true that four genuine intellectuals — leading American scholars with nuanced and varied political views — are actually in favor of the ABOR’s radical diversity agenda? To get to the truth of the matter, I sent all four professors Horowitz’s claim, and simply asked whether they were indeed satisfied with the ABOR as it stands. All four graciously replied. While Volokh declined to comment on his advice to Horowitz, Fish, Gitlin and Bérubé provided me with detailed responses.

Stanley Fish — an authority in both rhetoric and legal studies, famous for his contention that politics and academics don’t mix — responded by directing me to his year-old essay “Intellectual Diversity,” noting that it displays “the extent of both my agreement and disagreement” with the final ABOR. In this essay Fish tries to give Horowitz the benefit of the doubt, yet he determines that the ABOR’s plea for “intellectual diversity” is “the Trojan horse of a dark design.” According to Fish, “it is precisely because the pursuit of truth is the cardinal value of the academy that the value (if it is one) of intellectual diversity should be rejected.” Pointing to the dangers of two recent calls for “intellectual diversity,” Fish concludes that

these are not examples of a good idea taken too far, but of a bad idea taken in the only direction — a political direction — it is capable of going. As a genuine academic value, intellectual diversity is a nonstarter. As an imposed imperative, it is a disaster.

The responses from Todd Gitlin and Michael Bérubé are reprinted below. I leave it to the reader to determine whether the members of Horowitz’s supposed support group are indeed behind the ABOR, and to consider the source of the real “campaign of lies” surrounding the bill.

Graham Larkin

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

ADDENDUM: Todd Gitlin and Michael Bérubé respond to David Horowitz’s claim that that he removed “anything in the original draft of the Academic Bill of Rights that so much as irritated [them].”

Todd Gitlin

(from an e-mail to Graham Larkin, dated February 15 2005)

In September 2003, David Horowitz sent me a draft of his Academic Bill. I objected explicitly to a provision that would have required the taping of hiring and tenure meetings for faculty, for scrutiny by university boards and others. We went around about the dangers of such surveillance and in the end he said he would remove that provision. To say that he removed “anything….that so much irritated” this particular gentleman, however, would be excessive. In fact, we did not correspond about the concept that state legislatures or other trans-university bodies should sit in executive or quasi-judiciary authority over faculty bodies charged with defending the academic freedom of students and faculty. I did, and do, object to interventions by such higher authorities, as is envisioned in his current campaigns directed at state legislatures. But the issue didn’t come up in our correspondence. So far as I understood matters then, it was Horowitz’s intention to campaign for university resolutions, not legislative interventions.

By the way, you might be interested in a piece I have on the current Academic Bill campaign forthcoming in the March/April issue of Mother Jones.

Michael Bérubé

(from an e-mail to Graham Larkin, dated February 15 2005)

I told David that the taping of hiring and tenure meetings was at once intrusive and counterproductive — that is, it would have the effect of making sure that no one said an honest word in those meetings, and conducting the real business of hiring/tenure committees in bars and bathrooms instead. Then David suggested that every candidate rejected for a job should be informed of the basis for the decision in writing, and I replied that David clearly hadn’t been serving on any hiring committees recently — otherwise he’d know how impossible it is to send personalized rejection letters to 500 or 1000 job applicants. So yes, David abandoned those two suggestions.

But it’s more than a stretch for David to suggest now that I endorsed the final ABOR. In fact, I rather pointedly declined to sign it, as David asked me to, precisely because it would lead to all manner of absurd conclusions, under the seemingly benign banner of “diversity.” We should ask David if he really wants, for example, the al-Qaeda perspective on the Middle East more widely taught in American universities, because right now it is severely underrepresented. Brian Leiter put it best, I think:

The real difficulty, of course, is that if you create rights, you also have to have remedies. And at some point even the genuinely dumb conservatives will notice that the Horowitz proposal will create causes of action for Marxist economists who can’t be hired by economics departments, for postmodernists who can’t get hired by philosophy departments, and on and on. And what is to stop Intelligent Design creationists from suing biology departments that won’t hire them? Or alchemists from suing Chemistry departments? You get the idea.

And, of course, I object to “diversity” in academic departments and subjects being mandated by state legislators. Note that Ohio’s bill, introduced by State Senator Larry Mumper, prohibits instructors from “persistently” discussing controversial subjects. His examples of controversial subjects? “Religion and politics.” So that’s what Republican state senators want in Ohio — universities devoted solely to sports and weather.

To join the fight against the Academic Bill of Rights, get involved with the AAUP, tireless defenders of academic freedom since 1915.

©2005 CA-AAUP

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

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