Blogs > Cliopatria > More "Urban Legend" ...

Mar 15, 2005 5:14 pm


More "Urban Legend" ...



Yesterday, David Horowitz demanded retractions of reports around the blogosphere that he'd been promoting an"urban legend" when he told the story of a student who complained of being required to write an essay about President Bush as a"war criminal." Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit and Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy were sufficiently convinced by Horowitz's reports that they retracted. Sensing that there was more to the story than he was telling, I refused to retract anything.

Technically, the story isn't an"urban legend" because some of the details can be nailed down. They are pretty embarrassing to Horowitz's version of things:
1) The oppressive leftist professor turns out to be a Republican;
2) The University has a copy of the original examination and the question wasn't about President Bush as a"war criminal";
3) The student wasn't obliged to answer the question that got twisted into that version by Horowitz;
4) The student's answer to the question didn't fulfill the test's instructions about the length of the essay;
5) The student did not receive an F, etc. Scott Jaschik's"Tattered Poster Child" at Inside Higher Ed has more. As Rick Perlstein says in comments over there:"Why should David Horowitz verify a claim before he begins using it to sabotage institutions? In fact, he should just throw a professor in the river, and if she floats, well, then, she must be a witch."

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Alastair Mackay - 3/22/2005

J. Dresner,

Thanks for the pointer to your earlier post. It is, indeed, a thoughtful appreciation of the NCU situation.

Regarding cute quantification. Recall, please, that R. Luker asked for evidence to back up my impression of "studied indifference" (3/21 10:36am). I explained (3/21 2:10pm) that "I was offering my impression, only. This will not by its nature be substantiatable to your satisfaction...To be clear, I’m not attempting to mind-read, but to answer your question, 'what is your evidence?' And this isn’t evidence per se..."

It is my impression that other contributors to Cliopatria have at times expressed unsubstantiated opinions in their writing. As a reader, I don't have a problem with this, when the comment as a whole is reasoned and thoughtful.


Jonathan Dresner - 3/22/2005

Mr. MacKay,

Your attempt at quantification is cute, but at least in my own case, fails completely to actually capture my position. As expressed in my own post I think that there were clearly procedural problems which do concern me, and that the question itself is pedagogically weak, which also concerns me. I'm not at all convinced of the political import of this case, but I am concerned about the institutional and educational aspects of it and the reaction to it (I'm also sick to death of it, honestly).

One blog comment thread does not make for sufficient evidence of anyone's thought process to draw anything but the most tentative conclusions.


Canadian Cynic - 3/22/2005


http://canadiancynic.blogspot.com/2005/03/horowitz-supporters-over-at-moonbat.html

CC


Canadian Cynic - 3/22/2005

From the text at the top of this page, we read:

'Yesterday, David Horowitz demanded retractions of reports around the blogosphere that he'd been promoting an "urban legend" when he told the story of a student who complained of being required to write an essay about President Bush as a "war criminal."'

So, I'm interested in knowing who Horowitz thinks *clearly* and *explicitly* described the early version of his UNC story as an "urban legend." As you can see from my earlier comment, Dr. Singham did no such thing. Describing the early versions of the UNC tale as being "similar to" an urban legend, or possessing properties "like those of" an urban legend clearly don't count.

But from Horowitz's grousing, you'd get the impression that there are swarms of irresponsible individuals out there doing just this.

So ... can anyone supply one? (And to be reasonable, let's qualify that with "someone who's relatively high profile", not some no-name blogger in East Podunkville, all right?)

Anyway, who can supply a URL?


Canadian Cynic - 3/22/2005

Hmmm ... that makes it difficult to comment as the owner of my blog if it's an anonymous blog. Fair enough -- your blog, your rules. Feel free to delete the comments.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

You do not have to comment as the owner of Canadian Cynic, but if you comment you must do so in your own name. We finally had to do that in order to maintain a reasonably civil discussion.


Max Power - 3/21/2005

Very true. I guess I should have made a point to clarify how he proceeded without being completely aware of the facts and circumstances to which he could (and should) have been aware.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Mr. Power, I think that's often likely to be the case, especially when the details of a situation are necessarily privileged to protect the privacy of a student, and someone takes up the case in a propaganda campaign.


Max Power - 3/21/2005

My criticism is about the way he went forward and some of the logic behind his decision. This stems from my belief that there is something strange here, with many questions abound, and that the situation should have been approached as such.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

I do, indeed.


Alastair Mackay - 3/21/2005

Thanks for responding.
I'll keep both your perspective, and T. Burke's, in mind as I read.
I'm glad to find myself in your 'sensible' category, at any rate.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Mr. Mackay, As I've said before, any student who ever receives a failing grade -- or, in these days of grade inflation, even a B+ -- is likely to feel aggrieved. Mr. Horowitz seems intent on creating a climate in which any aggrieved student can take the scoundrel's refuge in patriotic claims and expect to become another star in the Horowitzian universe of Leftist academic oppression. Given the fact that, to my knowledge, there is no situation in which students have no channels of appeal, this strikes me as mere opportunism on Mr. Horowitz's part. By his accounting, he fools 35,000 people a year into contributing to his coffer; he pays himself $179,000 a year out of it; he has little money left over to pay a staff to vet his preposterous vignettes; and people like you and me spend valuable time debating the merits of his propaganda. The latter suggests that he's won already -- by forcing sensible people to conjure with the nonsense that he pumps out.


Alastair Mackay - 3/21/2005

R. Luker,

You raise a good point about pathways of appeals. Horowitz claims that the existence of these procudures is not proof of their adequacy, and that his anecdotes suggest that they are not sufficient. This doesn’t strike me as beyond the Pale.

> Then, someone like yourself comes along and says that the academic community is somehow indifferent to the case. What is your evidence of our indifference?

Thanks for the chance to clarify. I was offering my impression, only. This will not by its nature be substantiatable to your satisfaction. But, curiosity piqued, I went back over this thread and wrote a thumbnail of what each commenter said. Even though this post--on this very subject--is probably not a good place to look for evidence of indifference.

Lederer – n/a
Goetz – NCU student was determined to be offended
Dresner – agreement with Goetz, later, an aside
Kotsko – a defense of the NCU prof.
Smith – agreement with Kotsko
Luker – thoughtful concern
Horowitz – Horowitz
Burke – thoughtful concern
Rees – criticism of Horowitz
Dorn – thoughtful concern
Mackay – Mackay
Power – criticism of Horowitz
Canadian Cynic – criticism of Horowitz

By my count, that’s three expressions of concern that cover the NCU student’s possible case, four evidence-of-unconcern on her case, and three criticisms of Horowitz, arguably implying, in this context, that a case tainted by his touch is of no great moment.

To be clear, I’m not attempting to mind-read, but to answer your question, “what is your evidence?” And this isn’t evidence per se, though it is consistent with the thought that some academics have arrived at a circle-the-wagons response to feeling besieged. A point that others have made, as you know.


Sherman Jay Dorn - 3/21/2005

There are two themes in this batch of comments. One focuses on the substantive issues and the other on, well, for want of a better word, the feeling by a number of folks in the debate that those with differing views are Up To No Good.

Let me put this as gently as possible: expressing the second idea undermines attempts to discuss the substantive issues. Who has the thick skin to talk to someone who has labeled you a traitor, coward, hick, rube, panderer, plagiarist, "defender of" somebody else, too wealthy for your own good, or a super-secret closet reader of Berke Breathed's comics? Tim Burke does a mighty good job here of keeping to the substantive. But that doesn't obviate our responsibility to actively use the mode of discussion we expect from those who disagree with us.

I suppose that's the origins of the deep disapointment I had when reading David Horowitz's comments above that said, in effect, "I'd like to be more careful and civil but I don't have the time to be more careful and politics demands a scorched-earth approach." I don't buy either claim. The vast majority of those of us commenting in Cliopatria entries are working academics who research and write while having pretty substantial teaching loads and relatively little institutional support. And there are plenty of thoughtful critics of academic culture (e.g., the staff at FIRE) who don't feel the need to oversimplify (and have gained quite a bit of stature from their professional care).

For the record, though, let me state this: Any time you're in Tampa, Mr. Horowitz, I'll be glad to meet with you privately, be on a public roundtable with you, or publicly debate you about the state of higher education—even if you discover through op research that not only have I read all of the Berke Breathed comics I can get my hands on, but also Bill Watterson's subversive graphic monographs on the sociology of childhood.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Mr. Mackay, The academy's "studied uninterest" that you seem to think is David Horowitz's telling point is, in fact, no such thing. He and you, apparently, ignore the fact that there are processes of appeal that are normal internal channels in cases like this. The student in question made use of those regular channels of appeal. David Horowitz makes a living by acting as if there were no normal channels of appeal. The student has privacy rights under federal law. Horowitz abuses the university for its observance of the law and takes propagandistic advantage of an anonymous student's unsubstantiated claims. Evidence of those claims is processed within the normal processes, but the university is obliged to observe the student's privacy rights. Then, someone like yourself comes along and says that the academic community is somehow indifferent to the case. What is your evidence of our indifference?


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Dear CC, You are welcome to comment at HNN, but registration for comment will mean that you need to register in your own name. Otherwise, this and your other comment will probably be deleted from the comment boards.


Alastair Mackay - 3/21/2005

The exchange between T. Burke and D. Horowitz is plainly adversarial, yet manages to shed much light without descending into ad hominem attacks. Each makes some very telling points; my thanks to both for addressing some of the key points in the UNC dispute. This thread is a real service to readers.

Perhaps of interest, D. Horowitz begins by offering five points. Paraphrasing (#56866, 3/20 8:43am):

1. UNC Professor Dunkley being Republican is immaterial.

2. Neither Dunkley nor UNC has produced the original exam.

3. Dunkley's claim that the question under discussion wasn't required hasn't been substantiated, and he appears to destroyed the exams in violation of UNC rules.

4. Dunkley's claims that the student only wrote two pages instead of the required three are unsubstantiated.

5. UNC claims the student got a "B", but doesn't specify if this is for the test or the course. The student still claims she originally got an "F" for the test.

T. Burke (#56870, 3/20 9:34am, ff.) makes no specific rejoinders to these points. He points out that Horowitz assumes that the aggrieved student is likely to be right. The broad criticism here is that Horowitz fails to show any even-handedness in his evidentiary skepticism, and starts his cases by putting the entire burden of proof on the professor accused of misconduct.

The UNC case as Horowitz has presented it is crippled by the student's insistence on making her charges anonymously, and her consequent avoidance of 'cross-examination' as to their merits. Burke is clearly correct: Horowitz put this case in the spotlight, leaving it to others to discover that some of the key facts in his charge were incorrect, and others were presented out of context. Those of us who have suffered personal or professional harm from having to contest accusations on this sort of tilted field know how troubling this modus operandus often is.

At the same time, the UNC complaint has already developed beyond she-said-he-said, to the point where some specific questions of fact can be asked--if there is sufficient interest by UNC and the Academy to inquire, and if there is enough open-mindedness with which to regard the answers.

2. and 3. Did Dunkley discard the exams? Why? Was this against UNC policy? Do the other students in the class agree that the questions, as UNC have reproduced them, are as they were given in the exam?

5. Was the student's "B" her test grade? Was it the original grade? the result of appeals? (Horowitz passes on the still-anonymous student's answer here.)


To me, the telling point that Horowitz makes is that the most common response within the Academy to these sorts of incidents is studied uninterest. (Though all sides seem to respect the free-speech defenses of FIRE.)

I appreciate Burke's catalog of the real costs of the shoot-first approach. This concern is an early casualty when voices are raised as antagonists zero in on any particular contentious case.

The situation would seem to call for civil exchanges, for restraint on Horowitz' part, and for raised expectations of (and demands for) accountability for classroom actions on the part of academics. This sort of synthesis seems very far away. Certain comment threads on this blog and certain entries on frontpagemag suggest that many people, Left and Right, get too much mileage out of the Culture Wars for things to change very fast.


Max Power - 3/21/2005

At the very least you're guilty of proceeding incorrectly, as you attempted to build an argument based at least partly (by your own admission) on incorrect or flawed facts, while not being aware of the entire story. This doesn't take into account questionable reasoning, such as how being able to think critically, acknowledge, and argue a side of an issue (despite possible personal beliefs to the contrary) is indoctrination and "violates" academic freedom. And then there is this idea that while using elements from the class, argueing in a criminology course about an action being criminal is somehow unwarranted.

You clearly were not in the position to move forward as strongly as you did, and are now paying dearly for it.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

Dr. Dresner is correct. We haven't had Professor Horowitz's professionally qualified judgment about whether the student's essay, that was submitted for academic credit, was of sufficient quality to receive college credit. That it fell short of the length called for in the instructions is, of course, relevant, but I assume that Horowitz may not want to contest that point.


Jonathan Dresner - 3/21/2005

At risk of coming between and contradicting my elders, and not that this is the most important point, but you seem to be talking about two different essays: Mr. Horowitz is talking about the FrontPageMag op-ed, which I recall as being pretty articulate for seventeen, and Mr. Luker is talking about the original graded material, which I remember as being pretty poor quality for scholarship.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/21/2005

I appreciate the compliment, David, but I was going to jail, getting shot at, and fire bombed in the non-violent Southern civil rights movement when you were playing kutchy-koo with the Black Panthers in southern California. Don't know about the Stanley Fish blurb, but I'll warn Scott McLemee that you've got yet another memoir coming out. More "me"?


david horowitz - 3/21/2005

Since you refuse to engage in an intellectual discussion merely repeating your insultsand positions I thought I would let this post go But then I got to thinking about the phrase "We've all earned the right and responsibility to make such judgments. You simply insist that you have it -- without going through rigorous credentialing processes." This is isn't an argument Ralph; it's snotty posturing of the kind that makes academics an easy target of many celebrated satires and for the famous observation that the politics in academia are so nasty because the stakes are so low.

I believe we're discussing the ability to judge a freshman essay. I was grading undergraduate papers in 1960 when you were still probably struggling through K-12 (no shame in that but just to put things in perspective). Since then I've edited the largest magazine of the left, authored articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica, written articles for the Washington Post and similar venues, published many many books, well-thought of by distinguished scholars of a conservative persuasion and in short been "credentialed" by people who have been through your credentialling process many times over.

My next book will be out in a month. It's literary/philosophical work, and thus a fair reflection of what I know about writing (i.e., my credential for judging the seventeen year old Kuwaiti whom you have qualms about denigrating. Stanley Fish, former head of the Duke English Department, former Dean of the University of Illinois (Chicago) and easily the most distinguished Milton scholar in the country agreed to read my book in galleys and provide a comment if he thought it worthy. Stanley Fish and I do not agree on most things political as you know. So whatever conclusion he came to was not influenced by his desire to promote my political views. Far from it. Here then is what he wrote (the book by the way is called "The End of Time":

"Most memoirs only mime honesty. This one performs it. Beautifully written, unflinching in its contemplation of the abyss, and yet finally hopeful in its acceptance of human finitude. And as a bonus, it gives us a wonderful love story." -- Stanley Fish

I think I've earned the right to my judgment on the young man's paper, and I think this exchange is over.



Jonathan Rees - 3/21/2005

"We withdrew the legislation in Colorado..."

Thanks for that. Your meddling in Colorado state politics was just one extra example of the Republican state legislature's fiddling while the state's fiscal house burned down. Now the Democrats control both houses and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is well on its way to being fixed on a bipartisan basis, and we may be able to implement some improvements on my campus again.

Come back to Colorado any time.

JR


Ralph E. Luker - 3/20/2005

1) I reported that the story you tell is not an "urban legend" in the usual sense of that term. You would know about high horses, wouldn't you?
2) Give yourself a salary cut. Hire some staff to check out your stories.
3) My "opinion" about the student's essay is shared by a number of readers of it -- including several others of us at Cliopatria and several conservative academics -- who all concluded that the essay was not worthy of academic credit. We've all _earned_ the right and responsibility to make such judgments. You simply insist that you have it -- without going through rigorous credentialing processes.
4) _Nobody_ objects to the Kuwaiti student's loving the United States. It is only David Horowitz who takes the scoundrel's last refuge.


Timothy James Burke - 3/20/2005

I would like you to constrain your general claims to what your evidence supports.

I would like you to be vastly more scrupulous about specific cases, to as a matter of principle avoid "naming names" or trying to turn people into targets. That's what FIRE or the ACLU do, with the appropriate professional constraints and responsibilities. If you don't want to be accused of scapegoating, stay clear of anything that even has a whiff of that. That's what professionalism is all about: if you're really half as interested in professional rectitude as you say, you should know that.

I would like you to abandon any proposition that the Bill of Rights as you've drafted it should be adopted as either a statutory instrument or a quasi-statutory one within universities. If you want to change it to "a list of some suggestions or guidelines about professional decorum in classrooms", there's nothing objectionable about that, as long as you understand that it's possible to legitimately disagree in scope or emphasis with those guidelines or even, at the judgement of some professionals, observe some other guideline altogether.

I would like you to view the question of the political content of classroom instruction as a subject to debate rather than deliver fixed conclusions about--to make your own conclusions on the subject provisional and complex if you expect others to show you the same courtesy.

As part of that, I'd like you and your colleagues to be more thoughtful about the nature of the public interest in this question. It's clear what the public interest is in medical malpractice, for example: none of us wants to have the wrong knee operated on, or to have brain surgery instead of a tonsillectomy. The harm there is very clear. It's not clear what the magnitude of the harm is in this case. This is partially because your data is so poor that you can say very little with confidence about just how many students have encountered what you define as a problem, and how often they do so, but also because it's not clear what is being lost in the process, in any systematic way. I say this because on the surface, in terms of most of the kinds of metrics we could offer, the American university system is the most successful, vigorous, robust system of its kind in world history, and remains the envy of other nations today. Anybody arguing that it ought to be something significantly different than what it is has a certain evidentiary hill to climb; they have to show us what could be as opposed to what is, and what's being lost in the process. If, for example, your ultiimate view is ultimately one more boojum hunt for "brainwashing", something that I think is the greatest flaw in both the cultural left and among cultural conservatives, a belief that everyone would agree with them were it not for the intervention of some outside force that distorts the natural evolution of reason or sentiment, it's a terribly dubious enterprise. If you've got something more specific in mind, some quite tangible potential that is going to waste, and some vision of the positive virtues of that potential, spell it out. Anybody who wants major public remedies is obligated to describe, with great specificity, what the nature of the major public harm is. Given the unquestionable success of the American university system in so many ways, it's hard to see what the urgency is. And I say this as someone who is in many respect critical of academic institutions: my criticisms, which are diverse, have to coexist with a basic requirement that what is not broken need not be fixed, that the enormous success of the American university system not be compromised in those areas where it is incontrovertibly successful. Your proposals seem to me to have extremely high potential to break what works about the system, to introduce a rules-drivien, statute-driven consciousness that already has crippled American public education at the K-12 level. You seem to want to do to universities what Diane Ravitch has conclusively shown state governments and statutory requirements have already done to K-12 education. Given the potential harm, what exactly is the public interest you regard as so overwhelmingly pressing?


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

1. I am the only one in this debate NOT claiming to be in possession of the Truth. I have merely said that I believe the student rather than the Professor and the University bureaucrat and I have explained why. How you manage to stay on such a high horse when you have conceded nothing in this particular matter is beyond me.
2. When a man is challenged beyond his capacity to respond as you evidently are he resorts to insults. I get paid through a market process my friend. I have 35,000 people who voluntarily fund my operation because they think what I do is worth the price.
3. You just keep asserting your opinion (no argument necessary) as though it's some kind of gold standard. Who taught you to do this?
4. The student is a Kuwaiti who speaks perfect and I mean perfect English though he's only been in America 5 months. He loves this country and its constitution because it saved his? You think he needs psychological counseling for that? To repeat (since you evidently don't read my posts carefully before you attack them) the psychologist wasn't recommended under implicit threat of deportation. Shame on you for this post.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/20/2005

1) You will continue to report one side of a he said/she said, based on an anonymous source, as the truth -- when it is heresay that no responsible person would report.
2) I made _no_ misstatements about _you_. You keep thinking this is about _you_. If you would give yourself a salary cut -- from the reported $179,000 -- to some reasonable level appropriate to your skills, you could hire some staff to check out your blarny before you go trumpeting it.
3) Where's a victim? The essay didn't deserve to receive college credit. Every student who ever received a failing grade from any one of us could come to you with that complaint and we have _no_ assurance from you that you'd check the facts before you'd make it a part of your propaganda campaign.
4) The fact is that we sometimes do encounter students who need some psychological counseling. If you criminalize us for conscientious recommendations to students, our students in need will ultimately be the ones who lose in the process.


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

I will maintain the Colorado student's story until the university produces the facts, which they haven't done. Where is the original exam? What evidence do they have for the claims they are making?

And when are you going to retract the five misstaements you made about me in your previous post?

As for the Kuwaiti student. I have published an unedited article by him on FrontPage explaining his case. He is as articulate a 17 year old as I have encountered, and a fluent writer. The question he was given on the exam was illegimate and should get a reprimand for the professor. It was basically: Explain why the constitution was a ruse put over by the ruling class to hoodwink and control the masses. Bad questions lead to bad answers. Why blame the victim? In any case, the fact that the professor sent this kid to a psychiatrist (remember Sakharov?) and threatened to send him to the Dean in charge of his visa if he didn't go speaks volumes about what went on this classroom.


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

The little Stars Wars scene is about the temptation of Skywalker to joint the dark side of the force, no? However, I will take your comment and the tone your reply as a gesture of goodwill.

Yes, I give specific cases, but the point of them is general. It's to build up a general case that something needs to be done about university policy, not about particular professors. There's a big difference. This campaign is about process, not about personalities.

I'm glad to hear your skepticism about diversity regulations. However, the point is they've been adopted and they are much more heavy-handed than anything I am proposing. We withdrew our legislation in Colorado when the universities offered to put the principles in place. In Ohio I proposed in my testimony that the universities step forward to provide a grievance process that would implement their own existing policy. What could be less heavy handed than that?

I didn't say what I'm proposing already exists. I said the principle behind what I'm already proposing is already embraced by the university. I'm suggesting that faculty responsibilities be supplemented by the recognition of student rights, in this case to be taught not indoctrinated. The AAUP guidelines on this are 1) vague; 2) are not put in terms of student rights (naturally since AAUP is a faculty guild) and 3) are not accompanied by grievance procedures. If the AAUP had not pre-emptively declared war on my proposal (I approached them early and they rebuffed me) I'm sure the details could be hammered out by reasonable people. If you have a complaint, it's really with the opposition not with me. I'm -- surprise, surprise -- quite a reasonable fellow.

On speech codes, I did lead the battle against them (in contrast to the AAUP which did nothing or supported them). I am well aware of the dangers of legislative over-reach, which is why I am always going to leave open the option to universities to put the protections in place themselves. My model Academic Bill of Rights has been vetted by two distinguished libertarian academics: Eugene Volokh and Alan Kors. I took out everything in my original model bill that they objected to until it passed their muster. What more would you like me to do?


Timothy James Burke - 3/20/2005

David:

Look, just watch the scene in question in "Empire Strikes Back": it occurs to me largely because I'm a sci-fi geek who can recite the dialogue of the film verbatim, not because you were acting like Darth Vader. Your final sentence about joining you just happens to almost echo what Vader says. Short version: lighten up!

You are not talking about a general problem in general terms in your Bill of Rights, David. You very specifically talk about specific cases and attempt to criticize specific institutions. But as I've said, you're also making that general claim without the kinds of data you need to back it up: almost all your evidence, even the evidence which is absolutely verifiable in the form you give it, is self-reported.

Pointing to affirmative action is, for one, a really bad argumentative technique known to parents all around the world as "But Mommmmm, my little brother did it too!" Or "Officer, all the OTHER guys were speeding too." To which an officer can say, "Yeah, but you're the one I caught today." The standards I'm talking about are perfectly applicable to other cases, but we're talking about your project right now. Have i applied them myself? Sure, yes, I think I'm pretty consistent. I'm quite skeptical about some of the logic of diversity practices in contemporary universities. The idea that none of those practices were based on systematic research though is either horribly ill-informed or actively tendentious. You could start with Derek Bok's The Shape of the River, which even if you want to criticize its findings, was based on the kind of data that your project and its claims bears no resemblance to as yet. But Bok's book came on top of a huge foundation of empirical work, which again you might choose to critique--many have--but which in its data-richness, is simply not comparably to the self-reported, anecdotal data set that you wield with such authority and intensity.

On your later points, let me simply observe this. If the Bill of Rights merely duplicates, in your mind, what is already in the AAUP or in faculty handbooks, what's the need for it? There's an interesting comparison to the Equal Rights Amendment. Those who said it was necessary observed that even if statutory law said exactly the same thing, the force of a constitutional guarantee of rights was vastly greater, that the form and placement of a code is more important than its content. That's also exactly what the critics said: that a constitutional amendment which duplicated statutory protections would have a great many pernicious effects, some of them predictable consequences of a particular feminist agenda, some of them unpredictable even to the ERA's advocates. Same here. Even when you merely repeat what a faculty handbook says, when you repeat it as a declaration of *rights*, and ask in some cases for that declaration to have statutory force as opposed to being a professional code of conduct, you utterly transform its substantive functioning.

You seem to understand that well enough about speech codes in other contexts--that to take customary understandings about what should and should not be said within a community and make them statutory prohibitions with punitive remedies or to restate them as rights is to smash free speech. Doesn't matter if the content of the customary statement and the statutory prohibtion are the same: the two come with completely different authorities. That you seem to not grasp this is again something that faces me with a choice: either you're not understanding the implications of your own proposals or your deliberately effacing the implications of those proposals. This is kind of a fundamental point about the difference between law and everyday practice.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/20/2005

David, My colleagues, Tim Burke and Jon Dresner, have more patience with you than I do, but for the record I made note of the fact that the report out of the University of Northern Colorado was not an "urban legend". To your credit, you've acknowledged that your characterization of the story was misleading in many details. Evenso, you continue to trumpet one side of a he said/she said. The public has a right to know that. As Tim points out, you continue to tell the story of a student in California who received a failing grade on a paper because it said things the professor simply disagreed with. We've read the paper. It isn't one that should receive credit on a college level. Quit telling that story. Essentially, you're lying. The public has a right to know that. Beyond that, although I don't have much respect for you, quite frankly, this isn't _about you_ -- except that you insist on arraying the world as if it were yours to command. What credentials do you have for advising _anybody_ about education policy?


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

Well I sort of guessed I was opening myself up for normal academic viciousness when I extended my hand. How foolish of me to forget that the scholarly among us regard me as the dark side of the force! How nuanced of you.

May I remind you that I am not prosecuting any professors and therefore your remarks about FIRE and about advocacy for afflicted students is tendentious in the extreme. The evidence I have gathered is to establish that there is a general problem that needs to be remedied by a general policy. In my view the problem is obvious and it takes all the patience I can muster to deal with people who deny that it even exists. Most of the cases I bring up, including this one, are about establishing this existence, not about making appeals in behalf of individual students who feel aggrieved by individual professors. So save your pieties for a case where I have unjustly impugned the reputation of an actual professor.

And where you have been these decades? I'm not aware that anyone has made case that liberal universities actually discriminated in their undergraduate admissions programs. Yet without any such data, the entire academic world with a few isolated exceptions has welcomed massive government intervention into university policies (hiring and admissions) and established probably well over a billion dollars in programs to rectify the unestablished problem of academic racism. How about cutting my efforts to promote intellectual diversity half the slack you've cut the efforts of others to create skin and gender and sexual orientation diversities?

Your comment about modesty in regard to what is and is not true shows you didn't read my previous post very carefully or chose not to take it seriously (after all it comes from Darth Vader). I did admit to some minor errors -- nothing compared what my critics have made by the way -- and look at what Ralph Luker and others did with that. I got no credit for the modesty; I have dozens of (undeserved) new lumps instead. And has Luker so much as conceded that his original post implying that I had invented the student, the exam and the professor, might have been the least teeny weeny bit wrong? Of course not. Because he knows not many of his scrupulous academic colleagues here -- certainly not you -- are prepared to hold him to account.

Before I take on your diatribe about my hopelessly unreflective and unsophisticated approach to politics in the classroom, may I ask if you have read the AAUP's own prouncements on this subject? Because I lifted my entire agenda in this matter word for word from the AAUP's own statements on Academic Tenure and Academic Freedom. Word for word. I myself, actually, have a more sophisticated notion of what should be permissible in the classroom. You can read it here (http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/essays/pamphlet.html)
if you really care to.

It may come as news to you, but I have proposed no "clumsy, top-down regimes of heavy-handed regulation and control." You can read my testimony to the Ohio Senate which is posted at www.studentsforacdemicfreedom.org
as "Why An Academic Bill of Rights Is Necessary" (right-hand frame). I point out that my recommendations for correcting this problem of politicking in the classroom is already incorporated WORD FOR WORD in the Faculty Handbook as a faculty responsibility. In my view this faculty responsibility is unobserved by many faculty members and unenforced by the university administrations, and that's why legislation is necessary.

As a matter of fact the legislation does not include a bureaucracy to enforce it. We are hoping that the university will sit up and take note and do that itself. What we are proposing is that keeping the classroom free of political advocacy be not only a professorial responsibility (as it now officially is) but a student right, so that when professors ignore their responsibility, students have a means of reminding them. How onerous is this, that you should insult me on the basis of your own ignorance, to oppose it?


Timothy James Burke - 3/20/2005

David:

Pardon me one brief snarky interruption of civility: the closing sentence makes me think of Darth Vader talking to Luke Skywalker in the conclusion to The Empire Strikes Back.

Anyway, onto the main show.

First, it's a matter of taking seriously the constraints of responsible knowledge that you claim to want to preserve from politicization. The kind of history I write as a scholar is largely not quantitative or within the norms of the hard social sciences: I'm more of a humanist, an interpreter. But I have a good sense of and a lot of respect for what is required in evidentiary terms to make systematic claims, to document patterns and regularities. And you simply don't have that: you use instruments that are essentially based on self-reporting to make claims about systematic truths.

You can't say, "Look, I don't have the tools to do this kind of work properly" and then say, "But I'm going to do it anyway". If you want to do individual advocacy for afflicted students (and try to be neutral about the political affiliations involved), then you ought to just fold your tent and give your money to FIRE or even the ACLU: that's what they do. They do responsible, careful investigatory work on cases reported to them, and they maintain a meticulous standard about what does and does not constitute a claim. If you want to make systematic claims about what is happening in the academy, then you have to create the kind of datasets that allow you to do that, with the same professional rectitude that any half-way decent social scientist would have. You're not doing that either. That's terribly irresponsible. You want to say things that you're not entitled to say based on the evidence you have.

Now you can talk impressionistically about what you think you see out there based on your own experiences and the experiences of your staff, much as an ethnographer (or humanist of any kind) might. But the key thing is that requires a kind of modesty--not a personal humility, but a modesty about what is or is not true. A tolerance for ambiguity, for the limits of your interpretation, an awareness of its impressionistic and experiential character. I see that nowhere in your rhetoric or your organization's activities.

This is one huge problem that I see almost no hope of your addressing. The other is that your whole project has a hopelessly unreflective and instrumentally mutable sense of what "politics" in a classroom might be, a wild lack of proportionality in your opposition to "politics" in the classroom, and a solution to that ill-defined problem that is without a doubt vastly worse than the disease. Let's suppose you and I agree that there's a kind of crude political advocacy in the classroom that's unhelpful in most cases, a kind of unprofessional conduct for a professor. There's a nice essay by a Colorado geographer published this week in a Colorado newspaper on this point. When professionals do their jobs poorly, often the local "markets" (in this case, students choosing classes) are sufficient remedy. Or gentle but persistent supervision and mentoring by people who have a clearer sense of their professional obligations. Or better quality control at the time of hiring. All of which are subtle improvements of practice undertaken by people because of their belief in a professional ethos, not clumsy top-down regimes of heavy-handed regulation and control.

What makes the best classes and teaching work in the best (and even not-so-good) universities is precisely the autonomy of their teachers. Most of your proposed "reforms" are like trying to deal with a few weeds in a lawn by napalming the whole thing. If you want to critique the professionalism of some academics, I think that's fine, much as I think it's fair to critique the medical profession for its persistent inability to teach many doctors how to relate to their patients in more human and empathetic ways. But you can't dictate good bedside manners with some heavy-handed administrative regime, and you can't ensure that a few academics won't behave unprofessionally by straightjacketing whole institutions with nanny-state or quasi-Orwellian mechanisms of surveillance. Either you just don't grasp how poor your proposals are at dealing with the issues that you express concern about, or the persistent accusation that this is all a front for a hidden agenda is true: there really aren't any alternatives.


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

Thanks for the civility of your comment. Of course we don't take all student complaints at face value. This student has been consistent over time, which is one reason we went with her story. Also, we don't just take conservative complaints. We have defended liberal students against the same type of abuse by conservative professors. I know I am a hot button conservative and probably the wrong messenger for this cause but it has fallen to me to do it in the absence of someone else taking it on. The fact that I spent so many years on the other side of the fence oddly enough helps me to be sympathetic to the other guy's viewpoint and to understand the dangers of saying things like "we want to take the university back" as though a university with 90% conservatives on the faculty would be a good thing (it wouldn't).

I also probably need to point out again that this case of the student exam is one among many, hundreds. It was singled out by an op-ed writer and David Brock not me. I have visited approximately 300 campuses in the last ten years and usually interview 10-30 students at each visit (mainly conservatives because these are the students who invite me, but not exclusively conservatives). So I am operating off a knowledge base that is considerably larger than almost anyone in this matter, including professors who have the experience mainly of their own classrooms.

BTW where a professor has claimed that his words were not what the student thought they were, and shown good faith, we have accepted that. We also offer all professors the opportunity to respond.

I don't have the apparatus to conduct a major campaign and to vet and check every complaint. In this case we did make the complaint and were stonewalled. The stonewalling tells you something or at least it tells me something.

I regret that this has become a "political" campaign where no one is making tenative statements and really no one can (in political battles if you do that you get eaten alive, which is what happened to me in this instance when I conceded two minor points because the main point held). I take no responsibility for the fact that this has become so political. I attempted to make this a non-partisan campaign by approaching leftist professors to join me before I ever got started. All of them refused. I attempted to accomplish my ends behind the scenes with university trustees and administrators before I ever went to a legislature. I ran into a stonewall, beginning with the absurd denial that there was any problem at all.

So I've done what I can.

You ask me to vet everything in detail before I post it or report it. I don't have the resources to set up what is essentially a grievance machinery to determine whether each and every complaint it valid. On the other hand, I didn't name this professor (and usually don't)in reporting the complaint. He could have come forward and denied it but he didn't for a year. Wonder why?

So let me ask you, why aren't you asking universities to adopt a policy that professors will not require one correct answer to controversial questions and will set up a grievance machinery for handling such complaints? Or a policy to respect the views of all students and not hector them in the classroom on one side of political issues that have no relevance to their subject matter? That's pretty much the heart of my campaign. I can't even get a discussion going with university officials to address this issue. Join me and maybe we can accomplish it together.


Timothy James Burke - 3/20/2005

David:

Look, let's take the "facts" as you put them in these five points. Where are you left? With a he said/she said story at best. A professor says one thing, a student another. What's interesting is that you essentially assume on all five of these points that the student is likely to be right, not the professor--including that the exam question produced by the professor is not the "real one", because the student says so.

It would be at least minimally responsible for you to show some even-handedness in your evidentiary skepticism. Students have just as much reason (from my perspective, more reason) to misrepresent what went on in grading or exams.

This is one of the (many) things that gravely concerns me about your campaigns. You've constructed a polemical case that regards any accusation by a conservative student of "political bias" as presumptively true, where the burden of proof on someone accused of what you've defined as misconduct (another problem, for another conversation) to demonstrate that he or she did not do what they're alleged to have done. That's one of the problem with speech codes on campuses constructed by advocates of identity politics, that they presume guilt until the demonstration of innocence, that they remove accusations from normal considerations of due process. You're doing much the same thing here.

If you really want to act in good faith, I'd do some due diligence before you add any particular complaint to your list of accusations against the academy. Right now you appear to be indiscriminate: if a student group forwards you the complaint, you add it to the list. When people take a closer look at many of those complaints, they don't appear to be what you say they are. They either decompose into he said/she said complaints, or even worse, into no valid complaint at all, as in the case of the student who alleged that their failing grade on an essay was due to the essay's political content, when in fact by general consensus of those who've looked at the essay, including conservative professors, it's just a bad essay.


david horowitz - 3/20/2005

1. As I have already pointed out I never claimed the Professor was not a Republican and it is immaterial to me whether he was or wasn't. This campaign is about what is appropriate to an educational setting. It is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is simple misrepresentation of what I am about.
2. Actually neither the professor nor the university has produced the original exam or exam question. It has merely claimed that what it has produced is the original exam question. The student disputes this.
3. I actually don't know (and neither does Ralph Luker) whether the question was required. The professor claims it wasn't required, but he has no evidence to back up his claim since in violation of university rules he destroyed (or claims to have destroyed) the exams.
4. Ditto. The professor now claims the student only wrote two pages instead of the required three. How does he know this and how can we trust his claim if the exam no longer exists?
5. The student still claims she originally got an "F". Even in its claim the university doesn't specificy whether it is referring to the test or the course when it says she got a "B". Why would a student go through the appeals process if she got a "B"? We did try to verify the facts, but were stonewalled by the university. But why should Rick Pearlstein verify his facts before he uses his claims to try to sabotage me. Just throw me in the river.


Rebecca Anne Goetz - 3/16/2005

Yes, I have to agree Jonathan, it is a poorly worded question and probably too long. In my limited exam-writing experience, the longer the question, the more likely a nervous or time-pressured student will completely miss the point...but nevertheless. I can't believe this has become as big an issue as it is.


Anthony Paul Smith - 3/16/2005

Even though he is.

Please put me on the list!!!!


Adam Kotsko - 3/15/2005

One might even conclude that the very reason the professor asked the question is that he thought the idea that Bush was a criminal was so outlandish that arguing in favor of it would be a great way of only applying the guy's theory -- i.e., it never occurred to the prof. that people would come away from the exercise sincerely convinced that the president of the USA is a criminal.


Jonathan Dresner - 3/15/2005

Nicely put. Though I would have phrased the question differently (I'm famous for questions that have no predetermined answer, only a broad field of material to consider), the exercise seems legitimate. And making arguments that you don't necessarily believe in is a common exercise in logic, law, etc.


Rebecca Anne Goetz - 3/15/2005

Well, I've just spent the last twenty minutes trawling through all the blogarrhea on this issue and I have to say, it sounds like the student in question was determined to be offended. Having stirred up this little tempest in a teapot, she's too "intimidated" to follow through with an explanation of what upset her so much.

I agree with Inside Higher Ed--the question, no matter how you slice it, doesn't ask the student to argue that George W. Bush was/is a war criminal. Instead, it asks the student to use the specific theory of this guy Cohen--whom I presume is a criminologist--devised to show that, under that theory, GWB actions were criminal. In a course that examines the fine line between deviance and criminality, and purports to show that different cultures and/or perspectives consider apply different standards of criminality, this seems like a fair question to me. Use one guy's theory to show how GWB's actions are criminal. A good answer will prove the student has read the book in question, understood its argument, and can apply its argument. An excellent answer would show the limitations of Cohen's argument vis a vis Bush or disagree with that application of it, to name two options among many.

The day a professor discovers he can't ask students to show they've learned how to apply a particular theory to make a certain argument, even if they disagree with it, because he might offend someone, is a dark day indeed.


Ralph E. Luker - 3/15/2005

Thanks for the reference, Mr. Lederer, although I'd already seen it. Wouldn't want David's bilge to go unrepresented here at Cliopatria.


John H. Lederer - 3/15/2005

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=17370

History News Network