Blogs > Liberty and Power > David Horowitz Replies (AHA Resolution on the Academic Bill of Rights/Speech Codes)

Dec 28, 2005 4:50 pm

David Horowitz Replies (AHA Resolution on the Academic Bill of Rights/Speech Codes)

David Horowitz has replied to my HNN article (co-authored by K.C. Johnson and Ralph Luker of Cliopatria) urging members at the AHA business meeting on January 7 of the Philadelphia convention to pass a substitute resolution condemning both the Academic Bill of Rights and speech codes. K.C. Johnson has already responded to Horowitz.

Horowitz's comments only confirm my fears that the movement for the ABR threatens to hamper free and open discourse on campus.

For example, while he clearly states that Intelligent Design theory has no place in the classroom, his rationale for excluding it opens a new can of worms. According to Horowitz, the ABR “would provide absolutely no legal basis for suits to include Intelligent Design in the science curriculum in because it specifically makes the 'spectrum of significant scholarly opinion' the standard for diversity in the classroom. Intelligent Design is not part of the spectrum of significant scholarly opinion.”

If taken literally, Horowitz’s “standard of diversity” in the classroom would not only deny protection to advocates of ID but also to most members of the Liberty and Power. After all, few groups are less “significant” in number on campus than anarchist-libertarians or, for that matter, antiwar libertarians.

Horowitz trips off more alarm bells (at least for me) when he defends the ABR as a way to give “leverage” to administrators to stand up to “radicals” in the faculty and more closely monitor “abuses” in the classroom. For those of us who value academic freedom, handing more enforcement power to administrators is the worst of solutions.

Even a cursory survey of cases brought before The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shows that administrators are often (my guess usually) the greatest offenders against academic freedom in the United States today. They are leading the charge to dumb down higher education through grade inflation and other measures as well as to impose political correctness via speech codes and mandatory diversity training.

Before following Horowitz's recommendations, some perspective is in order about the profile of today's typical academic administrators. Since the 1960s, these new Mandarins have come to dictate life on campus as never before. With each passing year, they have become more overpaid, more obsessed with student body count as a measure of success, and more removed from the front lines of teaching and research. The growing power of administrators is better viewed as the main problem on campus today, not the solution.

Also, of course, since the 1960s, the related rise of speech codes has increasingly stifled the circulation of ideas on campus. The ABR threatens to only worsen the problem by adding new layer of administrative bureaucracy, monitoring, and sanctions, albeit for different goals. I was fortunate enough to experience some of the hurly burly of open debate, discussion, and presentation at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin before speech codes had taken full effect.

While most of my professors were leftists, who often lampooned Reagan in the classroom or had inflammatory Marxist boiler plate on their doors, students and faculty alike had a sense that nothing (or almost nothing) was off limits, even if it upset or offended someone. Now, in too many cases, professors and students choose to clam up rather than raise a provocative ideas, lest some student, parent, or administrator sees their comments as “biased,” “ideological,” “insensitive,” or not “germane to the subject at hand.”

In previous comments, Horowitz only confirmed my fears that the ABR was really more of the same when he wrote the following:

The leading opponent of my bill is the American Association of University Professors, the oldest and largest organization of faculty members. The AAUP contends that the bill would restrict professors' free speech rights. It wouldn't. Professors can still express their political opinions, but outside the classroom. In the classroom, they must distinguish between their official responsibilities as teachers and their private rights as citizens."

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David T. Beito - 1/5/2006

I was making a comparison. We have no staff at all unless you want to count two bumbling professors fighting on their own dime and time.

I agree that the administrators are not the only sole source of grade inflation though in my experience they are the primary initiators and facilitators.

Summers may have had greater success had he tried to control grade inflation if he had put the grades of his faculty on the web and required for class gpa to be on each transcript (as Dartmouth does I believe). It would necessarily cure the problem but at least we'd have truth in advertising.

david horowitz - 1/4/2006

The Penn State rule is verbati the 1940 Statement on the Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom of the AAUP. Also the problem isn't political comments in the classroom, it's political hectoring, political rants, political propagandizing in the classroom that's the problem. And it's a big problem.

david horowitz - 1/4/2006

Sorry I didn't see your reply until today. I am 100% with you on grade inflation, but I hardly thnk that administrators are behind it, even though you offer a clever rationale for them being so. Look at what happened to Larry Summers at Harvard when he tried to rein in Cornel West on this issue. It's the ideologues who are behind it because they want recruits in their classes. And what could you be possibly be referring to when you talk about the money behind the ABOR. I have a staff of two for a national campaign and I'm up against the AAUP, the NEA, the AFT etc. C'mon.

Steven Horwitz - 12/31/2005

Let me echo everything David has said here, and add two points:

1. It's perfectly fine to be political in the classroom. It's perfectly fine to challenge (civilly and intellectually of course) students who voice views other than yours as the professor. What's not fine is a) for faculty to grade students based on their adherence to your views as a faculty member and b) for conservative students to whine and complain every time a liberal faculty member asks them to provide arguments and evidence for in-class assertions. In my experience, what students often see as faculty "bias" is a demand for argument and evidence that too many students (of all politics) are simply, and inexcusably, unable or unwilling to rise to.

2. As one of those hated administrators (appointed from within and in the 5th of 6th years), let me note that different kinds of schools have different versions of the problems David identifies, and therefore different solutions. The kind of "sunlight as disinfectant" that works at Big State University will likely not work at Elite Liberal Arts College. Different cultures mean different versions of the problem and different variants on the solution. Sunlight is the best cure, but how one does that will vary.

Finally, I suspect that if we all paid a lot more attention to the quality of teaching that takes place in the classroom, esp. at Research I type schools, that would go a long way toward addressing these problems. Easy A's and politicized grading/instruction may fill seats, but they're really bad pedagogy if one really cares about student learning. Unfortunately, the latter is a premise that is not widely shared in academia.

David T. Beito - 12/31/2005

A final point. The Penn State Handbook nothwithstanding, I still regard the rule the professors only express political views outside of the classroom is a counterproductive restriction on campus free speech.

Some of my favorite professors often made "political" comments and jokes during lectures. For the most part, these did no harm even though some
did not relate directly indirectly to the topic at hand. In my view, however, they were consistent with the free marketplace ideal of the university.

The Penn State rule is also objectionable because it
is a variant of the theory
that underlies "speech codes" e.g. students are too fragile to handle "controversial" statements that make them feel "uncomfortable."

Now, I agree that many professors
take this too far and are intolerant of criticism and that some in fields, such as biology, need to stick more to the subject at hand.

The best way to deal with these cases, however, is not a blanket, speech chilling rule but rather, as I said before, publicity and sunlight. Of course, tenure committees need also to be more careful about taking teaching quality into account.

David T. Beito - 12/31/2005


Anarchy sounds pretty good compared the "feudal, hiearchical" status quo.

If you google my name or Charles Nuckolls name you will find that we have put forward many constructive solutions over the years. We have not taken the "easy" way out. In fact, we are trying to deal with the deeper institutional factors that have corrupted and dumbed down higher education that the ABOR does not address.

In most cases, we have based our efforts on the principle (to use a favorite saying of Alan Kors) that "sunlight is the best disinfectant."

A case in point is our effort to expose grade inflation which has particularly thrived in "ethnic studies" and similar fields which you mention. It is our experience administrators (which the ABOR would further empower) are primarily responsible for the proliferation of these courses. I suspect this is true elsewhere.

Their chief reason is financial. Because academic standards in these courses are much lower, they are a relatively easy way to increase and maintain student body count. At the University of Alabama, for example, A's constitute an amazing 80 perent of all grades in introductory Women's Studies courses. Of course, only a handful of students ever drop these courses because they promise "easy A's." By contrast, the percentage of A's in Philosophy and History courses in only about 15 percent and have high drop rates (thus angering administrators who want to keep up body count).

Again, in my view, more sunlight is the best approach. One solution we have pressed is to put the grading record of each department and professor on the Web. The University of Indiana has done this for many years.

One of our other proposals is that class GPA be listed along with student GPA on the transcript.

The administrators at UA have reacted by stonewalling in rather shameless ways. The President and Provost became so embarrased that they stopped releasing grade distribution data (probably in violation of the state FOIA)!

Unfortunately, we were fighting a pretty lonely battle. With the exception of NAS, no national organization has tackled this issue in a systematic way. If even one-tenth of the money spent to promote the ABOR had been used to promote exposure of grade distribution data, through filing FOIA requests or other strategies, much good could have been accomplished.

We also used sunlight to publicize the high salaries paid to administrators, their perks, and the massive growth of the adminisrative class in recent decades.

Using this information, we proposed that the the faculty senate endorse five-year term limits for admininistrators and to require that they be recruited from within the ranks of the faculty. Such a system, more or less, exists now at the University of Chicago). We actually won a plurality of support for our resolution on the first vote, no mean feat for the two main pariahs on campus. Imagine what could have been accomplished if some national attention had been directed to this issue?

david horowitz - 12/30/2005

You guys are very clever. In fact the only intelligent critical comments that have been written about the academic bill of rights have been written by libertarians. So if you don't like "spectrum" what would you like? It seems like you would like complete anarchy -- no rules. Perhaps you didn't notice that the university is a feudal institution -- strictly hierarchical and there is no market mechanism to keep people honest (what is the penalty for bad ideas?). So if American universities (liberal arts division) become training schools in the doctrines of Ward Churchill or Lyndon LaRouche -- and entire fields like Ethnic Studies are fairly close to being this already -- as far as you're concerned, that's ok.

It's easy to be a critic. How about constructive suggestion, e.g., to reword that sentence you don't like which was only designed to create a freer market. Alternatively what do you propose to do to reverse the rot in a field like Ethnic Studies, given that the structures of the universities are designed to preserve and perpetuate a (rotten)status quo?

BTW David, that last quote of mine that confirms your fears is lifted directly out of the academic freedom guidelines of the Penn State Faculty Handbook. Needless to say, these guidelines are ignored by Penn State faculty and by the Penn State administration you think is such a big threat.

Kevin Carson - 12/30/2005

David Horowitz has the same attitude toward the Left that a deprogrammed Moonie has toward the Unification Church: i.e., just as obsessive and authoritarian as his former attitude in the opposite direction.

Maybe the solution is some kind of Betty van Patter incident at the offices of the Weekly Standard, so Horowitz can spend the rest of his life trying to atone by being more paleo than Rockwell, and obsessively rooting out Straussians in academia.

David T. Beito - 12/28/2005

Yes, the arguments for the ABR are much weaker than I had previously imagined.

Sudha Shenoy - 12/28/2005

And who will guard the guardians? Who will decide what that 'spectrum' is, what's 'significant', & what constitutes 'scholarly opinion'?? Ten thousand elephant-censors could stroll through. Bah.

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