Historians Vow to Oppose the Conservative Campaign to Pressure Universities to Hire Conservatives

Breaking News

Update Sunday 1-8-06: This morning the AHA Council unanimously approved the resolution referred to below.

In a pointed response to the growing campaign to pressure universities to hire more conservative professors in the humanities, historians meeting in Philadelphia today said the effort smacks of McCarthyism and vowed to oppose it. They passed a resolution to put the American Historical Association—the nation’s oldest and most revered historical society—on record against the effort.

Conservatives, led by David Horowitz, have long claimed that universities are dominated by left-wingers. To correct this perceived political imbalance they have proposed to reform the system by persuading state legislatures to pass an “Academic Bill of Rights” to help conservatives win positions in the academy. The historians, at their annual Business Meeting, admitted that most humanities professors are liberal but insisted that is not because conservatives are discriminated against. Rather, liberals simply are more drawn to the humanities than conservatives, who often dominate faculties at business schools.

Ellen Schrecker, the author of the resolution, contended that Horowitz’s aim is to “give power over such matters as curriculum, course content, and faculty personnel decisions to governmental authorities and other agencies outside the faculty and administrations of institutions of higher learning.” She said this reminded her of what went on during the era of Joe McCarthy, the subject of much of her historical research.

The vote took place just two days before the state legislature plans to hold a hearing in Philadelphia on the merits of Horowitz’s measure.

Some 5600 historians are attending the annual meeting of the AHA this weekend. Fewer than 70 turned up for the vote at the Business Meeting, though that was about the same number that usually attend. Before the resolution can become official policy it must be approved by a vote of the Council of the AHA. The Council is scheduled to take up the matter at a meeting on Sunday.

Although the resolution was approved unanimously in under an hour, it was nearly derailed after libertarian David Beito argued in favor of a substitute that would have put the AHA on record against both the Academic Bill of Rights and university speech codes. Many conservatives oppose speech codes, which have been knocked down by the courts as unconstitutional. Beito, joined by Ralph Luker, argued that it would be politically wise for the members to lump the measures together to win Republican support for the principle of academic freedom. Luker said it would be a “serious political mistake to address only the concerns of the academic left and not the concerns of the libertarians and the right.” As Beito noted, it will take Republican votes to defeat Horowitz’s measure in many states.

Many of the members agreed that speech codes are indefensible and vowed to consider supporting a resolution against them in the future. But for the time being the main and immediate threat to academic freedom, they said, was Horowitz’s movement to enact his “Academic Bill of Rights.”

Beito's measure appeared to have some support. But when someone suggested taking a roll call vote the meeting's parliamentarian explained that a quorum would be required. As a quorum was lacking (100 people constitute a quorum) the meeting might have to simply come to an immediate end unless other members could be rounded up. Hearing this the crowd rallied behind the Schrecker resolution and defeated Beito's soundly.

After his substitute was voted down he joined in approving the main resolution offered by Schrecker, as he had pledged at the outset of the debate.

Related Links

  • David Beito, Robert"KC" Johnson, and Ralph E. Luker: A Time to Choose for the AHA in Philadelphia: Speech Codes and the Academic Bill of Rights

  • Scott Jaschik: More Criticism of ‘Academic Bill of Rights’

  • comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    Lisa Kazmier - 3/9/2006

    I ain't bluffing. I have yet to see a copy of your document posted fully. You send it to me, I know you'll try to excuse your way out of it. So guess what? I'd be dumb enough to sue you, too. So, step up to the plate.

    I can publish a note calling you out after people stopped reading a link, too, ya know.

    John Edward Philips - 1/30/2006

    I've seen professors, liberal and conservative alike, try to shove their ideas down students throats. Every time they have done that it has backfired badly, and in one case I saw a professor apologize. Any professor who refuses to tolerate opposing points of view is his or her own remedy. If such a professor is giving a student a bad grade for political reasons there are ways to appeal grades already in place.

    Horowitz seems to think that students are stupid, that they can't make up their own minds and that they are therefore prey of professors who want to brainwash them. Funny, I thought the idea that education was indoctrination went out with Communism. Well, I'm not surprised Horowitz thinks like a Communist. He used to be one. Maybe he should find out what liberalism, or honest conservatism, is.

    Everyone's not a totalitarian. That's why most academics want government out of academic decisions. The ABOR should not be law, doesn't need to be law, and would be a disaster if enacted into law.

    John Edward Philips - 1/30/2006

    "What have organizations of historians done to remedy the historical errors perpetuated in departments of comparative literature, cultural studies, the history of science, English literature, and so on,"

    I don't know. What have organizations of scientists done to correct the errors about science passed off in history classes?

    How is that any of their business? If you want to learn history, take a history class, not an English literature class. And vice versa.

    John Edward Philips - 1/30/2006

    You are "simply appalled by the excuse that liberals are attracted to the humanities while the business types go elsewhere"

    Why? The secretary at the history department told me that people go into history because they're not good at math.

    BTW, business types are in business schools. How many liberals are there?

    david horowitz - 1/14/2006

    Who are you kidding? The statement offering the $10,000 has been made on HNN, frontpagemag and InsideHigherEd. You can't collect it because the AHA claims about the ABOR are patently false. But go ahead and try (and I won't hold my breath waiting for you to have the honest to concede that you are wrong or to do the decent thing which would be to apologize.

    david horowitz - 1/13/2006

    The statements by Schrecker and the claims in the AHA resolution authored by Luker & Co about the Academic Bill of Rights are demonstrably false (read the bill). I have offered $10,000 to any member of the AHA who can find a sentence or clause in the Academic Bill of Rights that imposes a political standard on the curriculum (what it actually says is that students should be "exposed to the spectrum of significant scholarly opinion" specifically refers . Funny that Luker doesn't even mention the offer and revealing that he doesn't link my response to the one-sided Jaschik acount of what happened. The claim that the Academic Bill of Rights would force the hiring of conservatives is even more ludicrous in that the Academic Bill of Rights specifically forbids hiring on the basis of political viewpoint. I have to confess I am dumbfounded to see otherwise intelligent people go off the deep end like this.

    Lisa Kazmier - 1/9/2006

    Hey, do you where I can find that statement and make my case for the 10 grand? I could use the money!

    Oh, and being called "naive" is hardly against the rules imo.

    Lisa Kazmier - 1/9/2006

    I'm not so sure what the "problem" is. Do you or Horowitz recognize that a grad student might be treated shabbily if not "conservative" enough or a job applicant isn't "conservative" enough or something else to be hired? The job market currently seems to be very tight and very idiosynchratic, but I can name two situations where I was not conservative enough for a specific institution, despite the fact that where I wound up I wasn't considered radical at all.

    Then there's the gender issue, which is another matter.

    Ralph E. Luker - 1/9/2006

    Look, Clare, you of all people know that there's a far stretch from articulated AAUP values to which we all claim to adhere and encoding those same values in legal code. The legal code gives status to student law suits and threats of law suits. You are a good enough libertarian to recognize that as a nightmare. Of course, Horowitz will tell you what he knows you want to hear. I am, frankly, astonished that you are gullible enough to believe what he says. You really do need to inform yourself.

    Clare Lois Spark - 1/9/2006

    I asked David Horowitz to comment on the allegation that ABOR is a stalking horse for forcing the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. He told me in no uncertain terms that he has said many times that there is no place in the science curriculum for the teaching of intelligent design. What else you got, Ralph?

    Clare Lois Spark - 1/9/2006

    If you think that there is a legal basis for lawsuits to require the teaching of intelligent design, please demonstrate it, and with an authoritative legal source, not some fantasizing legislator. I for one would be horrified to see religion determining the humanities or the science curriculum to the detriment of science and scientific inquiry. But you have opened a can of worms, Ralph. Do you think that there are no axioms in the history profession as currently practiced, that make history departments refuges for arbitrary authority? What have organizations of historians done to remedy the historical errors perpetuated in departments of comparative literature, cultural studies, the history of science, English literature, and so on, departments and programs that are "interdisciplinary" but untrained in history and not supervised by colleagues who could protect students from their predesigned prejudices? If you want to protect classrooms from designing ultra-conservatives and reactionaries, then meditate for a moment on the designs of activist academics on the left, whose stubborness in resisting disconfirming facts is well-known and is delegitimating the humanities.

    Lorraine Paul - 1/9/2006

    When governments legislate, or interfere in any way, to control the dissemination of knowledge and thought in higher education facilities then there can be only one name for it...

    Actually, the news we receive from the US is mainly concerned with foreign affairs and natural disasters so am not as familiar with domestic issues. If the Administration and its minions are so frightened of open debate as to attempt this draconian step to stiffle it then it can only be good news!

    Please correct me if I have failed to understand the gist of these comments.

    Ralph E. Luker - 1/8/2006

    Sorry, Clare, but there's _nothing_ defamatory in what I said, except perhaps the suggestion that, in this instance, you simply don't know what you're talking about. If you think that putting grounds for additional student law suits over ID, for example, is a positive direction in American higher education, I think you've taken leave of your senses. Is that defamation?

    Clare Lois Spark - 1/8/2006

    I have just read the rules of this discussion board, and believe that Ralph Luker's message is defamatory.
    It would have been productive for Ralph Luker to have pointed out where the Horowitz proposal says something that would in practice stifle rational debate and learning in the classroom; in so doing, it would have advanced the conversation, but regretfully, he chose not to.
    I can say from decades of experience in the academic left that conformity, not originality and daring, are the tickets to acceptance and employment. That sad lesson has not, however, led me to embrace another conformist ideology, but to behave the way I always have in my research, with fidelity to facts and reason, no matter how much revision of previous positions may be necessary. Anyone who has read my work knows this to be true.

    David T. Beito - 1/8/2006

    Certain statements were made yesterday which only confirm you're point. One speaker, who shall be nameless, said that conservatives could not get jobs in academia because they lacked the necessary intellectual capacity. Few in the crowd seemed bothered by this comment. How could somone who holds such a view, if they happen to be on a hiring committee, possibly be fair to a conservative?

    It is entirely predictable that discrimination will occur when a single large group (in this case the left) dominates a profession so thoroughly. That is human nature. To pretend otherwise, as some do, reveals either a complete arrogance of power or, at the very least, a stunning lack of sensitivity.

    David T. Beito - 1/8/2006

    I agree with Ralph. In Horowitz conception of legitimate scholarship, it seems that statistics can trump intrinsic merit.

    For example, he is pretty clear on the comments section of Liberty and Power that the ABOR's protection is limited to scholars who fall within a certain "spectrum" thus, apparently, excluding small minorities who are outside of this spectrum.

    Ralph E. Luker - 1/8/2006

    "It is my strong impression that David Horowitz's campaign is intended to support scholarship in its most honorable sense."
    Clare, I have known you via your comments here and elsewhere for a very long time. I have never known you to say anything to naive as this before. I cannot believe that you have informed yourself by reading the daily barrage of propaganda and drivel posted at Front Page Mag.

    Clare Lois Spark - 1/8/2006

    This is a postscript to my previous message. The remedy for one-sidedness in the history profession is not an alleged "balance" by presenting "conservative" viewpoints. The remedy is to scrupulously adhere to the principles of historical research, describing as accurately as the sources will allow, what persons, groups, institutions, etc. actually did, and what they thought they were doing. This is incredibly labor-intensive and, for me, the most exasperating experiences in the academy have been the careerist swallowing of whatever approach the more powerful persons in a department are sponsoring.
    By the marketplace of ideas, I do not mean, then, competing ideas simply co-existing, but a good faith attempt to engage the errors of our opponents and to constantly question our own conclusions based upon reasonable criticisms and corrections from colleagues. It is my strong impression that David Horowitz's campaign is intended to support scholarship in its most honorable sense.
    I would expect the same even-handedness from every professor, no matter what the political affiliation or opinion of current events--events, I should hasten to add, do not necessarily provide the primary source materials needed to come to conclusions about the wisdom and propriety of policy.
    Good grief: how is it even possible that I should have to state the obvious?

    Clare Lois Spark - 1/8/2006

    As an intellectual historian and student of academic responses to the advent of modernity, I am simply appalled by the excuse that liberals are attracted to the humanities while the business types go elsewhere, hence the lopsided political affiliations in departments of history, etc.
    Does anyone in the AHA actually believe this and find it a credible historical explanation? Does anyone deny that there is an acceptable "line" in the humanities, and that dissent from that line is heavily sanctioned? Does anyone believe that a marketplace of ideas exists in history classrooms? Or is this refusal to examine what the campaign for academic freedom actually proposes symptomatic of the arrogance and hubris of the academic left, now that it exercises a monopoly on employment in the profession?

    Alonzo Hamby - 1/8/2006

    I agree that the Horowitz proposal is a remedy worse than the problem. I would be more impressed with the AHA, however, if as an institution it could at least bring itself to admit that a real problem exists. Instead, it seems to have chosen to denounce Horowitzism as a functional equivalent of McCarthyism, thereby indulging in a seriously flawed historical analogy.
    Why commit bad history in the name of principle? I suspect it has much to do with a sense that the present state of American education fits the ideological predisposition of the AHA activists.
    Who among us will seriously claim that ideologically driven classes in the social sciences and humanities are rare? Who will seriously claim that perceptions of political ideology almost never figure in hiring decisions? Or for that matter AHA nominating committee decisions?
    The Betio-Luker resolution was a good one, which meant it probably was doomed to fail.
    Of course, the fact that, as usual, 70 members out of a registration of 5,300 showed up for the business meeting tells us just how irrelevant the membership considers most AHA business to their lives.

    David T. Beito - 1/8/2006

    Good summary but you miss a couple of key points. First, we pushed our resolution primarily because of a pricipled belief in academic freedom. The practical reasons were also discussed yesterday but they were not our main concern. Secondly, while it is true that speech codes when challenged have often been ruled as unconstitutional this does not mean, as some people wrongly claimed yesterday, that they are dead or even dying. Had these critics bothered to look into the matter, they would have found many, many, ongoing cases involving speech codes which taken together constitute the single greatest threat to academic freedom today. A quick visit to the website of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education will show several of these pending cases including this one:

    "GREENSBORO, N.C., December 15, 2005—The University of North Carolina–Greensboro (UNCG) is attempting to discipline two students for peacefully protesting outside two small “free speech zones” on campus. Ironically, the students were actually protesting the existence of those zones, which unconstitutionally restrict free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has intervened on the students’ behalf."

    To repeat, this is one of MANY cases in all regions of the country and in both public and private institutions.