Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dave Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Wrongs

Other than all night bull-sessions, the most positive influence on academic progress is its controversy. Come to think of it, controversy was what those all-nighters were all about. University was, for many of us, a first chance to get away from Dad’s domination of dinner-table politics.

Dadpolitics Other than all night bull-sessions, the most positive influence on academic progress is its controversy. Come to think of it, controversy was what those all-nighters were all about. University was, for many of us, a first chance to get away from Dad’s domination of dinner-table politics.
That presumes a dinner-table around which families gather—something in ever shorter supply, if one can believe the statistics. Be that as it may, Dads remain at one end of whatever serves for discipline in the modern family and a main attraction to higher education is escaping the old man’s grip.
Davidhorowitz David Horowitz wants to be everyone’s Dad. At least, everyone in college.
Under the guise of something he calls an Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR), daddy David presumes to protect all those young and unformed minds from “ideological indoctrination” by professors. No matter that one man’s indoctrination is another girl’s freedom to express and learn and weigh fact and conjecture by ideological comparison.
Which—when you consider it—is pretty much the definition of a university.
Ol’ Dave is having none of it, though. And he’s having none of it all the way across American institutions of higher learning. Dave’s learning is the right learning. In his mind, you didn’t escape Dad’s conservative grip, just to mosey off into wrong thinking.
Maybe I forgot to mention, Dave’s rave is conservative to the core. His answer to a (presumed) liberal orthodoxy--agreeing with conventional standards, is heterodoxy—rigid adherence to doctrine.
Anger One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about the political and religious right is their anger at anything leftish, Darwinian, arguable or controversial. The left is frequently dumbfounded, sometimes quizzical and more often than not, ineffective. The angry right adheres to a single truth, which is much more efficient. It bears no questioning, allows no inquisitiveness, brooks no doubt, wonders at nothing other than the folly of those who can possibly see alternatives.
Which—when you consider it—is pretty much the antithesis of knowledge.
Dave’s ‘bill’ takes the form of campus ‘resolutions’ or (far more ominously) actual legislative proposals that claim to protect the academic freedom of college students. It’s a nifty document, much like a huge and complicated congressional bill that hides earmarks. Uncle Dave gives lip-service to
  • All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence...with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives... Comment: Pluralities that may be required to include intelligent design.
  • No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs. Comment: Hard to argue with this one.
  • Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs. Comment: What happens when political and religious beliefs ‘are’ the basis of their reasoning?
  • Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas ...dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate...make their students aware of other viewpoints...welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions. Comment: (Whew) Uncertainty and unsettled argument are the code-words of the religious right.
  • Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility... will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination. Comment: Sounds great, but is Darwin anti-religious?
  • Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism. Comment: Again, who are the agreed thought police to evaluate ‘intellectual pluralism?’
  • An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated. Comment: Dave had some trouble with this one personally with his own ‘campus literature.’
  • Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research...academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements...Comment: Organizational neutrality is the exact opposite of knowledge, but it serves creationists admirably.
Davidhorowitz3 But it happens that Ol’ Dave has set off some freaky stuff in his transformation from extreme leftist to the radical right . The College Access and Opportunity Act, passed by the House in March and under consideration in the Senate, aims to deny federal funding to institutions -- even private ones -- that refuse to comply with ABOR's limitations on speech.
It may be time to ABORT ABOR.
Now it happens that I am somewhat of a conservative myself, having gnashed my teeth during various and sundry campus rebellions in my time. But those insurrectionist-types seem as gone as the days of $1 gasoline. Where are Dave’s liberals today? Mostly cramming for conservative jobs on Wall Street by the look of it. Seen any campus liberals chanting anti-war rhetoric on the nightly news? Me neither.
Davidhorowitz2 Our colleges and universities suit almost no one. They are too liberal, too conservative, too expensive, too elitist, too egalitarian, too intellectually lazy and their football teams are never successful enough.
They just aren’t worth a damn, except that they are the envy of the world and the (apparent) seat of universal knowledge.
American colleges and universities have never needed the Dave Horowitzs to insure protections of intellectual diversity and they hardly need it now--cloaked as it is in Dave’s personal and self-serving philosophies.
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