Trials of the Intellect in the Post-Modern Academy
In January 2005, Professor Ward Churchill became a figure of national revulsion when his impending visit to Hamilton College was linked to an article claiming that the victims of 9/11 were “little Eichmanns” who deserved their fate. Churchill’s article produced an outcry of such force that it led to the removal of the faculty head of the host committee at Hamilton and the resignation of the president of the University of Colorado, where Churchill was professor of ethnic studies. As a result of the uproar, Churchill was removed as department chair, and university authorities began an investigation into how he had acquired his faculty position in the first place.
Far from being a marginal crank, Ward Churchill was (and still is) prominent at the University of Colorado and in the academic world at large. A leading figure in his field and widely published, his appearance at Hamilton in January 2005 would have been the fortieth campus to which he had been invited to speak in the three years after 9/11. The opinions expressed in his infamous article were themselves far from obscure to his academic colleagues. First published on the Internet in October 2001, they reflected views that were part of the intellectual core of his academic work, familiar both to university authorities in Colorado and to his faculty hosts at Hamilton. These facts made the scandal an event whose significances extended far beyond the fate of one individual to implicate the academic culture itself.
The Churchill spectacle was not an isolated incident at Hamilton. In the fall of 2004, a convicted terrorist named Susan Rosenberg was invited to join the faculty as a “visiting professor,” to teach a course on “Resistance Memoirs.” As the course title suggested, far from repudiating her political past, Susan Rosenberg embraced it. She was an active member of a network of veteran radicals, many still in jail, who remained loyal to the causes they had violently served. Rosenberg herself had been apprehended in 1984 as she was moving more than six hundred pounds of explosives into a Cherry Hill, New Jersey, warehouse. She had been sentenced to fifty-eight years in prison for her crime, but was released as one of President Clinton’s last-minute pardons after serving only fourteen years of her term.
Rosenberg had been hired by Nancy Rabinowitz, a professor of comparative literature and head of the Kirkland Project on Gender, Society and Culture at Hamilton. The Kirkland Project, a self-described “social justice organization,” was run by faculty and funded by a university endowment. Although the nation at large was engaged in a “War on Terror” in Iraq and only three years earlier had been the target of a massive terrorist attack, Professor Rabinowitz was oblivious to the public reaction her decision might provoke. Even when the outcries caused Rosenberg to withdraw, Rabinowitz remained adamant. Apparently unconscious of the damage she was about to inflict on herself, two schools, and the university culture, Rabinowitz followed her first misstep with a second when she decided to honor an invitation to Churchill to speak at Hamilton a month after the Rosenberg affair.
The behavior of Rabinowitz and her Kirkland colleagues reflected the insularity of a predominately left-wing academic environment that had become an echo chamber for ever more radical ideas. It was this environment that prevented the directors of the Kirkland Project from perceiving any impropriety in conferring academic legitimacy on an individual who had been sentenced to prison for terrorist acts.
Hamilton College is a small liberal arts college in rural upstate New York. Named after a conservative American Founder, its colonial architecture and sylvan views provide a setting well-suited to the contemplative life. Along with sister schools like Williams and Colgate, Hamilton aspires to be a “second-tier Ivy” and generations of graduates have sent their children there to carry on a family legacy and reap the intellectual benefits of the school they remember. It is this loyalty to tradition that maintains the flow of donations, which sustains Hamilton and attracts students who pay a yearly tuition of $30,000 to attend.
Along with other American universities, in the last several decades Hamilton has undergone a sea change. Significant departments of the school have ceased to be part of the ivory tower that its alumni recall. Many faculty members are no longer devoted to pursuits that are purely “academic,” and the curriculum has been expanded to include agendas about “social change” that are overtly political and make an invitation to a convicted terrorist seem appropriate rather than merely appalling.
This transformation has been the work of an academic generation that came of age as anti-war radicals in the Vietnam era. Many of these activists stayed in school to avoid the military draft and earned PhDs, taking their political activism with them when they became tenured-track professors in the 1970s. As tenured radicals, they were determined to do away with the concept of the ivory tower and scorned the contemplative life that liberal arts colleges like Hamilton created. They rejected the concept of the university as a temple of the intellect, in which the term “academic” described a curriculum insulated from the political passions of the times. Instead, these radicals were intent on making the university “relevant” to current events, and to their own partisan agendas. Accordingly, they set about re-shaping the university curriculum to support their political interests, which appeared in their own minds as grandiose crusades for “social justice.”
They created new institutional frameworks and fields of study, casting old standards and disciplines aside. New departments began to appear with objectives that were frankly political and maintained no pretense of including intellectually diverse viewpoints or in pursuing academic inquiries unconnected to the conclusions they might reach. Names like “Black Studies” and “Women’s Studies” had political subtexts and were really devoted to Black Nationalism, feminism, and similar ideological programs. Many had been created through political protests—some violent. One of the first Black Studies programs was established at Cornell University as a concession to black radicals who occupied the administration building with loaded shotguns and refused to leave until their demands were met. Among the demands the university administration agreed to was the “right” of the radicals to appoint their own professors.
At first the new departments were presented as part of a broader social movement to “serve” minority groups previously neglected. But as the cohort of activists on academic faculties grew, the new disciplines proved insufficient to encompass the social and intellectual agendas the radicals favored. Cultural studies, peace studies, whiteness studies, post-colonial studies, and global studies—even social justice studies—came into being as interdisciplinary fields shaped by narrow, one-sided political agendas. Some of these programs attacked American foreign policy and the American military, others America’s self-image and national identity. Collectively, they marked a dramatic departure from the academic interests of the past, providing institutional settings for political indoctrination: the exposition and development of radical theory, the education and training of radical cadre, and the recruitment of students to radical causes.
Because the new activist departments were “interdisciplinary,” they were able to spread their influence through the traditional fields until virtually every English Department, History Department, and law school now draws on Women’s Studies and African American Studies Departments for courses and faculty. The intellectual movement created has been so powerful in shaping the university curriculum that it has affected the educational philosophy of the institutions themselves. Modern research universities once defined their purposes in official templates as institutions “dedicated to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.” Under the new dispensation, they embrace the mission brought to them by radical academics and now often refer to themselves as institutions dedicated to “social change.”
Nancy Rabinowitz was one of the tenured radicals who had come to Hamilton to promote the new dispensation. Though formally a professor of comparative literature, she was unable to leave her activist passions at the campus gates and became the guiding influence and head of the Kirkland Project for Gender, Society and Culture, where she implemented her extra-academic agendas by inviting radicals like Susan Rosenberg to teach.
Professor Rabinowitz’s connection to Rosenberg was also something more than academic. Rabinowitz had married into a famous radical family, which was linked to Rosenberg through her infamous crime. Rabinowitz’s father-in-law was the celebrated Communist lawyer Victor Rabinowitz, whose clients included Fidel Castro and other violent radicals, including the political terrorists of the Puerto Rican FALN. Victor Rabinowitz’s lifelong friend and law partner was Leonard Boudin, also a Communist, and the father of Kathy Boudin, one of the leaders of the Weather Underground, a terrorist cult that had declared a formal “war” on “Amerikkka’ in the 1970s, and carried out bombings of the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and other official buildings. The principal leaders of the Weather Underground later became professors (and are profiled in this book).6 When the terrorist cult dissolved in 1976, Kathy Boudin joined the “May 19 Communist Movement,” a Weather Underground network splinter group, which in 1981 robbed a Brinks armored car in Nyack, New York, murdering two guards and a policeman, and leaving nine children fatherless. Susan Rosenberg was part of the Weather Underground network and was indicted for the Nyack crime.
Kathy Boudin was convicted for her role in the Nyack robbery-murders, but Susan Rosenberg, though indicted, was never tried. Prosecutors in the Nyack case saw no reason to pursue her after she received her fifty-eight-year sentence for other crimes. This was the sentence from which President Clinton— petitioned by New York Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler—finally released her.
Susan Rosenberg was only one of several Weather Underground terrorists who had recently surfaced and begun touring college campuses. Still committed radicals, they had formed a “political prisoners” network7 and were looking to rehabilitate themselves and their political agendas. Uncontrite about the revolutionary politics that had led to their crimes, they made appearances at colleges across the country, where they were invited to lecture and give seminars by radical professors who presented them to students as advocates for “human rights.” When convicted bomber and Weather Underground member Laura Whitehorn was invited as an official guest of the African American Studies Department at Duke University, she was presented as a human rights activist by Duke faculty. It was left to Duke students to research her history on the Internet and reveal her terrorist past and criminal conviction, and to protest the faculty deception.8
The professors running the Kirkland Project had presented Susan Rosenberg in equally misleading terms as “an award-winning writer, an activist, and a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer.” She was further described as a victim of government persecution, imprisoned because of her “political activities” with the Black Liberation Army. No mention was made of her crimes or theirs, which included several murders.
Schools like Hamilton had become so exclusively politicized towards the Left that decisions like the one Nancy Rabinowitz made had come to seem normal by university standards. While some Hamilton faculty voiced moral outrage at the Rabinowitz invitation, the concerns of those involved were mainly focused on the possibility of negative public reaction. Not that the faculty sympathized with the public. Most regarded any negative response to the Rosenberg invitation as a reflection of public ignorance and attitudes that were “reactionary.” In their minds, the problem raised by the hiring of a convicted terrorist was whether the free speech rights of the terrorist could be protected, not the implications of such an appointment for academic values.
While members of the Hamilton community worried about the public reaction, a sophomore named Ian Mandel stepped forward to spark the outrage that would eventually thwart Professor Rabinowitz’s political agendas. As Jacob Laksin reported for FrontPagemag.com, “Ian Mandel had personal reasons to oppose Rosenberg’s appointment. A Nyack native, he grew up with the names Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady etched into his mind. They were the two Nyack police officers killed in the 1981 robbery [for which Rosenberg was indicted]. ‘Every day of my life until I left for Hamilton, I drove by the memorial to officers Brown and O’Grady located about one mile from my house,’ he recalled. Mandel explained that Nyack’s tight-knit community was profoundly shaped by the murders of the two officers. ‘To this day it is a tough subject for many to speak about,’ he wrote. It was a measure of the anger and disgust he felt about Rosenberg’s hiring that Mandel, a member of the Hamilton College Democrats, agreed to speak about it. Like many Nyack residents, Mandel had thoroughly studied the robbery. He concluded that Rosenberg was indeed involved. ‘To me, and I’d assume to most members of the Nyack community and of the larger law-enforcement community, that makes Susan Rosenberg a cop-killer,’ he said. Haunted by Rosenberg’s grim legacy at Nyack, Mandel was determined not to let it follow him to Hamilton. ‘I think that bringing Susan Rosenberg to teach a class at Hamilton is a disgrace and a black-eye to the college,’ he said.”
Mandel was invited to appear on TV and radio talk shows. Simultaneously, police officers staged a demonstration to protest the Rosenberg outrage at a New York fundraiser for Hamilton. This, in turn, led to an alumni revolt. As the media events unfolded, donors began to withdraw their pledges from the college while irate phone calls from alumni and citizens flooded the president’s office. This public pressure eventually overwhelmed the institution’s resistance and led to a resolution of the crisis with Rosenberg’s withdrawal from the program. The faculty radicals led by Professor Rabinowitz remained defiant, however, referring to the public’s reaction as a witch-hunt.
This defiance led directly to the second incident, whose ramifications were to prove even greater than the first. Well before the Rosenberg fiasco, the Kirkland Project had scheduled Ward Churchill to speak. Despite the damage they had already inflicted on their college, the Kirkland directors made no move to reconsider or postpone the Churchill appearance.
Like Rosenberg, Churchill’s link to Rabinowitz was political rather than academic. One of the items he listed in his curriculum vitae was that during the 1970s he had trained members of the Weather Underground in the use of weapons and explosives. Churchill was already well-known in academic circles for his views that America was a genocidal nation, led by international criminals—views shared by the Weather Underground and many radical professors. This was why Rabinowitz and the faculty advisors to the Kirkland Project invited him in the first place, and why they did not want to cancel the invitation. Going ahead with his scheduled appearance would be an “in-your-face” gesture to a public that in their eyes had persecuted Susan Rosenberg for her political views, and to a Hamilton administration that had failed to defend her. Professor Rabinowitz and her radical faculty allies were determined to demonstrate to the unenlightened just what free speech meant.
During the crisis, several moderate faculty voices challenged this view. “If the administration cannot see the contradiction between this hire and the clearly stated mission of the college to foster scholarship and academic excellence, then God help us all,” commented Robert Paquette, one of Hamilton’s handful of conservative professors. Economics professor James Bradfield was similarly disturbed that the Hamilton administration had adopted the radicals’ view of the issue as Rosenberg’s free speech. “I disagree with the administration’s presenting this as a matter of free speech, which it is not,” he said. “It is a matter of standards… Even if Susan Rosenberg possessed the intellect or had achieved the scholarly or artistic preeminence of people such as Albert Einstein, Milton Friedman, Lionel Trilling, or Leonard Bernstein, I would argue that her character, as manifestly demonstrated by the choices that she made as an adult over a sustained period of years, would preclude her appointment to the faculty of Hamilton College.”
Though in recent years Hamilton had invited a greater percentage of conservative speakers to campus than was the practice at most colleges (the numbers were still pitifully small), and though several faculty were visibly troubled by the Rosenberg invitation, opposition to the faculty radicals remained confined to a minority bold enough to express an opinion publicly. The hand of this minority was greatly strengthened by the damage the Rosenberg debacle had inflicted on the college. The revenue loss from withdrawn donations had already prompted a rumor that there might be no faculty salary increases in the coming year.12 Consequently, Rabinowitz’s determination to use the college as a platform for her political agendas became a practical matter as well.
When the spring schedule of events for the Kirkland Project was published, a government professor named Theodore Eis-meier noticed Ward Churchill’s name among the invited speakers. Eismeier immediately logged on to the Internet and came up with an article Churchill had written three years before, which in his eyes was a smoking gun. Written just after the attacks of 9/11, Churchill’s article was called, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.”
Churchill’s imperfect sense of English syntax made his title seem more obscure than its inflammatory message warranted. What he meant was that the heinous terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a case of the chickens coming home to roost; that the horrors of 9/11 were Americans’ just desserts. “Let’s get a grip here, shall we?” Churchill wrote. “True enough, [the victims of 9/11] were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Give me a break. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.”
In this mangled prose Churchill was merely articulating the theme of his entire academic career: America was like Hitler Germany, a nation dedicated to the extermination of minorities; its capitalist economic machine starving poor people all over the world all the time. Therefore, the “civilians” who comprised what Churchill referred to as its “technical core”—the inhabitants of the World Trade Center—were little Eichmanns, cogs in a machine that churned out mass murder. (Adolf Eichmann was the Nazi bureaucrat who organized the shipment of Jews to the gas chambers). In Churchill’s view, there was no “better way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation” in the workings of America’s global economy (and thus global genocide) than incinerating Americans in their place of work.
That such views could earn an individual like Churchill a full professorship at a major state university and the responsibility and power of a department chair spoke volumes about academic corruption not only in Colorado but in the ethnic studies field. That Churchill was a sought-after speaker by universities across the country was a chilling indictment of an entire system.
Theodore Eismeier was convinced that the invitation to Churchill spelled disaster for Hamilton. He sent the essay along with “other troubling writings” of Churchill’s to school administrators. The result was a series of meetings with Rabinowitz and the executive committee of the Kirkland Project. According to Rabinowitz’s account of these meetings, there was dissension among the Kirkland board of advisors. The administration thought the event “was going to be as bad as Susan Rosenberg” and wanted the Kirkland board to defuse it by converting Churchill’s speech into a panel, which would include anti-Churchill faculty like government professor (now dean of students) Phil Klinkner. Rabinowitz protested. “Let’s take a strong stand for freedom of speech,” she said.
Churchill’s speech was hardly “free.” The Kirkland Project was paying him $3,500 plus expenses to come to Hamilton, which was probably twice the cost of bringing a nationally renowned scholar in the humanities or social sciences to campus. Rabinowitz and the directors of the Kirkland Project hadn’t offered Churchill this kind of money to provide students with an example of free speech. They had invited him because, like Rabinowitz, they shared his extreme views or found him academically interesting. Promoting views like Churchill’s was the purpose of the Kirkland Project. This was their standard, and this standard—not free speech—was the issue.
As the date of Churchill’s visit approached, the Syracuse Post-Standard published a report on the event that included interviews with the growing campus opposition. Professor Eismeier was quoted as saying that the proposed panel was “akin to inviting a representative of the KKK to speak and then asking a member of the NAACP to respond.” Other media began to report the controversy. Through Internet postings, talk radio chatter, and further press coverage, the controversy picked up momentum until a Hamilton student appeared on FOX News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor and blew the affair wide open.
Like Ian Mandel before him, Matthew Coppo was a sophomore at Hamilton, but his relationship to the political events that provided a subtext for the occasion was more intimate. Matthew’s father had been killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and was thus one of the innocent victims Ward Churchill had described as “little Eichmanns” who deserved to die. Matthew Coppo appeared on two consecutive segments of The O’Reilly Factor, the first with his mother. In the show’s opening editorial segment, O’Reilly declared that Hamilton was morally wrong to have provided Churchill with an academic template and said that his hateful comments “should not be rewarded by any sane person,” which was a perfectly reasonable view. As a result of the broadcast, an avalanche of angry emails (more than 8,000 according to college officials) descended on Hamilton president Joan Hinde Stewart, leading her to cancel the event.
Explaining the cancellation, Stewart presented herself and Hamilton not as the embarrassed authors of bad decisions and abysmal standards but as failed defenders of free speech. She thus accepted, for a second time, the self-serving view of Hamilton’s faculty radicals that the real problem was not the behavior of the faculty Left but the public’s reaction. To this claim she added an administrative concern for campus security: “We have done our best to protect what we hold most dear-—the right to speak, think, and study freely—but there is a higher responsibility that this institution carries, and that is the safety of our students.” Stewart alleged that threats of violence had been made, and that these had prompted her decision to cancel the event. Such threats probably were made (though it is also possible that Churchill and others exaggerated them). Threats of violence occur quite regularly, however, in regard to campus speeches and they are normally dealt with by ample campus security, including armed guards and an occasional German shepherd.
Stewart made no mention of academic standards as they pertained to extending an official university invitation to someone with Churchill’s views. But behind the scenes Stewart understood that the crisis was about the standards. Nancy Rabinowitz was forced to resign as chair of the Kirkland Project and a faculty committee was appointed to conduct an inquiry and offer recommendations for reform. When the inquiry was completed, Stewart announced that the Kirkland budget would be significantly cut and its missions and programs reviewed. In future all campus speakers would be paid for in part through a central fund reported to the administration, giving Stewart control over the decisions that her professors had abused.
Immediately, one member of the faculty committee stepped forward to make it known that Stewart’s solution was not one the committee had recommended. Margaret Thickstun, a professor of English and the chair of Hamilton’s faculty, told reporters that the president’s decision was “more restrictive” than what the committee had recommended. The Hamilton faculty, in Professor Thickstun’s view, didn’t think there was anything wrong with the invitations to Rosenberg and Churchill or with Kirkland Project standards. “I think that the faculty as a whole felt that the Kirkland Project wasn’t the issue,” she said; “the media coverage was the issue.”
At the University of Colorado an even larger drama was unfolding. Churchill’s extreme views had been known to university authorities for a long time, but they had done nothing about them. Since Churchill was a full professor and chair of an academic department, there was nothing they really could do. He was protected by tenure rules and academic freedom considerations that left university officials few options.
The University of Colorado did have a tenure review process, which was supposed to be administered annually. But the policy had not been observed in years. Nor was it conceivable, even if the procedures were observed, that Churchill’s tenure would be put in jeopardy simply because he had abhorrent views. A celebrated attempt by the City University of New York to fire Leonard Jeffries, a racist professor of black studies, for making a flagrantly anti-Semitic speech had failed in the courts, some years earlier, because it was based on his public speech, not his classroom performance. Even his racism in the classroom, which was indisputable, was not considered by the university as possible grounds for his dismissal. The tenure protections of professors were that strong.
The national publicity generated by the Hamilton crisis dramatically altered this situation by bringing Churchill’s views to the attention of the public at large, who regarded them as the incomprehensible ravings of a fringe radical. The fact that the nation was at war with a ruthless enemy with whom Churchill clearly identified caused an uproar in the Colorado media, and led the governor and other officials to demand that he be fired.
In the weeks that followed, several facts about Churchill’s academic career were brought to light and provided other grounds for questioning his university position. Although Churchill was a department head who received an annual salary of $120,000, he had no doctorate, which was a standard requirement for tenured positions, not to mention chairs. Moreover, his academic training had been in communications as a graphic artist rather than an academic field related to ethnic studies. The master’s degree he held was from a third-rate experimental college, which did not even award grades when he attended in the 1970s. He had lied to qualify for his affirmative action hire, when he claimed on his application that he was a member of the Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee tribe. In fact, his ancestors were Anglo-Saxon and the Keetoowah Band had publicly rejected him. An investigative series by the Rocky Mountain News also maintained that he had plagiarized other professors’ academic work and had made demonstrably false claims about American history in his own writing, literally making up American atrocities that never happened.
Despite these revelations, hundreds of professors and thousands of students across the country sprang to Churchill’s defense, signing petitions and protesting the “witch-hunt” of academic “liberals.” At the Indiana University Law School, Professor Florence Roisman took around a petition in Churchill’s behalf. When law professor William Bradford, a Chiricahua Apache with a stellar academic resume, refused to sign the petition, Professor Roisman retorted, “What kind of a native American are you?” and launched a campaign to have Bradford fired. The American Association of University Professors ignored the Bradford case, but issued an official declaration of support for Churchill, invoking “the right to free speech and the nationally recognized standard of academic freedom in support of quality instruction and scholarship.” Churchill made a public appearance in his own defense to a cheering University of Colorado audience of fifteen hundred and went on to tour other campuses where he received a similar hero’s welcome, also from large crowds. These events further revealed to a troubled public the extent to which radicalism at the very edges of the American political spectrum had established a central place in the curriculum of American universities.
How could the university have hired and then raised to these heights an individual of such questionable character and preposterous views as Ward Churchill? How many professors with similar resumes had managed to acquire tenured positions at the University of Colorado and other institutions of higher learning? How pervasive was the conflation of political interests and academic pursuits on university campuses or in college classrooms? Why were the administrations seemingly unable to assert and enforce standards of academic excellence? Such were the issues the Churchill scandal raised.
The Changed University
The present volume examines 101 college professors and attempts to provide a factual basis for answering these questions. The method used is similar to the scholarly historical discipline known as “prosopography,” which was defined by one of its creators and best-known practitioners, Lawrence Stone, as “the study of biographical details of individuals in the aggregate.” The purpose of this exercise, as Stone explains is “to establish a universe to be studied,” in this case a universe of representative academics who use their positions to promote political agendas. A further purpose of prosopography is to establish patterns of conduct and patterns in careers through a study of the assembled profiles.
When viewed as a whole, the 101 portraits in this volume reveal several disturbing patterns of university life, which are reflected in careers like Ward Churchill’s. These include (1) promotion far beyond academic achievement (Professors Anderson, Aptheker, Berry, Churchill, Davis, Kirstein, Navarro, West, Williams, and others in this volume); (2) teaching subjects outside one’s professional qualifications and expertise for the purpose of political propaganda (Professors Barash, Becker, Churchill, Ensalaco, Furr, Holstun, Wolfe, and many others); (3) making racist and ethnically disparaging remarks in public without eliciting reaction by university administrations, as long as those remarks are directed at unprotected groups, e.g., Armenians, whites, Christians, and Jews (Professors Algar, Armitage, Baraka, Dabashi, hooks, Massad, and others); (4) the overt introduction of political agendas into the classroom and the abandonment of any pretense of academic discipline or scholarly inquiry (Professors Aptheker, Dunkley, Eckstein, Gilbert, Higgins, Marable, Richards, Williams, and many others).
Not all of the professors depicted in this volume hold views as extreme as Ward Churchill’s, but a disturbing number do. All of them appear to believe that an institution of higher learning is an extension of the political arena, and that scholarly standards can be sacrificed for political ends; others are frank apologists for terrorist agendas, and still others are classroom bigots. The dangers such individuals pose to the academic enterprise extend far beyond their own classrooms. The damage a faculty minority can inflict on an entire academic institution, even in the absence of a scandalous figure like Ward Churchill, was recently demonstrated at Harvard, when President Lawrence Summers was censured—the first such censure in the history of the modern research university in America—because Summers had the temerity to suggest in a faculty setting an idea that was politically incorrect.
The influence of radical attitudes is not confined to radicals on a given faculty, but has a tendency to spread throughout an institution. Robert Reich, a former cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration and now a professor of economics and social policy at Brandeis University, is not a political radical. But in the present academic environment Reich is a member of the faculty committee of the “Social Justice and Policy Program” in the undergraduate school. The Social and Justice Policy Program, as the name implies, is little more than a training course for students to become advocates for expanding the welfare state. It is a program of indoctrination in the strictest lexigraphical sense— “to imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view”—and thus inappropriate for an academic curriculum. The proper setting for such a course would be a training institute maintained by the Democratic Party.
One of the professors profiled in this volume, Columbia University’s Todd Gitlin, explained in a 2004 essay that after the 1960s, “all that was left to the Left was to unearth righteous traditions and cultivate them in universities. The much-mocked ‘political correctness’ of the next academic generations was a consolation prize. We lost—we squandered the politics—but won the textbooks.” Professor Richard Rorty, a renowned professor of philosophy and ardent left-winger, described this development with equally refreshing candor: “The power base of the left in America is now in the universities, since the trade unions have largely been killed off. The universities have done a lot of good work by setting up, for example, African-American studies programs, Women’s Studies programs, Gay and Lesbian Studies programs. They have created power bases for these movements.” That a distinguished philosopher like Rorty would find the political debasement of the university a development to praise speaks volumes about the changes that have taken place in the academic culture since the war in Vietnam.
Because activists ensconced in programmatic fields like black studies and women’s studies also teach in traditional departments like history and English, the statements by Rorty and Gitlin actually understate the ways in which the radical Left has colonized a significant part of the university system and transformed it to serve its political ends. In September 2005, the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting featured a panel devoted to the question, “Is It Time to Call It Fascism?” meaning the Bush administration. Given the vibrant reality of American democracy in the year 2005, this was obviously a political rather than a scholarly agenda.
To identify 101 radical professors for this volume, it was not necessary to scour university faculties. This sample is but the tip of an academic iceberg, and it would have been no problem to provide a thousand such profiles or even ten times the number. The faculty members of the entire Ethnic Studies Department, which Churchill chaired, share views similar to Churchill’s and have declared their solidarity with him. Yet only the new chair of Churchill’s department, Elizabeth Perez, has been selected for inclusion in these profiles. None of the nine professors participating on the Political Science Association panel—or many others like it—are included. Out of the more than 250 “Peace Studies” programs whose agendas are overtly political rather than scholarly, this collection includes only half a dozen professors. The same is true for other ideological fields like women’s studies, African American studies, gay and lesbian studies, post-colonial studies, queer studies, whiteness studies, and cultural studies.
This book is not intended as a text about left-wing bias in the university and does not propose that this bias is necessarily a problem. Every individual, whether conservative or liberal, has a perspective and therefore a bias. Professors have every right to interpret the subjects they teach according to their individual points of view. This is the essence of academic freedom. But they also have professional obligations as teachers, whose purpose is the instruction and education of students, not to impose their biases on students as though they were scientific facts. The professorial task is to teach students how to think, not to tell them what to think. In short, it is the responsibility of professors to be professional—and therefore “academic”—in their classrooms, and therefore not to require students to agree with them on matters which are controversial.
The privileges of tenure and academic freedom are specifically granted in exchange for this professionalism. Society does not provide tenure to politicians—and for good reason. To merit their privileges—and specifically their tenure privileges—professors are expected to adhere to professional standards and avoid political attitudinizing. As professionals, their interpretations should be tempered by the understanding that all human knowledge is uncertain and only imperfectly grasped, that such knowledge must be based on the collection of evidence and evaluated according to professionally agreed on methodologies and standards. As teachers they are expected to make their students aware of the controversies surrounding the evidence, including the significant challenges to their own interpretations. Hired as experts in scholarly disciplines and fields of knowledge, professors are granted tenure in order to protect the integrity of their academic inquiry, not their right to leak into the classroom their uninformed prejudices on subjects which are outside their fields of expertise.
Professors also have a responsibility in their classrooms to respect not only the professional standards of research and inquiry but the unformed intellects of their students, who are their charges. Their teaching must not seek the arbitrary imposition of personal opinions and prejudices on students, enforced through the power of the grading process and the authority of the institutions they represent.
Although beyond the scope of this inquiry, it is a reasonable assumption that a majority of faculty members are professionals and devoted to traditional academic methods and pursuits. But these scholars are often a silent majority, intimidated from expressing their views on subjects like the Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill affairs because of their concern not to be labeled “racist” or “sexist” or “reactionary” by their more aggressive radical peers. Still, they are not always so intimidated, and can sometimes be seen standing up to defend academic standards under assault.
At the University of Colorado, Paul Campos, a liberal member of the law faculty and a columnist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News, issued one of the strongest statements on Churchill’s tenured position: “To compare the victims of the 9/11 massacre to one of the chief architects of the Holocaust is both intellectually bankrupt and morally depraved. To do so in a published essay, and to repeat this opinion to the media, after being asked whether he wishes to consider it, calls into question the author’s fitness to continue as a member of this university’s faculty. Members of our faculty should keep in mind that a grant of tenure is not a guarantee of perpetual employment. Tenure protects against dismissal without cause; but professional incompetence and moral depravity are both sufficient grounds for firing tenured faculty.”
Two years earlier, a prominent member of the academic Left and a distinguished Milton scholar, Stanley Fish, wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he stressed the importance of drawing the line between political attitudinizing and scholarly discourse. His article was titled “Save the World on Your Own Time,” and in it, he cautioned academics about getting involved as academics in moral and political issues such as the war on terror. In a paradoxical summary he warned: “It is immoral for academics or academic institutions to proclaim moral views.” The reason, according to Fish, was provided long ago in a faculty report to the president of the University of Chicago. “The report declares that the university exists ‘only for the limited.. .purposes of teaching and research,’” Fish wrote. “Since the university is a community only for those limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.”
The conclusion Professor Fish drew was straightforward: “Teachers should teach their subjects. They should not teach peace or war or freedom or diversity or uniformity or nationalism or anti-nationalism or any other agenda that might properly be taught by a political leader or a talk-show host. Of course they should teach about such subjects, something very different from urging them as commitments—when they are part of the history or philosophy or literature or sociology that is being studied. The only advocacy that should go on in the classroom is the advocacy of what James Murphy has identified as the intellectual virtues, ‘thoroughness, perseverance, intellectual honesty,’ all components of the cardinal academic virtue of being ‘conscientious in the pursuit of truth.’” (emphasis added)
Once the prevailing view among academic professionals, this perspective is now under significant challenge by radicals firmly entrenched in liberal arts departments. Organizations like “Historians Against the War” or the “Radical Philosophical Association” directly challenge the idea of academic neutrality on controversial political issues. In 2002, Columbia University hosted a conference of academic radicals called “Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism.” The published text of the conference papers was provided with a foreword by Professor Eric Foner, who is a past president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and a leading academic figure. Far from sharing Professor Fish’s view that a sharp distinction should be drawn between political advocacy and the scholarly disciplines, Professor Foner embraced the idea that political activism is essential to the academic mission: “The chapters in this excellent volume,” wrote Foner, “derive from a path-breaking conference held at Columbia University in 2002 to explore the links between historical scholarship and political activism…. As the chapters that follow demonstrate, scholarship and activism are not mutually exclusive pursuits, but are, at their best, symbioti-cally related.”
The implications of this symbiosis were drawn by the conference panels, which are listed in the table of contents as follows: “Student Movements” “Student Unions” “Historians for Social Justice” and “Bridging the Gap between Academia and Activism.” This symbiosis of activism and scholarship reflected a self-conception in which radical professors would function as the mentors and protectors of student activists, deploying their intellectual skills in behalf of “progressive” political causes. History professor Jesse Lemisch, a founding member of “Historians Against the War,” began his presentation with these words: “As historians, teachers and scholars, we oppose the expansion of American empire…” Speaking on the final conference panel, Professor Lemisch spelled out the connection that academic radicals like himself made between their roles as scholars and their political goals: “Being an activist is a necessary prerequisite for historians who want to see through the reigning lies, and I take it as a given that we must be activists. Writing history is about challenging received authority. Activist experience gives the historian experiential understanding of the power of the state, repression, social change… the depth of commitment of those with power to maintaining the standing order through their journalists, historians, police and law firms. …You can’t begin to understand how history happens unless you have this basic training as a historian/activist. A good dose of tear gas makes us think more clearly as historians.”
Far from being marginal, Lemisch’s endorsement of activist scholarship is shared by leaders of the academic profession. Jacquelyn Hall is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina and, like Eric Foner, a former president of the Organization of American Historians; and like Foner and Lemisch, she is also a member of “Historians Against the War.” She had this to say about Taking Back the Academy: “In considering the broad social and political responsibilities of intellectuals in society, this book calls for a revitalized definition of what it means to be a scholar-citizen in the twenty-first century. For scholars in the humanities, that call could not be more timely. Alternatively maligned as politically irrelevant or dangerously subversive, historians and other stewards of society’s subjective truths increasingly must be prepared to articulate—and defend—their function in today’s marketplace of ideas and cor-poratized universities.” These are the words of an activist rather than a scholar. But at the Columbia University conference the distinction was no longer recognized.
The Law of Group Polarization
The professors profiled in this volume are drawn from public and private universities, from small institutions and large ones, and from schools that are both secular and religious. Among them are individuals prominent in their institutions and at the forefront of their professions. They are the authors of books widely used as texts in their fields. They have been funded by prestigious foundations and awarded the highest professional honors in their fields. They are department chairs and directors of academic institutes and programs and heads of large professional associations. Among them are presidents and former presidents of the American Historical Association, the American Anthropological Association, the National Ethnic Studies Association, the American Philosophical Association, the Modern Language Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Middle East Studies Association. As tenured faculty they have a prominent role in the hiring and promotion of future generations of university professors. They are representative figures, widely influential in the academic world.
At the same time and notwithstanding their impressive credentials, these professors (as their profiles demonstrate) are capable of making disturbingly shallow intellectual judgments and expressing alarmingly crude political opinions. Like Ward Churchill, their excesses implicate not only themselves but the academic culture itself.
Critics of the university have long complained that the system of tenure, which provides lifetime job security, also serves to protect mediocrity and encourage incompetence. The efforts to politicize the curriculum over the last three decades have predictably created new opportunities for both tendencies to flourish.
One factor contributing to the debasement of intellectual standards in the university is the politicized environment of the university itself. It is relatively easy for politically like-minded individuals to mistake adherence to partisan formulas for substantive thought and even intellectual achievement. Some years ago, the power of this phenomenon was demonstrated to devastating effect by a physicist named Alan Sokal. Sokal was a political leftist, concerned about the debasement of intellectual standards by his political allies in the university. In a famous thought experiment, Sokal submitted a paper to Social Text—a “peer-reviewed” academic journal, whose articles were viewed by many as on the “cutting edge of radical theory.” By design, the substance of the paper Sokal wrote and submitted was pure nonsense, but its content—also by design—was “politically correct.” Sokal wanted to see if the distinguished academic editors at Social Text would accept a worthless article for publication if they shared its political conclusions.
“To test prevailing intellectual standards,” Sokal explained, “I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies—whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as [Duke professor] Frederic Jameson and [Princeton professor] Andrew Ross—publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” The article Sokal submitted to Social Text was called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Its thesis was that gravity was merely a social construct, an instrument of phallocentric hegemony. “In the second paragraph I declare, without the slightest evidence or argument, that ‘physical “reality” [note the scare quotes] … is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.’ Not our theories of physical reality, mind you, but the reality itself. Fair enough: anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the 23rd floor.)”
Social Text published the article, exposing the editors to national embarrassment when Sokal revealed the hoax. “The editors of Social Text liked my article,” he explained afterwards, “because they liked its conclusion: that ‘the content and methodology of post-modern science provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project.” One could not hope for a clearer example of why initiating inquiries with politically correct conclusions already in mind is essentially anti-intellectual. Yet conformity to the parameters of the “progressive political project” has become a widespread standard of academic judgment in universities not only for the selection and design of its curricula, but for the hiring and promotion of faculty.
While mediocrity and incompetence have always had a place in the academic world, it is also the case that never before in the history of the modern research university have entire departments and fields been devoted to purely ideological pursuits. Nor has overt propagandizing had such a respected and prominent place in university classrooms. Even more disturbingly, the last few decades mark the first time in their history that America’s institutions of higher learning have become a haven for extremists.
A primary cause of this development is the overwhelming prevalence of leftists (and “liberals”) on academic faculties along with the corresponding absence of other, critical, perspectives. A well-known principle of group dynamics is the “law of group polarization,” which holds that if a room is filled with like-minded people, the center of the room will move towards the extreme. The room becomes an echo-chamber of approbation, while the natural clamor for attention among individuals provides an incentive to push the envelope of approved opinions to their natural limit.
In many fields the academic community has become such an echo-chamber. Numerous surveys of political attitudes among university professors have established that the ratio of faculty members holding views to the left of the political spectrum over those holding conservative views ranges from 5-1 to 9-1 and is steadily increasing. At Ward Churchill’s university in Boulder, the figure is 30-1. This reflects the academic future at schools as disparate as Stanford and Berkeley, where a 30-1 ratio already exists among junior faculty (assistant and associate professors). The atmosphere created by such a one-sided dialogue is what makes possible university support for an intellectual rogue like Ward Churchill by academic organizations like the Kirkland Project, the American Association of University Professors, and thousands of professors nationwide. The law of group polarization that produces extremists like Churchill would operate even if the room of like-minded faculty were not the product of systematic exclusion. But the evidence strongly suggests that it is.
Some academics, like Paul Krugman, have challenged this claim and argue that the vast disparity in the representation of different intellectual perspectives is a matter of self-selection: “It’s a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities. But what should we conclude from that? One answer is self-selection— the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.”
Professor Krugman’s argument about self-selection could easily have been used to explain the absence of women or African Americans on university faculties forty years ago, when they were as rare as Republicans are today. Would Professor Krugman’s attitude be the same if he were called on to explain those disparities? It is not obvious that the military and the academy can be compared in the way that Professor Krugman proposes, since there is no intellectual apprenticeship required for inclusion in the military, and its recruitment process hardly entails the kind of pervasive inquiry into a candidate’s opinions and judgments as does an academic hire. There are many Republican lawyers, to pick only one obvious profession that has an academic analogue, but the percentage of Republican law professors at academic institutions is no greater than the percentage of Republicans on other faculties.
As a political columnist, Krugman must also be aware that not all Republicans—not even most Republicans—are businessmen, or employed in business professions. The Republican Party is competitive with Democrats in virtually all social sectors, while the most reliable indicator of a Democratic vote is not class but proximity to and length of membership in academic communities where there is a restricted marketplace of ideas. As a professor at Princeton, which is governed by the trustees of the “Princeton Corporation,” Krugman must be aware that a significant segment of the university community is actually part of the private sector, and a lucrative part at that for academic entrepreneurs like himself. If Republicans are motivated by a desire to succeed in the private sector, why would they deny themelves the opportunities provided by private corporations like Princeton and Harvard?
Krugman’s self-selection hypothesis cannot explain the results of the study by Professor Daniel Klein and Andrew Westem showing that the ratio of Republicans to Democrats among junior faculty at Berkeley and Stanford is a third of what it is among senior faculty. Nor can it explain why the percentage of faculty conservatives should have dramatically declined in the last twenty years, as a recent study by Rothman, Nevitte, and Lichter shows. In a survey of 1,643 faculty members drawn from 183 colleges and universities, the authors concluded that “over the course of fifteen years, self-described liberals grew from a slight plurality to a five to one majority on college faculties, while the ratio of liberals to conservatives in the general population remained relatively constant. These statistics are perfectly compatible with the view that the exclusion of conservatives began roughly thirty years ago when a generation of political activists started to acquire power over faculty hiring and promotion committees.
Are these disparities the result of political discrimination? There is considerable reason to believe that they are. Certainly the rationale for such an agenda has long been a staple of radical thought. The political activists who flooded university faculties in the early 1970s were encouraged by their own theories to regard the university as an instrument for social change whose levers of power it was important for “progressives” to manipulate and control.
Academic radicals self-consciously drew their social strategies from the writings of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, around whom an academic cult formed in the 1970s, just as they were ascending the tenure ladder. Gramsci was an innovator in Marxist theory, whose ideas focused on the importance of acquiring cultural “hegemony” as the fulcrum of revolutionary change. Gramsci explicitly urged radicals to gain control of the “means of cultural production” to further their ends. Foremost among these means were the universities and the media. The considerations that led Gramsci to these conclusions would certainly have also encouraged faculty activists to seek institutional power within the university by acquiring control of its hiring and tenure committees.
Herbert Marcuse, a professor at Brandeis and a veteran of the famed “Frankfurt School” of European Marxism, was another figure whose writings flourished with the new radical presence on university faculties. His famous essay on “Repressive Tolerance,” written in 1965, is a justification for the suppression of conservative speech and access to cultural platforms on the grounds that the views of right-wing intellectuals reflect the rule of an oppressive and already dominant social class. Marcuse identified “revolutionary tolerance” as “tolerance that enlarged the range and content of freedom.” Revolutionary tolerance could not be neutral towards rival viewpoints. It had to be “partisan” on behalf of a radical cause and “intolerant towards the protagonists of the repressive status quo.” This was a transparent prescription for not hiring academic candidates with conservative views. In this view, a blacklist was a potential tool of “liberation.”
According to Marcuse, normal tolerance “granted to the Right as well as the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as well as to that of humanity… actually protects the machinery of discrimination.” By this logic, repression of conservative viewpoints was a progressive duty. Evaluating conservative academic candidates on their merits, without regard to their political and social opinions, was to support discrimination and oppression in the society at large. Marcuse’s “dialectical argument” exerted a seminal influence in academic circles in the 1970s and provided a powerful justification for blacklisting conservatives in the name of equality and freedom. The same argument would also justify the exclusion of conservative texts from academic reading lists, which is an all too common practice on liberal arts campuses.
Today senior conservative professors (and most conservative professors are now senior) find themselves regularly excluded from search and hiring committees, and a dwindling presence on university faculties. A typical case was reported to a visitor to the University of Delaware in November 2001, who asked a senior member of the history department, and its lone conservative, how a system worked that had made him such a solitary figure. The professor answered, “Well, they haven’t allowed me to sit on a search committee since 1985. In that year I was its chair and we hired a Marxist. This year [2001 ] we had an opening for a scholar of Asian history. We had several candidates among whom the best qualified was from Stanford. Yet he didn’t get the job. So I went to the chair of the search committee and asked him what had happened. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘you’re absolutely right. He was far and away the most qualified candidate and we had a terrific interview about his area of expertise. But then we went to lunch and he let out that he was for school vouchers. And that killed it.” Apparently, a politically incorrect view on K-12 school voucher proposals implied incorrect views about the Ming Dynasty or the Meiji Restoration, disqualifying the bearer for academic employment. Or perhaps the radical faculty in the history department did not want to hire a loose cannon who might eventually jeopardize their control.
The bitterly intolerant attitude of the current academic culture towards conservatives is inevitably a factor in the exclusion process. In the spring of 2005, the Skidmore College News published an article called “Politics in the Classroom,” which quoted anthropology professor Gerry Erchak to this effect: “In the hiring process you’d probably be wise not to mention your political views. If you say, ‘Oh, hey, I really think Reagan was great,’ or, ‘I’m a Bush guy,’ I can’t say a person wouldn’t be hired, but it’s like your pants falling down. It’s just horrible. It’s like you cut a big fart. I just don’t think you’ll be called back.”
Faculty prejudices reflected in Erchak’s comment are a pervasive fact of academic life. In the same spring, Professor Timothy Shortell was elected by his peers to the chair of the sociology department at Brooklyn College. His election became a news item when it was discovered that he had written an article referring to religious people as “moral retards” and was on record describing senior members of the Bush administration as “Nazis.” The recent eruption of the Churchill controversy had made Shortell’s extreme attitudes newsworthy, but apparently had not impressed his department peers as the least bit unusual when they elected him.
As in the case of Ward Churchill, the public airing of Shortell’s prejudices generated a reaction strong enough to persuade the president of Brooklyn College to block his appointment to the departmental chair and avoid further embarrassment to the college. But left to itself, the university process would have placed Shortell in a position to determine the composition of faculty for a generation to come. Departmental chairs at Brooklyn College exercise veto powers over faculty hiring decisions. Is it reasonable to think that someone with views like Shortell’s would approve the hiring of a sociology candidate with religious views or Republican leanings? According to the survey of seventeen hundred academics by Professor Daniel Klein and Andrew Western, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in sociology departments nationwide is 28-1.
Criminology professor Michael Adams of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has reported an incident reflecting similar prejudice. A colleague on a search committee for the Criminology Department remarked to him that a candidate they were reviewing should not be hired because he was “too religious.” Too religious to study crime? Among his search committee colleagues, only Adams thought this peculiar.
The prejudice against conservatives is so ingrained and commonplace that academics do not see it as a problem at all. To them it is just the order of things. When an anthropology professor at Rollins University, an elite private school in Florida, was asked whether he was concerned that there were no conservatives in his department, he explained: “Anthropology is the study of other cultures and requires individuals who are compassionate and tolerant.” Even when it was brought to his attention, the professor was completely oblivious to the intolerance of his own statement. David French, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a graduate of Harvard Law School, spent two years as a lecturer at Cornell Law School: “During my second interview with the director of the program I was applying to join, she asked the following question: ‘I note from your curriculum vita that you seem to be involved in religious right issues. Do you think you can teach gay students?’ How many gay applicants at Cornell have been asked: ‘Do you think you can teach Christian students?’” When a conservative student publication at Duke University published an article showing that conservatives were a rarity on the Duke faculty, the chairman of the Duke philosophy department, Professor Robert Brandon, said: “We try to hire the best, smartest people available… If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will hire.”
During a recent conflict over diversity at the Harvard Law School, a candid acknowledgment of the hiring bias against conservative candidates was made by Professor Alan Dershowitz, a faculty liberal. When the conflict came to a head the administration created a “Committee on Healthy Diversity” to assuage left-wing students who wanted more women and racial minorities hired. While there were already a considerable number of women and minority professors at Harvard Law, there were only a handful of identifiable Republicans out of a faculty of 200. Seizing the opportunity the Left had seemingly provided, conservative students appealed to the Committee on Healthy Diversity to hire more conservatives, but their pleas went unanswered.
Professor Dershowitz explained why their request fell on deaf ears: “The true test for diversity for me is would people on the left vote for a really bright evangelical Christian, who was a brilliant and articulate spokesperson for the right to life, the right to own guns… anti-gay approaches to life, anti-feminist views? Would there be a push to get such a person on the faculty? Now, such a person would really diversify this place. Of course not. I think blacks want more blacks, women want more women, and leftists want more leftists. Everybody thinks diversification comes by getting more of themselves. And that’s not true diversity.” Of course, thanks to the relative scarcity of faculty conservatives there is no significant constituency for hiring more of them.
The activist agendas of today’s academics are not only a departure from academic tradition; they are violations of established principles of academic freedom dating back to 1915. These principles, which were developed by the American Association of University Professors, have been universally embraced by American colleges and universities and are elaborated in official faculty guidelines, while remaining unenforced. Rule APM 0-10 of the University of California’s Academic Personnel Manual, written in 1934 by its president, Robert Gordon Sproul, states:
The function of the university is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or to make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social, or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts…. Essentially the freedom of a university is the freedom of competent persons in the classroom. In order to protect this freedom, the University assumed the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda.
On July 30, 2003—sixty-nine years after this statement was written—the passage was removed from the Berkeley personnel manual by a 43-3 vote of the Faculty Senate. This was an eloquent and disturbing expression of the new academic culture, which had accommodated itself to the intrusion of partisan agendas into the curriculum. The Sproul clause was replaced by one that omitted any distinction between indoctrination and education and which made faculty the arbiter of the standard: “Academic freedom requires that teaching and scholarship be assessed only by reference to the professional standards that sustain the University’s pursuit and achievement of knowledge,” the new passage stated. “The substance and nature of these standards properly lie within the expertise and authority of the faculty as a body…. Academic freedom requires that the Academic Senate be given primary responsibility for applying academic standards….” In other words, academic freedom is whatever the faculty says it is. Gone is the injunction against making converts to political, social, or sectarian agendas; gone, too, the admonition not to exploit the prestige of the university as a platform for political propaganda.
With this rewriting of university guidelines, the principle of academic freedom, which had been created to protect scholarship, had now become a license for professors to do what they liked. This was an ominous event in the life of American universities and passed virtually unnoticed; an indication of how completely this core principle of university governance had fallen into disregard, and how profoundly the university culture had changed.
The removal of the Sproul clause was the Faculty Senate’s response to a dilemma created the previous year when a radical lecturer named Snehal Shingavi announced that his section of a freshman writing course would be titled “The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance.” In describing the course, which was required of all freshman whose writing skills did not meet the university’s standard, Shingavi wrote: “The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, [ongoing] since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people… This class will examine the history of the [resistance] and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the Intifada.” The course description Shingavi had placed in the official university catalogue ended with a warning: “Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.” When FOX News Channel hosts jumped on this attempt to exclude conservative students, the public reaction prompted university officials to remove the warning from the catalogue. But they allowed the course—a blatant exercise in political propaganda—to continue as announced.
The only academic rationale for the freshman English course was to teach incoming students the elements of style—the grammatical construction of topic sentences and paragraphs and the like. This was why the course was offered by the English Department and not the Departments of Political Science or Middle Eastern Studies. But instead of confronting an egregious abuse of the classroom for political purposes, the Berkeley Faculty Senate chose instead to conceal its hypocrisy by eliminating the section of its academic freedom code specifically designed to draw the distinction between education and indoctrination.
The misuse of freshman writing courses is common at many universities, where sections are regularly built around themes like feminism, radical environmentalism, and radical perspectives on race. At the same time, there are academic freedom guidelines still nominally in force at these schools which were written to prevent such practices.
The faculty handbook of Ohio State University (to take a fairly typical example) instructs professors as follows: “Academic freedom carries with it correlative academic responsibilities. The principal elements include the responsibility of teachers to… differentiate carefully between official activities as teachers and personal activities as citizens, and to act accordingly.” Policy HR 64 in the Penn State policy manual is even more explicit: “No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study.” The Penn State policy manual explains the rationale behind its restriction of professorial speech in these words:
The faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject. The faculty member is, however, responsible for the maintenance of appropriate standards of scholarship and teaching ability. It is not the function of a faculty member in a democracy to indoctrinate his/her students with ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects. The faculty member is expected to train students to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials, which they need if they are to think intelligently. Hence, in giving instruction upon controversial matters the faculty member is expected to be of a fair and judicial mind, and to set forth justly, without supercession or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.
Behind these guidelines lies a liberal philosophy of education, where the professional responsibility of educators is to elevate students’ ability to think, not hand them the correct opinions. This is what distinguishes democratic systems of education from their totalitarian counterparts. Under academic freedom guidelines, teachers are expected to instruct students how to assemble data from the evidential record, evaluate it, and construct an argument. They are expected to refrain from using the authority of the classroom to impose on students their personal conclusions about questions to which the answers are not verifiable or are beyond their professional expertise. It is the difference, as Stanley Fish wrote, between teaching about controversial issues and “urging them as commitments.”
There are no “correct” answers to controversial issues, which is why they are controversial: scholars cannot agree. Answers to such questions are inherently subjective and opinion-based and teachers should not use the authority of the classroom to force students to adopt their positions. To do so is not education but indoctrination.
These principles are still enshrined in the academic freedom guidelines of the American Association of University Professors and of many large university systems, like the ones in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and until recently California. But as the profiles in this book reveal, they are widely disregarded by activist professors in liberal arts programs.
Many professors featured in this volume are icons of the contemporary academy—Michael Eric Dyson, John Esposito, Eric Foner, Frederic Jameson, bell hooks, Mari Matsuda, among others. Others are more obscure and known only locally. But even the more obscure faculty in this book will be important enough figures to those students who come under their tutelage. The lack of professionalism displayed by these professors will have an impact on their education, and it would be naive to suppose it will be a good one.
How many radical professors are there on American faculties of higher education? According to the federal government, the total number of college and university professors in the United States is 617,000. If we were to take the Harvard case reviewed at the end of this volume as a yardstick, and assume a figure of 10 percent per university faculty, and then cut that figure in half to control for the possibility that Harvard may be a relatively radical institution, the total number of such professors at American universities with views similar to the spectrum represented in this volume would still be in the neighborhood of 25,000-30,000. The number of students annually passing through their classrooms would be of the order of a hundred times that, or three million. This is a figure that ought to trouble every educator who is concerned about the quality of higher education and every American who cares about the country’s future.
The professorial profiles that follow have been printed in alphabetical order and can be read advantageously in that sequence. The very randomness of the selection is an instruction in itself. Many hands went into making this text possible. More than thirty researchers were involved in drafting the profiles. John Perazzo managed the research, wrote some of the texts, and reviewed them all. John is the managing editor of www.DiscoverTheNetworks.org, a database on the political Left, which provided the idea for this book. Jacob Laksin and Thomas Ryan are researchers and writers for the same website and for www.FrontPagemag.com. Mike Bauer, another DiscoverTheNetworks staffer, went over the text and footnotes with a fine-toothed comb. Elizabeth Ruiz tracked down sources and generally assisted in the technical aspects of putting the text in order. I could not have completed this book without them.
I have revised and edited all of the profiles contained in this text and rewritten many, so that I no longer know where my edits begin and the original drafts end. These profiles should be treated as a collective effort, but I am ultimately responsible for their judgments and accuracy.
This book was inspired by my own educational experience at Columbia University in the 1950s. I was a Marxist at the time and wrote my classroom papers, as a seventeen-year-old, from that perspective. Even though this was the height of the Cold War and my professors were anti-Communist liberals, they never singled me out for comment the way many conservative students I have encountered are singled out today. No professor of mine ever said in the course of a classroom lecture, “Horowitz, why do Communists kill so many people?” Yet, last year, a Christian student at the University of Rhode Island named Nathaniel Nelson was singled out by his political science professor, who interrupted a class discussion in a course on “Political Philosophy from Plato to Machiavelli” to ask, “Nathaniel, why do Christians hate fags?” I do not know how my education would have been affected if my professors had become my adversaries in the classroom, but I am sure the effect would not have been positive. If my professors had made me an object of their partisan passions, the trust between teacher and student would have been irreparably ruptured and with it the ability of my teachers to provide me with the full benefits of their experience and expertise.
I am grateful to my Columbia professors for not becoming my adversaries in the classroom in the way that has become common in the classrooms of activist professors today. I am grateful to them for treating me as a seventeen-year-old, who was their student and to whom they had the same professional obligation they had to students who might agree with them on contemporary issues. I am grateful for their professionalism and for the respect they showed to their academic calling; and I am grateful for their concern for my vulnerability as a young man. In twenty years of schooling up through the graduate level, I never heard one teacher or professor, on one occasion in one classroom ever express a political opinion. Not one. It is my hope that the integrity exhibited by my teachers in that politically troubled era will be restored one day to American institutions of learning so that future generations of students can receive as full a benefit from their educational experience as I did.
My most difficult task in writing this book was living daily with the knowledge it provides of the enormous damage that several generations of tenured radicals have inflicted on our educational system; and of being cognizant of the unrelenting malice that so many of them hold in their hearts for a country that has given them the great privileges and freedoms they enjoy as a birthright.