An academic front of the Right

Published : Jan 28, 2005 00:00 IST

Colleges, hitherto relatively immune from the growth of the Right in U.S. society, are now being radically transformed in the name of the "War on Terrorism".

IN December 2004, a group of students at the small liberal arts college where I teach in Connecticut formed the Students for Academic Freedom (SAF). On the surface SAF sounds quite reasonable, but a gentle nudge shows that it comes with a rather sinister agenda. SAF at my college is not simply the brainchild of the students, but it is a political franchise devised by an ex-leftist radical who has made the United States academy his battlefield. David Horowitz, who once feted the Black Panthers and edited the New Left's Ramparts magazine, now runs the Centre for the Study of Popular Culture and the Individual Rights Foundation with a singular aim: to decimate the very Left that he helped to promote. Every non-profit organisation must have a niche to attract the millions that are dispensed each year by foundations: Horowitz' brand is to be the rightwing watchdog of the Left, particularly the U.S. academic Left. SAF is one of Horowitz' projects, and he uses his extensive expertise as leftist academic radical to provide enough panache for this rightwing network.

Over the course of 2004, Horowitz' organisation pushed its campaign for the academic freedom of students on many fronts. SAF groups mushroomed on college campuses. The students in SAF reported instances of "liberal bias" in their colleges, including names of leftist or liberal professors with a complete report on their infractions. If teachers criticised the Bush administration or denigrated religion in any way, they found themselves on an Internet "black list" maintained by the parent organisation of SAF. Anti-war activities particularly earned the scorn of SAF, and faculty who offered a critique of imperialism found themselves under attack from local members of Congress and the right-wing media who had been informed by the campus SAF members. College life, hitherto relatively immune from the growth of the Right in U.S. society, is now being quite radically transformed in the name of the "War on Terrorism". Enforced patriotism is part of SAF's agenda.

Horowitz himself travelled to colleges and provoked them to censor his outrageous views. For instance, he took out full-page advertisements in college newspapers that denigrated the claim made by some that the descendents of enslaved Africans deserve reparations. Slaves worked without income, and when the U.S. government abolished slavery in 1865, officials declared that each freed slave should be given 40 acres (16 hectares) of land and a mule. As the backlash against abolition took hold, the government reneged on its promise. The reparations movement has demanded that the government either provide the descendents of the slaves with the equivalent of this promise or else apportion this money for social development. Horowitz disregards the logic of the argument and greets it with mockery. His strong language often riles up students, many of whom lose their tempers when they debate him.

Such reactions allow Horowitz to argue that the academy only gives academic freedom to the liberals and the Left, and not to the Right. When Brown University students destroyed their campus newspaper that carried his diatribe against reparations, Horowitz claimed this as a curtailment of free speech. A chagrined university administration invited him to present his views, and even the college president attended his talk. A master publicist, Horowitz understands the value of provocation, and how to take advantage of the easily anticipated reaction of liberal students.

If all that Horowitz was were a political rascal bent on creating mayhem on college campuses, he would not be as much a threat as he has become. In 2004, Horowitz' organisation initiated a bill in the Congress entitled the Academic Bill of Rights. It calls on the academic community to protect the academic freedom of both teachers and students since this freedom is essential for the "central purpose of the university, the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions, the teaching and development of students to help them become creative individuals and productive citizens of a pluralistic democracy, and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large".

Nothing in the Bill appears unusual. In 1940, the American Association of University Professors produced a Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The statement, written after six years of consultation across the country, offered the following general principle: "Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the right of the teacher in teaching and of the student in learning." If the Academic Bill of Rights simply restates what is already the understood custom among the main organisation of U.S. college teachers, then what is its purpose?

Horowitz is not inclined to "academic freedom" itself, but his Bill is engineered to demand a parity of views on the college campus. If the liberals and the Left dominate the teaching of social science and the humanities, then they must be balanced by rightwing views. Anything less is a disservice to the students' academic freedom. Horowitz put it in 2002: "While the red and blue electoral map reveals an America that is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, in the nation's universities Republicans (and conservatives) have become almost as rare as unicorns. In most schools, Republicans are less well-represented than Greens, Marxists and sects of the far Left. This is an indefensible situation."

To change this situation, Horowitz proposes to unmask it to the Republican-controlled Congress and demand some "balance". If Republicans and conservatives champion the power of unregulated free markets in theory, in the academy they want to mandate equal percentages for Republicans and Democrats, to make sure that the academy hires based on some form of political quota. For every Democrat in a political science department, there should be at least one Republican.

Horowitz' acts have already produced fear on college campuses. Faculty fear that the campus will be overrun by a thought police, administrators fear lawsuits and adverse publicity. Fear is corrosive, and even as the faculty might not hire right-wing faculty to "balance" their departments, they have already allowed the Right to set the agenda with more and more demands.

One such demand is to create an International Education Advisory Board made up of members of the Department of Defence, the Office of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. In 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR3077 to set up such a board "to increase accountability by providing advice, counsel, and recommendations to Congress on international education issues for higher education". The Bill would allow the government to oversee the teaching of international matters and claim the expertise of students into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other bodies if their education has in any way received government funds. The "War on Terror" has Left the U.S. government short of analysts and translators, and this is one mechanism to train and recruit them.

HR3077 came to Congress through the drive of an Indian religions specialist, Stanley Kurtz. In 1992, Kurtz published his psychoanalytical study of the "Hindu boy". A review in the Journal of Asian Studies said that the book "borders on racism". Now ensconced at the rightwing National Review and at the Hoover Institute, Kurtz wants to diminish the role of the Left in the academy. One method to do that is to use the U.S. government's strong arm to demand that the academy put itself at the service of the "War on Terror". Sitting before the House Committee on education, Kurtz declared: "I am not arguing that authors like Edward Said ought to be banned from Title VI [government] funded courses. My concern is that Title VI funded centres too seldom balance readings from Edward Said and his like-minded colleagues with readings from authors who support American foreign policy."

Once more the U.S. Congress heard that the U.S. academy suffers from a "liberal bias", and that there is a need to create space for the growth of conservatism on the campus. Just as Horowitz collects the names of Left or liberal faculty on his website, Kurtz belongs to a fraternity that collects names of those faculty who take a liberal-Left position on Islam and West Asia. Daniel Pipes, the son of the anti-Communist Soviet specialist Richard Pipes, leads this particular assault from his Middle East Forum (and from his perch at the presidential appointed, and misnamed, U.S. Institute of Peace).

David Horowitz is not one to let this opportunity pass without comment. In 2003, he produced a screed that reduced all criticism of the U.S. foreign policy in the Gulf as support for terrorism: "The Palestinian terrorists have become the Black Panthers of the contemporary anti-war movement. The leftwing culture celebrates the suicide bombers of women and children as desperate victims of Jewish oppression." This said, Horowitz now plays the defender of the U.S. academy: "How many American college students and anti-war activists have been seduced by these poisonous elements at work in our society? It is difficult to know." Late in 2004, Horowitz published Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, which spent much space again on the leftwing culture of the U.S. academy and its role in the "War on Terror".

HR3077 died in the U.S. Senate, but many fear that as the newly emboldened Republicans come to Washington in 2005 they will push it through. The Academic Bill of Rights has stalled, though that too is poised to return in force. In November 2004, the rightwing popular radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed the Horowitz agenda on his nationally syndicated radio programme. The Right had taken care of the "liberal bias" in the media, he announced, and the new war will be on the academy. The "culture war" in the 1980s over multiculturalism had simply gone into abeyance, and it would reopen once more as a war against liberalism and anti-Americanism. For the Right, 9/11 has provided an opportunity to settle all kinds of scores, to quickly tackle the fledgling Left in all its redoubts. The U.S. academy will be severely challenged by this opportunism: already immigration restrictions have dampened the number of foreign students who used to provide their expertise to the U.S. academy, and now the general tenor of liberalism is in retreat. In the name of 9/11 and "academic freedom" comes the new un-freedom of thought.

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