Thursday, April 6, 2006

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Thank God for the Guardian's watch on the American Academy!!

The headline of the Guardian's special report on free speech in the American academy by Gary Younge is "Silence in class." The subhead:

University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?
Wow, this sounds pretty bad. Oh, wait, let's get to the text of the piece:
Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.

"In some respects it's more dangerous," she says. "McCarthyism dealt mainly with off-campus political activities. Now they focus on what is going on in the classroom. It's very dangerous because it's reaching into the core academic functions of the university, particularly in Middle-Eastern studies."

Either way, a growing number of apparently isolated incidents suggests a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe.

Read the whole article -- it's a compendium of the current attacks on various academics. It seems like small beer to me, and not exactly worthy of a Guardian special report. In the words of one academic who has been verbally attacked -- history professor Ellen DuBois: "It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals."

Or am I underreacting? I'll leave that to the commenters.

posted by Dan on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM


Hmmm... I go to UMass (Amherst) and I'm pretty sure that "a mood which is, if nothing else, determined, relentless and aimed openly at progressives in academe." is about as far from reality as possible.

I'm quite sure if someone wanted too, they could find many more examples of this going the other way, against Conservatives/Republicans/pro-Bush people - and in fact numerous articles and books supporting that position have been written. So I'd definitely say this "special report" says a lot more about the current state of Guardian reporting on America than the current state of campus life and academic discourse.

posted by: BishopMVP on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

Given Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, and the NY Sun all gunning for Columbia, I can't be quite as nonchalant about this as Drezner.

posted by: Anonymous on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

Walt "steps down as dean at Harvard"!

posted by: centrist on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

It's funny how the academia criticizes Bush for declaring all criticisms of him or The War are "un-American", but any criticism of the academic left are declared by the academia as being "McCarthian". How they love to throw out that word "fascism". Some of the comments made by the liberal professors read like a parody:

'McLaren, who describes himself as a marxist-humanist, agrees. He believes the list was a McCarthyite attack on academe, with the aim of softening up public hostility for a more propitious moment: "This is a low-intensity campaign that can be ratcheted up at a time of crisis. When there is another crisis in this country and this country is in an ontological hysteria, an administration could use that to up the ante. I think it represents a tendency towards fascism." '

posted by: apriorist on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]


Walt says he had planned to step down as dean
before the article was published. In fact
Harvard extended his deanship by a year, instead
of the normal three year term, so that the
article could be published with the Harvard
College Seal on it.

Why are all you academic types so worried if it is
just the "ill-considered action of a handful, if
that, of individuals"? Hundreds of thousands of
left wing academics vs. 3 or 4 zealots? Why
are you guys so worried? If there is no
problem this will pass in a few days or weeks.

Remember that a highly placed academic at
Harvard itself said that "good ideas will rise,
bad ideas will fall."

Surely any investigation of scandal and misdeeds
at Harvard will only show that right wing academics
are at fault.

Or ... maybe ... you guys fear that once
people start looking closely at academia,
the whole left-wing fraud thing will be exposed.

posted by: anonymous on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

I would not be surprised by some extremism in the afro-lesbian, feminist deconstructional marxism departments also, but hey they can write what they want...I might laugh but I won't shout them down either.

posted by: centrist on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

Dan's got a point: to some degree Horowitz et al are the farce after the tragedy, une vilaine tragédie jouée par des histrions de province. ON the other hand, the attacks at Columbia are vicious, Dan Pipes' websites brought death threats (which one of Pipes' backers, calling to remonstrate after one of my teachers griped in class, assured me were just fine), and people may get hurt.

And to a historian -- or even a political scientist -- this should be more interestiing than Dan admits. REcall Michael Rogin's assault on elite theory in The Intellectuals and McCarthy. One upshot of that book was that McCarthy's support was not just partisan rabble but across-the-board; another was that the anxiety of the Korean War probably propelled it.

Now we're in another age of anxiety, carefully calibrated and utilized by Rove et al, and it's leading to yet more irrational assaults. Dan should contextualize the Horowitz attacks: 15 of the 101 worst profs are Middle Eastern specialists, others are blacks and women's studies scholars. They all have reason to worry: they're like the Asian studies experts during the Owen Lattimore scare. (Last week I found a letter by one of Sidney Hook's colleagues that blamed Lattimore for the deaths of tens of millions Chinese.)

So, maybe Dan is lucky that he's at Chicago, not Columbia. On the other hand, being at Columbia might spur him more searching analysis.

I'll add that I'm a fan of this blog and of Dan, from whom I've learned a lot. I do think he could have pushed himself a bit further on this issue, that's all.

Dan Tompkins

posted by: Dan Tompkins on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

The left has a solid hold on the academy because in many disciplines no conservative will ever make it through the graduate pipeline.

That and academics in general tend to my observation to be on the idealistic side and not always firmly grounded in the "real world."

The real concern is the trashing of scholarly quality in the traditional "liberal arts." Much of it is leftist post-modern gibberish.

Horowitz will sell some books and get some speaking fees but will unlikely have much impact.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

At your new university, it isn't an issue. A Horowitzian Bill of Academic Freedom failed in the Tufts Student-led Senate, and the instigators are a very small handful of students. They are safefly ignored.

Based on my sample size of 1, I have not seen any open liberal proseltyzing , yet I had an economics professor who argued for social security privitazation and another who made the class recite that "free trade is good for all people," which is ridiculous on its face.

posted by: Eric on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

Actually Eric free trade is good for all people, and it is helpful if people remember that. Maybe a better way is that free trade is good across all people, but either way there is nothing wrong about having students remember this. I used to teach economics as well and if I could have got my students to remeber this I would have been happy.

Also, what is wrong with an economics professor talking about privatizing SS? I know that you would think that an econ professor would have something better to talk about than an important econmic issue of the day. God forbid it does not fit your preconcived notion of what the system should look like.

posted by: BCN on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

This whole discussion is just too comical for words. On both sides.

Start with Horowitz. Where did he find 101 dangerous academics? I mean, that many? Dangerous to what? A lot of these people bloviate in public about the US falling into facism - but that's about it. They might be dangerous to their secretary, their children, or their nubile female students, or maybe a stray dog in the street - that's about it. Vladmir Lenin or Leon Trotsky they aren't. Hell, they aren't even Herbert Marcuse! Professor Sinestre holds forth in lecture about Bush the Nazi. The students yawn and wonder how long before he runs down?

The other side is similarly ribaud. They talk about a threat. A Threat! What is the threat? That the percentage of far-left 'truthseekers' on the local faculty may decline because of the facist in DC and Horowitz. Decline from 80% to 79% maybe? Gosh.

No, Horowitz is not Joe McCarthy. But lets remember than even McCarthy and HUAC weren't a pimple on the ass of Mussolini or Franco on the best day they ever had. A few people went to jail and a few more lost their jobs for a short time. Gosh. Kristalnacht it wasn't.....

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

Well, free trade is not good for all people - talk to American manufacturing workers. It is without a doubt good for an economy as a whole, but that wasn't the point he made. I should have made myself clearer - check the timestamp for my excuse.

I don't have a problem with the professors making arguments in class - I'm just pointing out their ideological sides. I meant the term ridiculous to apply only to the free trade comment.

posted by: Eric on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

David Horowitz isn't complaining that there are too many liberals as opposed to conservatives teaching on the nation's campuses. His point is that too many professors in the social studies and humanities departments are engaged in indoctrination rather than teaching. Capitalism is bad, American is an evil racist society, the Islamist terrorists are engaged in legitimate defense against US imperialism - these propositions are taken as self-evident by the radical professoriat, many of whom were New Left radicals in the sixties. They talk about "critical thinking" but in fact their world view excludes the very possibility of critical thought. To them the ideas of tolerance, of rationality, and the disinterested pursuit of truth are shams by which the white heterosexual male power structure maintains its hegemony.

You don't believe it? Read what these professors say. What I am accusing them of is in their minds a feature not a bug - they are proud of their narrow-mindedness, dogmatism, and intolerance of other views.

David Horowitz is not a McCarthyite. He has defended the right of Ward Churchill to rejoice in the deaths of the victims of 9-11 without being fired. What David is asking is that teachers teach their subjects rather than spend their classroom time engaging in political propaganda.

posted by: Bulbman on 04.06.06 at 11:43 AM [permalink]

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