Monday, December 11, 2006

Taking Horowitz To School

This column appeared in the Inquirer last Friday.

Academic freedom for students

Temple and Penn State have instituted policies that curb instructors. Other schools should.

David Horowitz
is president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center in California

Now that the dust has settled on the academic-freedom hearings that were held in Pennsylvania from September 2005 to June 2006, it is time to look at what was actually accomplished.

According to the teachers unions and their allies in the press, the effort was a "waste of time." Others found the results modest, if worthy. The Associated Press noted that the legislative Committee on Academic Freedom had urged Pennsylvania universities "to review, and make students aware of, academic-freedom policies." But this was only the tip of the iceberg of what the hearings accomplished.

The hearings, which our center supported, were held over nine months in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Millersville and Philadelphia. What they revealed was startling: All of Pennsylvania's academic-freedom provisions were written to protect professors. Not a single public university had academic-freedom provisions that applied to students.

Administrators from five Pennsylvania universities appeared before the committee, and claimed that students were protected by the academic-freedom regulations on their books. But when the regulations were examined, it was evident that they applied only to professors. In other words, students not only did not know their rights, they didn't have any. The committee has recommended that this deficiency be corrected, and universities have already stepped forward to do so.

As soon as the hearings were concluded in June, the trustees of Temple - one of the three large public universities in the state - wrote a policy, "Faculty and Student Rights and Responsibilities," that went into effect Aug. 1. For the first time in state history, students were provided with academic-freedom rights. These rights are accompanied by a new grievance machinery specific to academic-freedom matters, along with a system that reports abuses directly to the board of trustees.

Shortly before the Temple policy was announced, the faculty senate at Pennsylvania State University passed its own new policy, which states: "Students having concerns about situations that arise within the classroom, or concerns with instructor behavior in a course that violates university standards of classroom conduct as defined in Policy HR64, 'Academic Freedom,' may seek resolution according to the recommended procedures."

HR64 is one of the most powerful university statements on academic freedom. It states:

"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... the divergent opinions of other investigators."

This would be powerful enough, but the Penn State policy adds:

"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."

In other words no speeches on the Iraq war in engineering classes where the course matter is not about Iraq or American foreign policy. No in-class attempts to promote a political candidate during elections. No personal agendas that have nothing to do with the academic subject for which the students have signed up.

The adoption of these policies is a watershed event in the history of education not only in the commonwealth, but nationally as well. Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Gib Armstrong (R., Lancaster) and others, Pennsylvania is the first state where universities have instituted academic-freedom policies that protect students as well as professors. May the rest of Pennsylvania's universities follow the examples of Temple and Penn State, and may the nation's universities do so as well.
I find it curious that Horowitz discusses the “academic freedom” hearings and omits the fact that they were initiated at Temple as a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a disgruntled graduate student (as follows)…

The conservative Alliance Defense Fund charged Temple with liberal bias in a lawsuit filed in February on behalf of graduate student Christian DeJohn. Mr. DeJohn, who served with the Pennsylvania National Guard, charged that his differences with a military history professor over the Iraq war led the professor to retaliate against him by delaying approval of his master's thesis plan.

U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell has not yet ruled on Temple's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Across the country, conservatives including writer-activist David Horowitz have charged that liberal professors infringe on the free speech rights of conservative students and have demanded an "academic bill of rights."
So, at Temple, this policy was written because of one student?

Well then, is “academic freedom” such a widespread problem at Temple? As stated in the article…

During the hearing, now-retired Temple President David Adamany said he had not received a single complaint on the subject in his five-year term, although students did not hesitate to e-mail him about campus food or the unavailability of certain classes.

"He felt pretty comfortable that it was not a major issue on campus," (Adamany’s spokesman Raymond) Betzner said yesterday.
The fact that no such problem of academic bias exists is drummed home also in this fine Smirking Chimp column by Dave Lindorff (I part with him on Mumia Abu-Jamal, but I’m “on the same page” with him about everything else – one commenter notes astutely that Horowitz’s job is to prevent anti-war activity on college campuses, which he can accomplish more easily now with an all-volunteer army…and by the way, as Lindorff notes, Gib Armstrong was voted out of PA state government as a result of the pay raise scandal).

Also, Penn State professor Karen Halnon wrote this post to a school listserv about the effect of Horowitz’s accusations (please disregard the idiotic preface from “the editors”), and this link takes you to an article about Horowitz’s accusations against three outspoken University of Pennsylvania professors who, as it turns out, all happen to be African American (I would say its pretty obvious that Horowitz supports “academic freedom” for the conservative voice but affords no such courtesy for any possible dissenting opinion – I’m not familiar with one of the professors, but I have seen Dyson and Berry on “Real Time,” and they're very bright and charismatic people).

Update: The link to the story on the three professors is flaky - here are the first four paragraphs:

Three Penn professors are out to ruin America, according to a new book by a conservative political commentator.

Pundit David Horowitz's latest book accuses three Penn professors of being among the most radical figures in higher education.

The book -- entitled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America -- describes what Horowitz considers to be a growing national trend of left-wing professors attempting to indoctrinate students with their own political agendas.

Of the Penn faculty, Law professor Regina Austin, History professor Mary Frances Berry and Religious Studies professor Michael Eric Dyson made Horowitz's list.
My take on all of this, for what it’s worth? Temple and Penn State caved to an incredibly small and noisy (but well funded) minority on this issue by coming up with some unenforceable, totally “vanilla” policy in lieu of having Horowitz continuing to make a pest out of himself in front of our state legislators who might accidentally do something stupid and pass a law requiring that professors at state-funded universities be approved by the legislature, which may or may not be Republican after all…I think the recount on that critical race in Chester County is still in progress.

As for Philadelphia's "newspaper of record," I think the fact that the Inquirer would choose to print a highly misinformative screed like this from Horowitz without a reality-based point of view in opposition to it speaks volumes to the editorial influence exerted upon this paper by Bruce Toll and Brian Tierney of Philadelphia Media Holdings, pro-business conservative “accessories after the fact” guilty of peddling propaganda as actual news.


Anonymous said...

A response to the Horowitz article ws published in the Inquirer "letters to the editor" column on Sunday, Dec. 17. It is available at

doomsy said...

I noticed the letter from math Professor Chinburg at the U of P who said that discussing how engineering projects in Iraq have failed is very important, and also the letter from James Bergquist, chairman of the Academic Freedom Committee, who also pointed out, in essence, how Horowitz is nothing but an insect who flits around from state to state screaming about academic liberal bias with no proof whatsoever just to be a nuisance.

Of course, instead of giving Horowitz a forum for his nonsense, the Inquirer could actually engage in legitimate journalism and try to figure out how Horowitz is being bankrolled, and I’m sure that would be very interesting to know. Of course, I realize I’m probably asking too much.

Thanks for checking in.

(By the way, when I upgrade to the next version of Blogger – which I will eventually do – it will do a better job of enabling any links embedded in comments.)