Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Conservative Witch Hunt of Liberal Professors

David Horowitz, the one man crusader against liberals in the academy (and proponent of the so called Academic Bill of Rights), has published a new book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America through the conservative Regnery Press.

The book, which describes these 101 most dangerous as "terrorists, racists, and communists," provides short three to five page reports of each faculty member. The accusations of terrorism, racism, or communism are based on thin reading of their academic writings, or unfounded accusations against them (like the write-up of Douglas Kellner that I blogged about awhile back).

This book makes me very anxious, not because I'm afraid that I'll be listed as one of the Top 101 or that I'll be "exposed" for being a leftie. I'm anxious that this book polarizes a debate about ideology on college campuses that will do more harm than good.

Like most if not all professors, I don't wish to bash my students over the head with my ideology. That's not why I became a professor. I became one so that I could understand the political ad communication environment and explain that understanding to my students. Such understanding is grounded in empirical research and vetted through a process of academic reasoning and rigorous peer-review and intellectual debate.

I don't think it's appropriate for faculty to push their ideologies on their students, but I also don't think it's a matter for major concern. When a reporter for the Times Union in October of 2004 came a calling to find out if I thought faculty were promoting their ideology in the classroom, instead of answering him, I went to my students. We had a conversation in my undergraduate public opinion class about whether students found their faculty promoting their own ideology and punishing students for not abiding by it. None of my 30 students felt that they were ever punished for holding different perspectives from their professors. Only two reported that they had experienced a professor mentioning political material in classes where the material didn't seem to fit.

The claim by Horowitz and others on the extreme end of the conservative agenda that professors have created a climate of intolerance for conservative or non-liberal views just doesn't hold water. On the SUNY-wide campus system, with over 400,000 students, there has not been a single formal complaint of ideological bias on campus. The board of trustees invetigated this question after conservative board member Candace DeRussy claimed a prevailing left-wing agenda on SUNY campuses. But, if there has not been a single formal complaint, it's hard to say there's a real problem here.

Now, I do think we faculty need to be self-aware and ensure that we do not create a climate that silences students of diverse opinions--no matter what those are. College campuses should be places where a broad range of ideas are expressed. I try very hard in my classroom to ensure that climate of free expression is promoted.

Books like Horowitz's, though, work to stifle a diverse conversational environment by promoting a climate of fear. Such a toxic climate breeds suppression of diverse perspectives, and hightens sensitivities to the point where false claims of bias are more likely to be expressed.

In such an environment of fear, everyone loses.


Rod Carveth said...

In the realm of fine minds think alike ...

I went over some of the same concerns in my latest blog entry.

Circe said...

Yes, this kind of text is something to be anxious about when we are all so accountable for what we say and do already.

This is just another area where we could lose expression and ideas, with our porfessors. Yes, people are scared, about terrorists, about war, about disease, etc, etc. Um, we have to swallow it every minute watching TV or reading a paper. We DON'T have to swallow it in class. Well, students don't. They could speak up about their views. They could, gasp, do some research into issues and make some decisions of their own. Instead, of being, "you know, like, NOT political and stuff" (quoted from a student of mine who couldn't think of a paper topic, and I asked if she felt strongly about anything in the news), students could step up to the real world and get informed.

So, the book is there, as are several others like it, as well as the silly rants about ALL college professors being liberal. Well, we need to take these books to class and get students past their dualistic selves to see that this is not true. This is a sweeping generalization, just like all college students are lazy snots who only care about drinking and getting laid.

cruelanimal said...

Meet the new McCarthy. Same as the old McCarthy.