|NUMBER 299||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||DECEMBER 2010|
It's no secret that America's universities have become safe havens for radical professors who conflate political activism with scholarship and teaching with indoctrination. While several of David Horowitz's previous books document the radical politicization of the classroom, Reforming Our Universities focuses on his campaign to restore academic integrity to liberal arts programs.
His central goal was to persuade universities to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights. The Bill was, in Horowitz's words, "a very modest proposal" designed to ensure that instructors "1) provide students . . . with both sides of controversial issues; 2) do not present opinions as facts; and 3) allow students to think for themselves."
The overwhelming response of the academy was to deny the problem, and point out that most universities already have strong statements of support for academic freedom. This assertion, while technically true, fails to recognize that these policies are exclusively directed toward protecting faculty - not students.
Horowitz, himself a former leftist, is tenacious and no stranger to the tactics of his intellectually illiberal opponents. Though dismissed, demonized and mischaracterized by faculty unions and their Democrat allies, Horowitz continually adapted his strategy to call attention to the problem and induce some substantive response.
One of the biggest surprises in the book is the lack of support from conservative allies. Despite being grossly outnumbered, underfunded, and subject to relentless unprincipled attacks, Horowitz and two staff members did win some important victories: the Pennsylvania legislature held the first academic freedom hearings in the nation and two major universities adopted academic freedom policies. Most importantly, the author's six-year battle brought much-needed attention to the issue in faculty organizations and university administrations, even if most continued to deny the problem.
Even the campaign's successes demonstrate the need for its continuation, however. Although Pennsylvania State University enacted an academic freedom policy coupled with grievance procedures, the first student complaint filed under the new policy was summarily dismissed, demonstrating a lack of institutional will to enforce real academic freedom for students. Never one to give up, Horowitz is currently working with students to petition their professors to add dissenting texts to required reading lists.