Whenever David Horowitz issues a broadside against leftwing bias in higher education, academics have a ready reply. He packs his sallies with pointed illustrations but the record is feeble, they say. He cherry-picks evidence and magnifies a few bad cases into an epidemic of malfeasance. He relies on indirect documents (for instance, course descriptions) but never enters classrooms to witness how teachers actually teach. And he casts as ideological claptrap respected thinking in fields that has evolved through professional rites of research and peer review.
His latest book, One Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy (Crown Forum, $26.95), co-authored with Jacob Laskin, they will maintain, does the same. It profiles radical pockets at 12 universities, examining more than 150 courses in Women’s Studies, Sociology, English, Rhetoric, African American Studies, and several other departments. The conclusion: “An alarming number of university courses violate existing academic regulations that have been designed to ensure that students receive professional instruction” (p. 5). While every statement of principle by academic organizations advocates open-minded, evidence-based, John Stuart Mill-like marketplaces of ideas, in these heated hives “Curricula are designed not to educate students in critical thinking but to instill doctrines that are ‘politically correct'” (5).
Consider the Women’s Studies department at Penn State. Its Web site proclaims, “As a field of study, Women’s Studies analyzes the unequal distribution of power and resources by gender” (quoted, 93). Political inequality, then, is not one of many aspects of women’s history, literature, art, employment, etc., to study, but instead the basic premise and purpose of the field.
Courses in the department reflect the agenda. One of them cited in the book asks students, “Examining your own previous values and knowledge, have you consciously or unconsciously participated in one or more of those oppressive ideologies and discourses [sexism, racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism and ablebodism]?” Another course description prompts students to “challenge the nature of power and privilege as it relates to gender, race, class and sexuality.” The work of radical leftist bell hooks shows up everywhere, conservative voices such as Christina Hoff Sommers and Daphne Patai nowhere.
Such instances reflect a skewed atmosphere, the authors claim. For these courses are not simply individual expressions. They signify an institutional condition, a world in which such tendencies seem normal and routine. A few semesters within it and you find nothing objectionable in statements like: “Black Studies is ‘prescriptive,’ presenting theoretical and programmatic models designed to empower black people in the real world” (quoted 76-77). Indeed, to assume activist roles marks professional expertise. A graduate student who fills a syllabus with global pronouncements about injustice and racism merely demonstrates readiness for full accreditation.
That ambition leads to the other side of Horowitz-Laskin’s critique, not the ideological one but the competence one. What can we say of disciplines that license teachers to stray so far from their training? We have English professors teaching political theory, arts educators teaching the history of sexual politics, and rhetoric scholars outlining global capitalism. That’s what the substitution of political agendas for rightful teaching does. It lightens the burden of knowledge and loosens the ties of rigor. People lose sight of a fundamental distinction in liberal education, which appears at the end of the book. Horowitz/Laskin do not object to Marxist, feminist, and other leftwing perspectives. Instead, they object to the presentation of them as given starting points, that is, “when professors teach a point of view that is contested within the spectrum of scholarly or intellectually responsible opinion as though it were scientific fact” (283). Academics might agree to that principle, but the examples in this book won’t impress them. They aren’t representative, they will say. Horowitz is selective with evidence, and the bias he catches happens only on occasion and in certain small enclaves.
But what if those objections are true? What if only one-third of the cases are genuine specimens of violation? And what if biased attitudes prevail only in a half-dozen departments? If academics accept those levels, then they exercise a lower standard of accountability than any other profession. If they pledge to uphold exacting protocols of inquiry, then they should respond to the charges differently. Horowitz’s work isn’t to be understood as a single argument that rises or fall on every piece in the chain. It’s like a list of indictments, and if some of them prove weak, then they drop out. If others remain, then academics should worry. If academics do exercise careful scrutiny of one another, then every instance of bias implicates the system of review that let it pass.
This is to say that One Party Classroom poses a straightforward empirical question to the professorate. How extensive is leftwing bias in classrooms, and to what extent is it systemic? When professors accuse Horowitz of faulty documentation and insufficient evidence, the best reply is: “Perhaps, but hasn’t he produced enough indication of unprofessionalism for you to take up the task of inquiry?” In a word, professors should spend less time reacting to Horowitz and more time designing and implementing sound scientific studies of politics in the classroom.
9 thoughts on “The Left Reacts To Horowitz”
As a non-American. (Norwegian) I find it interesting to know more about the US conservative republicans. Because it is so enormously bigger than any parties I can think of in Europe that lean so far to the right. Then again, most European countries got more than 2 viable parties. I would also like to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed reading these comments, well written with mostly valid points. Something that makes it somewhat intimidating to say my piece as someone with bad grammar and too much experience with emotional YouTube/news-site commentators.
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Interestingly, neither Horowitz nor his stalking horse
Bauerlin, address the issue of religion. Personally, I found the interjection of religious beliefs more frequent, and annoying, than political beliefs. Oddly, while Horowitz has attacked learned professors for holding political (italics) beliefs that may (italics) influence the content of their instruction, but, worth noting, has NEVER been shown by any empirical evidence to have any demonstrable or longterm impact on their students; he has not attacked the professorate for holding religious beliefs, progressive or orthodox, Jewish or Muslim, etc. It is readily apparent that personal religious and other superstitious and fanatical beliefs, have more significant import on ones teachings than do the merely political
Ooooooh…..yawn. So many opinions from the right wing who failed to earned the grades or the pass the tests that allowed them to enter the ivy halls of the great schools (sorry, uncalled for). First, yes, there is some (slight) leaning toward the “left” at many universities. This is in part owing to the purpose of a university to question, yes even test, the status quo. If we want our universities to merely restate conventional, widely accepted scientific, philosophical, and/or religious beliefs, they would not be educating nor testing our children– they would be institutions instructing in “agressive triviality” (as my religious & conservative prof at Harvard said) or they would be madrassas–teaching
conventional, accepted and approved doctrine by rote (as a Horowitz would have it…sad boy). At both an east coast ivy league “liberal” university and a west coast conservative state university, I heard professors who offered instruction with an opinion and a perspective, neither liberal nor conservative in and of itself, but based on their readings, thinking, research and conclusions. They consistently challenged their students to think for themselves. Horowitz and others please note: students, however young and less educated than you, do not swallow
You say: “true critical thinking is dangerous in the hands of the populace. Horowitz and his kinds are right to find it threatening and to work hard to discredit it. If we can churn out a couple of generations of critical thinkers, it’s not democracy that will be undermined, it’s the kind of conservatism that seeks to “conserve” a status quo that is inherently unequal and unjust, that leads us into indefensible wars and economic collapse.”
Tell me if I’m wrong to paraphrase your argument as: “Horowitz is right, there is a left-wing bias in education. However this bias is only the result of the critical thinking that Horowitz deems lacking in academic departments. That is, this bias actually reflects the truth of a situation, namely that conservatism is wrong.”
This just shows how ignorant you are of conservative thought. If you think that the neoconservative school of Wolfowitz is representative of all conservative views, just as you think that the Chicago school of economics is the only real proponent of market capitalism, then you are sorely mistaken.
What liberal academics are so quick to forget is that their current freedom to engage in ‘critical inquiry’ is a direct function of the ‘status quo’ which obtains in a capitalist liberal democracy. If there is ‘inherent’ inequality in the current system, then a tenured professor who is paid to spread liberal dogma is a result of this inequality, and should surrender her position as such.
What continues to confound me is that so many professors elevate those cultures and beliefs that would never have resulted in their own beliefs (the equality of man, multiculturalism, socialism, etc.) and simultaneously condemn the system which gave rise to their own position of relative freedom.
Horowitz/Laskin …. object to the presentation of them as given starting points, that is, “when professors teach a point of view that is contested within the spectrum of scholarly or intellectually responsible opinion as though it were scientific fact”
We breathlessly await the Horowitz/Laskin objections to business schools’ presentation of laissez-faire capitalism on the same grounds.
Laura: Right on. Excellent comment.
Universities which hire professors who think and design their courses in a thoughtful way are hopefully leaving them alone to do their jobs, not subjecting them to inquiring task forces.
“Consider the Women’s Studies department at Penn State. Its Web site proclaims, “As a field of study, Women’s Studies analyzes the unequal distribution of power and resources by gender” (quoted, 93). Political inequality, then, is not one of many aspects of women’s history, literature, art, employment, etc., to study, but instead the basic premise and purpose of the field.”
Hmmmm…so historians of slavery ought to be taken to task since they clearly presuppose it existed, was a bad thing, and ought to have been abolished. I’m sure they also ignore good contemporary arguments for slavery. And business schools around the country are clearly in violation of your principle. Just as there is no “labor” section in newspapers, there are no “L-Schools.” I also suspect that if I checked out the web site of the Chicago School of Economics, it would assume a few things about relationships of power, resource allocation and equality that are, well, at the very least debatable. I mean, nothing as nutty as the idea that women have tended to have less power than men historically – that one is just so darn easy to refute!! You merely have to look at all the female presidents, fortune 500 CEOs, and scientific Nobel prize winners to see that women have always had full equality with men.
Jeez. Those stupid professors.
We’re just so lucky to have a pay to play campaign finance system that regulates who gets elected, is dominated by corporate money, and operates as a revolving door between politics and business interests; a corporate media system; a republican party that shills relentlessly for elites (while draping itself in rancid populism); a set of think tanks and foundations like the Manhattan Institute, funded by billionaires such as the Scaife and Olin families.
It’s so lucky that we have all these corporate, sponsored, pay to play spaces to balance the incredible power of academia, with there insane ideas about women, and history, and climate science. Ugh.
The level of radicalism you’re identifying far outstrips the ideological borders of the democratic party. The only people who find the democrats “radical” are those who are so far to the right that they themselves look fairly radical to the rest of us.
To folks as far to the left as hooks and radical feminists, the dems are merely another form of status-quo worshiping demagogues.
So if such a large percentage of college departments were indoctrinating their students, then the college educated electorate would reject BOTH parties, I’d venture to say.
Given that this is not the case, it seems that either Horowitz is mistaking “critical thinking” for “radical indoctrination” (in the same way that we had to do in order to change the word “radical” from a neutral to a pejorative one, incidentally) OR he’s identified the AGENDA of departments, but those departments are just woefully inept at indoctrination.
Look: real, true critical thinking is dangerous in the hands of the populace. Horowitz and his kinds are right to find it threatening and to work hard to discredit it. If we can churn out a couple of generations of critical thinkers, it’s not democracy that will be undermined, it’s the kind of conservatism that seeks to “conserve” a status quo that is inherently unequal and unjust, that leads us into indefensible wars and economic collapse.
Is academia hostile to THIS conservatism? Of course it is. Why? Because any sustained intellectual examination of that conservatism leads to the conclusion that it is harmful to humanity.
The fact that so may folks who are educated in these institutions emerge as defenders of the status quo, be they democrats or republicans, shows me that we are not, in fact, doing a very good job. So Horowitz is right, in his own extraordinarily misguided way.