Questioning Horowitz

Mark Bauerlein asks, “What can we say of disciplines that license teachers to stray so far from their training?” We can say, “great!” Encouraging professors to go beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries is one of the best things we can do to improve higher education. Horowitz’s view, seemingly embraced by Bauerlein, would require an incredibly repressive and narrow-minded apparatus of banning discussions beyond one’s discipline. For example, Horowitz complains in one case: “Professor Okonkwo, however, is not a historian, let alone a historian of colonialism. He brings no observable academic expertise to bear on the subject.”(226) This is a course on “The Colonial Encounter in African Fiction.” Horowitz is arguing that English professors should ignore the history of colonialism in teaching African novels about colonialism. It’s difficult to imagine a more mouth-dropping display of anti-intellectual sentiment. Horowitz would rather have students remain totally ignorant about the historical context of a novel than allow an English professor to mention a word about a topic beyond Horowitz’s narrow vision of academic specialization. Does Bauerlein agree with this? Is this what Bauerlein fears as something that “lightens the burden of knowledge and loosens the ties of rigor”? And what, exactly, does he propose to do to prohibit the mention of banned subjects in the classroom?
Bauerlein wonders, “But what if those objections are true? What if only one-third of the cases are genuine specimens of violation?” Then you would have a very small problem of very little consequence. The question would become, what should be done about it? The obvious answer is this: Criticize those professors you believe are doing a poor job of teaching, and continue to protect everyone’s academic freedom. What is Bauerlein’s alternative? What system of centralized repression does Bauerlein advocate as an alternative? We already know Horowitz’s answer. In his book, Horowitz repeatedly argues for faculty and administrators and trustees to intervene and stop this teaching. The question for conservatives, which they seem unwilling to answer, is: do you agree with Horowitz?
In any massive system where more than a million faculty members teach millions of courses every year, there will always be bad teachers. But who does Bauerlein trust to enforce ideological correctness upon professors and the ideas they express and the books they assign? Horowitz? Administrators who know nothing about the field of study? Trustees who know nothing about these fields and little about higher education? Who should be the guardian protecting students from these allegedly bad ideas? And who will guard us from the guardian?


The examples cited by Bauerlein and Horowitz do not make me worry much about the state of our classes. According to Bauerlein, “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.” That’s quite a leap. The fact that Women’s Studies analyzes power and resources doesn’t mean that’s the only thing even analyzed in its classes. Nor is it the case that Women’s Studies forces a conclusion of inequality on anyone in any particular example. The only possible objection I can see to this statement would be if someone believes that nowhere in the world is there any unequal distribution of power or resources based on gender. It’s true that Women’s Studies does not debate the potential claim that we lived in a utopia of total gender equality, but I cannot believe any rational person could believe in such nonsense. Does Bauerlein think there’s no gender inequality anywhere, and therefore we must debate whether it exists at all?
Bauerlein even objects to asking questions about oppression in their own lives, even when there is no evidence of anyone being required to answer in a particular way. Why is Bauerlein afraid of allowing such questions to be asked? Why is Horowitz obsessed with trying to banish political discussions from the classrooms, while offering no examples where the rights of students are actually violated?
As for Bauerlein’s call for sound scientific studies of politics in the classroom, I cannot imagine anyone capable of studying millions of individually-designed courses simultaneously. I would rather see resources devoted to the study of academic freedom and liberty on campus. For every course denounced by Horowitz on dubious grounds, there are probably a dozen professors who have been silenced by attempts to ban politics from the classroom. When will Bauerlein’s concern be raised about this? Even if it only happens rarely, isn’t it an infringement of academic freedom, and shouldn’t we take action to stop it?
Perhaps conservatives should spend less time reacting to cries about liberal professors, and more time designing and implementing sound methods for increasing academic freedom and free speech on campus. Why are conservatives unwilling to question the repressive aims of Horowitz and his allies?

John Wilson

John K. Wilson is the founder of the Institute for College Freedom (collegefreedom.org) and the author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies (Paradigm Publishers, 2008).

One thought on “Questioning Horowitz”

  1. John, re: your remark about PSU’s Women’s Studies department — let’s not be naive.
    Horowitz is right…inequality IS the basic premise of the field of study. As such, Women’s Studies is at the very least covertly political, if not overtly so.
    Call me when a there is a tenured professor of Women’s Studies whose primary field of research is how in some instances efforts to enhance the role of women has created difficulties for men — as in, for example, the growing “inequality” of bachelor’s degree conference on men vs. women.
    Something tells me I’ll have to wait a very long time for such a professor to emerge in any Women or Gender Studies department.

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