“Academic Bill of Rights”

Meanwhile, on the home front, David Horowitz continues to storm around the country shouting that the halls of academe are actually Marxist-Leninist think-tanks in disguise (as though we don’t already have enough right-wing think-tanks to fill a state the size of Minnesota). Yesterday’s New York Times reported that Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights has been introduced almost verbatim as a “nonbinding resolution” (H.Con.Res. 318) in the House of Representatives by Jack Kingston (R-GA).

The “Bill of Rights” includes the following language:

1. All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

4. Curricula and reading lists in the humanities ad social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate.

8. Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

The reality of all of this beautifully-worded laguage, of course, is at root deeply and firmly anti-intellectual, anti-freedom, and anti-academic. As the American Association of University Professors points out, “When carefully analyzed, … the Academic Bill of Rights undermines the very academic freedom it claims to support. It threatens to impose administrative and legislative oversight on the professional judgment of faculty, to deprive professors of the authority necessary for teaching, and to prohibit academic institutions from making the decisions that are necessary for the advancement of knowledge.”

The most trenchant quote from the Times was the one from the Brown University student who whined because he had been “assigned” Karl Marx “four times” in the course of his underprivileged academic career. “Adam Smith? Not even once.”

What a tragedy. Apparently this nimrod has never heard of checking a book out from the library. He probably only knows who Adam Smith is because some right-wing ideologue told him that he was an “important” thinker (and ignored Smith’s less pigeonhole-able views, such a that “natural liberty” cannot be attained if government is left to “the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind.”)

This isn’t to say that I don’t think there’s no such thing as left-imposed political correctness on some campuses under certain circumstances. But I don’t think there is any generalized ideological litmus test in place for hiring faculty or making pedagogical decisions, no matter what some conservative professors may think. I encountered just as much conservative thought — often shoved down my throat — at Stanford as I did “liberal” thought, and the same has been true at the University of Michigan.

I think the conservative backlash of which Horowitz’s galloping crusade is the most visible example is a much bigger danger to academic institutions than any so-called leftist bias.