Folks who have read my material over at the Conservative Reformed Mafia know that I agreed to participate in an experiment with J. Wizzle (a screen name, of course) in which we both reviewed David Horowitz’s Indoctrination U, he from the perspective of an undergraduate student and I from the perspective of a non-tenured university teacher. I went in trying to be as open-minded as I could be about Horowitz’s project, but ultimately I found too many contradictions inherent in his philosophy to take him seriously.
I just read that Horowitz was invited to the MLA a couple weeks ago for a panel and that, predictably, the people whose careers he seems bent on ending didn’t receive him entirely enthusiastically. Not any less predictably, the meeting was not entirely productive:
Mr. Horowitz may have a point about the absence of real discussion, since the two camps seemed to talk past each other. He and Mr. Bauerlein each criticized the professoriate for not acknowledging real problems in the classroom or the ways identity politics can infringe on academic freedom. “The danger to academic freedom comes from within, not from David Horowitz, Anne Neal, or Stephen Balch,” said Mr. Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University. In their remarks, Mr. Nelson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ms. Cantú, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, did not respond to the supposed problems described by the other panelists; instead they offered defenses of academic freedom as essential for higher education, especially as rising numbers of adjunct faculty members lack customary protections.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in colleges where Horowitz hasn’t been much of a presence (though he’s made overtures to UGA’s College Republicans and indicated a willingness to bring his show to Athens). I do, however, feel his influence, making doubly sure any time that students might misunderstand me to cover my backside and emphasize that I’ve said nothing directly disparaging the GOP or any of its affiliates. (I know that shouldn’t be a problem for one who teaches Plato and Beowulf, but that’s how pervasive this nonsense is becoming.) Despite his claims that he wants to take “politics” out of the classroom, in fact he has made quite clear to those of us who aren’t superstars in our institutions that he and his organization can make us more trouble than we’re worth to our schools, ruining our careers, if we dare to bring our fields of knowledge to bear on anything that the students don’t particularly like.
I was also saddened but not entirely surprised to see that Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation (which I reviewed here), was Horowitz’s fellow panel member and attack dog. I should note his criticism of me, because he says unequivocally that I’m the problem, not Horowitz. So here’s his quote from the Chronicle piece, responding to accusations that Horowitz deliberately misrepresents the professors he targets:
That kind of rhetoric may have been what Mr. Bauerlein had in mind when he said that certain professors on the left deny to Mr. Horowitz and other critics “any decent or honest motive. They don’t grant them the impulse to care about young minds and the curriculum. They cast them as partisan hacks, and that’s wrong.”
Indeed, I haven’t seen anything from Horowitz to convince me that he’s got any kind of honest motives. I don’t think he cares about the students. I think he is a hack. So I suppose I’m one fo those “leftist” professors, meaning apparently that I’m not impressed with Horowitz.
Given that Bauerlein’s recent book (see the link above for a rather positive review) argues that professors should reassert themselves as teachers of wisdom and resist consumerism’s encroachments into the academy, I think that his backing Horowitz goes beyond the absurd and into the unintelligible. After all, to put outside pressure on the teachers, to let them know that exploring the wrong topics will end their careers, is to put the students’ basest desires in the driver’s seat. If a professor stays on the script that the consumer-students want, great. If not, if the teacher decides to challenge some preconceptions or point out contradictions or do the sorts of things that teachers ought to be doing, then it’s curtains. The result is that the consumer-students get precisely what they want, which may or may not be anything resembling education.
Of course, I realize that teachers’ drinking hemlock is nothing especially new, and I realize as well that teachers who criticize the powerful of the assembly are the ones most likely to drink it. I just wish that people could be honest enough to call Horowitz the anti-intellectual that he is.