David Horowitz's Battlefield Academia
Sixties lefty turned right wing activist, provocateur, and GOP
political consultant is leading a McCarthy-like charge on college
campuses across the country
Bill Berkowitz - WorkingForChange
07.14.05 - A specter is again haunting U.S. colleges and universities.
At the beginning of the Cold War in the early 1950s, Joseph McCarthy,
the infamous Republican Senator from Wisconsin, stalked the political
landscape hurling reckless charges that hordes of Communists had
infiltrated the U.S. government before, during and after World War II.
Sen. McCarthy and his band of self-proclaimed patriots also trained
their guns on the creative community -- writers, directors and actors
working in Hollywood and on Broadway -- as well as public school
teachers and academics on college campuses across the country.
The hysteria these men stirred up through largely unsubstantiated
charges caused thousands of people to lose their jobs. Some committed
Flash forward 50 years: David Horowitz, the 1960s left-wing radical
turned right-wing activist/provocateur and Republican political
consultant, has picked up McCarthy's baton. Disguised as an attempt
to broaden free speech on campus, Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights
-- which aims to stifle the speech of liberal academics -- has been
making the rounds of state houses and college campuses during the
past year or so.
In Florida, State Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has
introduced an Academic Freedom Bill of Rights after he "attended a
conservative conference in St. Louis last summer where Horowitz spoke
about academic freedom," the St. Petersburg Times reported.
Baxley's legislation, which in late March passed out of the House
Choice and Innovation Committee by an 8-to-2 vote (the only two
Democrats on the committee voted against it), was a broad assault on
In addition to guaranteeing that students would "not be punished for
professing beliefs with which their professors disagree," the bill
would have advised professors "to teach alternative 'serious academic
theories' that may disagree with their personal views."
"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear
about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't
like it, there's the door,'" Baxley maintained.
According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, students who
felt their views were disrespected in the classroom or thought they
were singled out for "public ridicule" by their professors would have
the right to sue them and the university.
"Despite the state Senate's decision not to consider Baxley's bill, I
have heard that he hasn't given up and may reintroduce the House bill
next session," Susan Greenbaum, the president of the Faculty Senate
at the University of South Florida, told IPS.
"Baxley also appealed directly to the state's university presidents
to implement his proposals administratively. As chair of the
Education Council and as a member of the Education Appropriations
Committee, a very important House committee, Baxley certainly has
"The real test," Greenbaum pointed out, "will come in whether there
is an escalation in student grievances at Florida universities, and
what happens to those complaints. However, what seems to be lacking
in this whole issue is real student dissatisfaction. They have
garnered almost no action among students on these campuses; David
Horowitz presented a pitiful array of dubious anecdotes when he
testified in Tallahassee."
In addition to Florida, legislators in 13 other states have
introduced some type of "Academic Freedom" legislation. California
and Maine are considering "an academic bill of rights [containing] an
eight-point credo designed to increase political diversity in the
In early June, the Christian Science Monitor reported that "four
state universities in Colorado... [had] adopted the principles under
legislative pressure in 2004."
In Minnesota, right-wing state senator Michelle Bachman, a vocal
opponent of gay rights, introduced two bills modeled on Horowitz's
complaints, one targeted at state colleges and universities and one
at state high schools.
Horowitz, who operates a number of projects -- including the online
magazine Frontpagemag.com -- out of the well-funded offices of his
Los Angeles, California-based Center for the Study of Popular
Culture, set up Students for Academic Freedom in 2003 to do the grunt
work. Since then, the Washington-based outfit has been making headway
on college campuses across the nation.
Students for Academic Freedom is not only involved with lobbying
state legislatures; on some campuses, they and similarly minded
groups have launched an all-out assault on liberal professors, using
classic McCarthyite tactics.
At Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) in Santa Rosa, California, the
struggle over academic freedom took a particularly ugly turn earlier
this year. Conservative students, supporting a California version of
a Student Bill of Rights, issued "leaflets quoting Section 51530 of
the [California] Education Code," and then "anonymously posted [them]
on the doors of ten faculty members" at the College, veteran
journalist David Bacon reported.
The leaflet quoted the code:
"No teacher... shall advocate or teach communism with the intent to
indoctrinate, inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for
communism." Such "advocacy," the statute says, means teaching "for
the purpose of undermining patriotism for, and the belief in, the
government of the United States and of this state."
Claiming responsibility for the action, SRJC Republicans issued a
press release stating that they "did this because we believe certain
instructors at SRJC are in violation of California state law."
At the same time, a news release with the headline "Operation 'Red
Scare,'" appeared on the website of California College Republicans.
In McCarthyite cant, the organization's chair, Michael Davidson, told
reporter John Gorenfeld "a lot of the college professors are
leftovers from the Seventies -- and Communist sympathizers."
Meanwhile, in Florida, Horowitz's local partner, Rep. Dennis Baxley,
appears to see himself as a modern-day Daniel fighting the lions of
liberal academia. During the debate over his legislation, Baxley
claimed he was called a McCarthyist by "leftist critics [who]
ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty."
Then, similar to a tactic used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy himself,
Baxley claimed that he "had a list of students who were discriminated
against by professors," but, the St. Petersburg Times reported, he
"refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted."
Horowitz's efforts at campuses across the country, and Rep. Baxley's
work in Florida "represents an inversion of the original intent of
academic freedom, which is to protect the right of professors to
express controversial ideas without fear of retaliation," Susan
"This protection is designed to shield free inquiry and encourage
innovation. It enables the creation of new knowledge and secures the
basis to challenge old ideas," she continued.
"In Baxley's bill -- which is really the Horowitz bill -- students
are customers, whose tastes and prejudices must be accommodated.
Professors are likened to vendors who must take care not to offend or
disturb those who have come to purchase their wares."
"It's like the Wal-Mart model: Maybe they can import holographic
images of professors made in China, attractive classroom automatons
who can be programmed to present marketable and politically
acceptable material," she said dryly.
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