DAVID HOROWITZ is a self-appointed general of the right-wing thought police. In 2006, he published The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. In it, he named me and 100 other professors as threats to national security akin to terrorists.
This spring, he is coming out with the next salvo in the war over the academy—a book called Indoctrination U, in which he has taken special aim at University of Texas, where I teach, among others.
On February 17, the Daily Texan student newspaper published his op-ed claiming that there are two Universities of Texas—one a world-class institution, and another where “faculty regard themselves as activists, not scholars, and their curriculum is designed not to teach students how to conduct a disinterested inquiry, but to convert them to a sectarian ideology and recruit them to its causes.”
“Students are being given an indoctrination, not an education,” he claims—and as examples, he points to the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, the Communication Studies Department, and the Division of Rhetoric and Writing. I am affiliated with all of these programs and a clear target in his “new” book, but the Texan would not print my rebuttal.
Many of my colleagues say that we ought not “take Horowitz’s bait.” Among scholars and activists, he is regarded as something of a kook and a windbag. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has argued the weak line that disciplining faculty for supposed transgressions against academic freedom should be left up to university administrators, not politicians.
Then there are the organizations and professors who have devoted themselves to refuting Horowitz’s “facts” about their publications and activism. I believe this also is a wrong approach, because his “facts” about faculty syllabi and political affiliations are not in question. It is urgent that we challenge Horowitz politically.
Horowitz’s theatrics and demagoguery mask a very serious agenda: to discredit, harass and censor critical intellectuals and activists on our campuses. He knows that universities have historically been spaces of critical thinking and dissent. Students and professors have been organizing against the war and against the greed and hypocrisy of the right, and he would like nothing more than to hound us from our jobs.
CONTRARY TO his image as disaffected crank, Horowitz has been increasingly successful.
In state legislatures across the U.S., for example, he has proposed the misnamed “Academic Bill of Rights,” which purports to call for balance and openness in the college curriculum—but which, in fact, would give legislators and university administrations a warrant to police faculty on the basis of “ideological neutrality.” Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks explains that the Academic Bill of Rights is “merely a smokescreen for the McCarthyite agenda beneath the lofty rhetoric.”
He has national influence as well. For example, Rep. John Boehner, the leader of the Republicans in the House, wrote last year that as former head of the Education and the Workforce Committee, he told Horowitz “the committee shared his concern about bias in colleges.”
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, a protégé of Karl Rove and architect of George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” recently appointed a Commission on Higher Education to oversee U.S. universities.
Alan Jones, writing in InsideHigherEd, comments, “Horowitz, with assistance from Karl Rove and the former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, has briefed Republican members of Congress on his Academic Bill of Rights campaign, and DeLay has even distributed copies of Horowitz’s political primer ‘The Art of Political Warfare: How Republicans Can Fight to Win’ to all Republican members of Congress. Rove refers to Horowitz’s pamphlet as ‘a perfect pocket guide to winning on the political battlefield.’”
In 2003, Horowitz started the right-wing campus watch group called Students for Academic Freedom, which encouraged students to sneak into classes to take notes and report on “suspicious” professors.
Even Horowitz’s brief article in the Texan emboldened a group called the Young Conservatives of Texas to call for students to report any professor who is “biased”—translation: any professor who makes any political remark tangential to class material, criticizes the war, assigns readings by feminists and Marxists, and so on—to a Professor Watch List, which has its own Facebook page.
The YCT’s letter to the editor published in the Texan stated, “Professor bias is a problem that must be confronted directly and vigorously if it is to be eliminated on the UT campus. For this reason, the Young Conservatives of Texas are reviving the Professor Watch List. Professors who use their authority to indoctrinate rather than to educate will be added. YCT is currently accepting submission forms from students who want a professor considered for addition to the Watch List.”
This is a chilling McCarthyite tactic, and it is happening at universities across the country.
Horowitz’s activities have prompted legislators and university administrators—including those at the University of Texas and others—to implement faculty codes of conduct, and his efforts have brought a number of scholars under scrutiny.
Horowitz claimed a victory in Pennsylvania after 2006 hearings on the Academic Bill of Rights proposal led the governing bodies of Temple University and Penn State to create new faculty guidelines, with language mirroring his proposal’s prohibition of “irrelevant” political material and respect for divergent opinions, no matter how unsubstantiated they may be.
Under this requirement, professors should give equal weight and respect to creationism and evolution, or to racist views and anti-racist views.
In this atmosphere, antiwar professors aren’t safe, and a growing number of outspoken critical intellectuals are facing university firing squads. The University of Colorado has moved to dismiss American Indian scholar Ward Churchill in the wake of Horowitz’s attacks.
Other targets include Douglas Giles, a religion professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago; professor of Islam Kevin Barrett at the University of Wisconsin; the widely respected University of Michigan Middle East studies professor Juan Cole, who was blackballed during a job search at Yale; Nancy Rabinowitz, who lost control of a center at Hamilton College after it invited Ward Churchill to speak; Nicholas De Genova of Columbia University; Timothy Shortell, who lost a chairmanship at Brooklyn College over his comments about religion; and Stanford University Middle East studies scholar Joel Beinin.
DESPITE HIS alleged devotion to neutrality in the curriculum, Horowitz has yet to call on any business school to hire a labor leader or the economics department to hire enough Marxist economists to balance out the curriculum. I don’t see him calling for critics of the petroleum industry to be welcomed in UT’s big-oil geology department.
It is obvious that his attempts to police freedom of thought are aimed at only one small part of the ideological spectrum. He would like nothing more than to see critical progressive, faculty lose their jobs—not because we advocate orthodoxy, but because we question his orthodoxy.
Horowitz denounces teachers who tell the truth about racism and sexism, because he denies that racism and sexism exist.
He defended former Harvard University President Larry Summers, who stepped down amid an outcry at his remarks to the effect that women are biologically impaired in math and science. In a public lecture at the University of Texas, Horowitz claimed that the fact that Oprah Winfrey—whom he called “a fat Black woman”—has made it to the top of society proves that racism is no longer a barrier to success for most Black Americans. He has argued that Blacks benefited from slavery.
These arguments are ironic coming from a former left-wing activist who was once closely tied to the Black Panthers and sympathetic with a number of radical organizations. A child of Communist parents, Horowitz spent the 1950s and 1960s engaged in radical activism. He worked at the influential New Left publication Ramparts, becoming an editor.
But after a falling out with the Bay Area Panthers, Horowitz moved rapidly to the right. By 1984, he voted for Ronald Reagan and began building a new career as a denouncer of the left.
Working under the leadership of then-Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, Horowitz trained right-wing organizations and politicians dedicated to overthrowing the elected left-wing government in Nicaragua. In 1988, he served as a speechwriter for Sen. Bob Dole and socialized with Reagan, William Bennett and Newt Gingrich. Nation correspondent Scott Sherman reports that Horowitz was “part of the brain trust that launched anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 in California.”
He has written numerous books, including Hating Whitey, in which he denounces Black activists and scholars, who he claims have betrayed the color-blind vision of Martin Luther King Jr. In his crusades against what he calls the “PC gulag,” Horowitz started the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC), and his legal arm, the Individual Rights Foundation.
He maintains a daily online presence at the FrontPage magazine Web site, as well as discoverthenetwork.org, which charts alleged links among progressive scholars, activists, culture workers, politicians and terrorists. He has an online column at Salon.com, and his editorials appear in newspapers across the country.
The job of witch-hunter seems to pay well. In 2003, Horowitz took home more than $300,000 in compensation from the CSPC.
According to the AAUP, his various operations take in money from an interconnected network of far-right foundations, including the Olin (a principle funder of the neocons’ Project for a New American Century), Bradley (whose founder was an early supporter of the John Birch Society), Castle Rock (previously the Adolph Coors Foundation) and Scaife Foundations. In addition, he has tens of thousands of small donors solicited via email.
David Horowitz is no penny-ante crackpot. He is a serious political operator with the resources, connections and staying power to do real damage.
He must be confronted wherever he appears, and whenever he launches his attacks—or down the road, we may be remembering the Horowitz years as we do the devastation wrought on the left by Joseph McCarthy.
What else to read
One of the best exposés of Horowitz and his witch-hunt is The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy, by a reformed ally of Horowitz, David Brock.
For useful articles on Horowitz and his right-wing agenda, see Alan Jones’ “Connecting the Dots” in Inside Higher Ed; “David Horowitz’s Long March, by Scott Sherman, in The Nation; and Rosa Brooks’ LA Times column “Fear-Mongering Conservatives are on Their Perennial Crusade To Purge Universities of Liberal Professors.” Tim Douthett follows the money trail in “Horowitz Funding Sources,” on the AAUP Web site.
For information on scholars organizing against Horowitz, go to the Teachers for a Democratic Society and Free Exchange on Campus Web sites.