Conservative is the new black, pt. 2

This is the second in a series of posts on issues raised by Mark Bauerlein’s Chronicle piece. See Part I, Part III, and the Appendix (Colorado).
Unlike George Will, I don’t think Bauerlein’s piece is dazzling. I do think it is an interesting document, rich in implications. Here’s the first paragraph again:
Conservatives on college campuses scored a tactical hit when the American Enterprise Institute’s magazine published a survey of voter registration among humanities and social-science faculty members several years ago. More than nine out of 10 professors belonged to the Democratic or Green party, an imbalance that contradicted many liberal academics’ protestations that diversity and pluralism abound in higher education. Further investigations by people like David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, coupled with well-publicized cases of discrimination against conservative professors, reinforced the findings and set “intellectual diversity” on the agenda of state legislators and members of Congress.
I’ve already taken up the references to the American Enterprise Institute and to Horowitz. Consider next the bit about setting diversity on the agenda of state legislators. Bills have been introduced in Colorado, Georgia, and other states, the substance of which is Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights”. In the interest of getting through Bauerlein’s piece, I’m going to give a full account of events only in the case of Colorado, and treat the others more briefly.
The Colorado story is well-documented. I’m putting the details and documents in a forthcoming appendix. On 12 June 2003 Horowitz met secretly with two dozen Republican politicians, including the Governor and the Senate majority leader. In late September and early October he gave a public lectures at Metro State and other Colorado universities, and again met with state officials. Students and faculty at Metro State held a press conference to oppose the passage of an Academic Bill of Rights resolution. In December, John Andrews, the Senate majority leader, held a hastily scheduled ad hoc hearing at which a dozen or so students (and one faculty person) testified, most of them recounting various episodes of discrimination and intimidation directed against them because of their conservative opinions. None of the persons accused of doing so was present to rebut their testimony, so far as I can tell.
At the hearing the Independence Institute, a local outfit funded by the Coors family’s political foundation, handed out a pamphlet with written versions of much of the conservative witnesses’ testimony, suggesting that Andrews, one of the founders of the Institute, had coordinated his search for “people that we know to have pertinent—relevant material to present” with them. Several of the students testifying later turned out to have close connections with Republican officials. Two of them published pieces on Horowitz’s website attacking by name a professor at Metro State.
Andrews’ bill seems not to have gotten beyond the “conceptual” stage. A resolution (HR 1315) was introduced in the House by Representative Shawn Mitchell (now a state Senator), who also has ties to the Independence Institute. The House hearing ended with a verbal altercation between a philosophy professor at Metro and one of the students. Rightly or wrongly, this gave ammunition to Andrews & Co. Mitchell’s measure was withdrawn in March 2004 after the state universities agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding in which they promised to review and to publicize their student-rights policies and their grievance procedures. A further hearing in September 2004, convened at the request of Andrews and the House Speaker Lola Spradley, brought forward three new cases. In one of them, mentioned below, the president of Metro State found no cause for action; in another, the instructor was reprimanded (rightly, it would seem); I’m not sure about the disposition of the third.
Although Horowitz’s website presented the outcome as a “victory”, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. In the 2004 election, they lost control of both the House and the Senate. In January this year, a leading Democratic senator proposed a bill that would require universities to ensure that “professors, researchers and students alike are allowed free exercise of their right to listen critically and to participate in the examination of political and religious discourse within the academic community” (Chris Frates, “Bill would protect college faculty's speech”, Denver Post 15 Jan 2005). —I’d be inclined to regard such a bill as superfluous; but the intent seems to be to reassure faculty at the state universities that the nastiness accompanying the Academic Bill of Rights campaign would not be visited upon them again.
During this time the Colorado university system was enduring, and continues to endure, a serious financial crisis. A “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights”, which limited increases in revenues, including tuition, together with several other laws whose effect is to tie up a great deal of the state’s funds, was going to bring about a decline of 80% or more in state funding for higher education by 2009. This after eight years in which funding had in real dollars already declined by almost 25%. In that context, one might be forgiven for thinking that the push for an Academic Bill of Rights was “goofy politics”.
Not at all goofy was the campaign against the professor at Metro State first mentioned above. One student testified against her at Andrews’ hearing; he did not mention her name in the hearing, but the pamphlet distributed then included it. Later he published a diatribe against her at Horowitz’s website, and at the beginning of fall semester 2004 promised that an informer would be attending the professor’s class. Sure enough, a grievance was filed after the first session. Meranto had taken the precaution of taping her lecture; the president stated, after listening to the tape, that he had “found nothing on the tape that would insult, demean, ridicule, or evince hostility toward College Republicans, Republicans in general, or conservatives as such”. In the meantime she was receiving death threats ().
Back to Bauerlein: “Investigations”? Not really. Allegations, yes. Rigged hearings, yes. The only investigations in the case just mentioned were carried out, not by Horowitz or his helpers, but by the University, and the result was that, except for one instance of violating FERPA, the professor in question was exonerated. But the allegations were well-publicized, not least by Horowitz, who has given accusers ample space at Frontpage and Students for Academic Freedom. That the cases should “reinforce” his findings is no surprise at all. Both are in service to the aim of removing “liberal influence” from the academy. What is surprising that Bauerlein should suppose that being well-publicized has anything to do with truth or even plausibility. Are standards different in Op-Ed land?
In Georgia, the legislative story is similar. First, the one-sided hearing:
The Committee reconvened on Monday, February 23, to again consider Senate Resolution 661, the Academic Bill of Rights.  President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson of the 1st presented SR 661, which aims to promote “intellectual diversity” within the public university system.  U.S. Representative Jack Kingston spoke to SR 661, and said the U.S. Congress is working on similar legislation at the federal level (). Students from Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kennesaw State University, Emory University and University of Georgia spoke in favor of SR 661. Professor Mark Bauerlein of Emory University and President of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture David Horowitz spoke in favor of SR 661. Sen. Robert Lamutt of the 21st and Sen. Seth Harp of the 16th had questions for Horowitz.  Chairman Hamrick said SR 661 may need to be altered to address student, faculty and 1st Amendment concerns, and a vote would be taken at the next meeting.
I haven’t seen a transcript of this hearing (a report on one student’s testimony can be found at Vocaboly: search on ‘Malhotra’) (). The Faculty Senate of the University of Georgia passed a resolution against the initial draft of the Resolution, which was almost a copy of Horowitz’s “Bill of Rights”. A comparison of the first and last drafts of the bill shows that language was removed that
  • required state universities to record all “tenure, search, or hiring committee deliberations” so as to make them available to “appropriately constituted authorities empowered to inquire into the integrity of the process” (this is absent from Horowitz’s version);
  • required curricula and reading lists to “reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate” (present in Horowitz’s version);
  • enjoined not only universities but “professional societies” (in both the Georgia draft and Horowitz’s version) to maintain a posture of neutrality “with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry”.
The combined effect of those provisions would be, given the implied legislative oversight, nightmarish; the last provision is not only unenforceable but absurd. Who else would be qualified to adjudicate “substantive disagreements” on questions within, say, history, unless it was historians and their professional societies? That’s why we have experts. The revised bill was passed 41–5 (). According to the Provost at Georgia Tech, SR661 would “have no impact”.
A question was asked regarding the policy implications of the academic freedom concerns raised by two of our students as described in a recent AJCThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.  The Provost indicated that a grievance was filed by one of the students against a faculty member; the student claims that differences in opinions regarding political issues have affected his performance evaluation and grade.  The Provost indicated that he does not believe there is a “policy issue,” and that the grievance is being handled through the normal grievance process currently in place.  A question was asked regarding the fate of the “Academic Bill of Rights” (SR661). The Chair indicated that a significantly revised version (from the one presented at the March meeting) was passed by the Senate; it was not passed by the House and will have no impact. 
I’m not so sure. Horowitz calls it “a monumental victory for academic freedom in Georgia”, which is no doubt hype; but whatever its legal force, the passing of such a resolution supplies propaganda for Horowitz’s machine.
Bauerlein, for his part, doesn’t mention in the Chronicle piece that he, along with Horowitz, testified on behalf of what was essentially Horowitz’s “Bill of Rights” at the Georgia Senate hearing. In a contribution to the forum of the National Association of Scholars, however, he writes that he
testified before the Georgia Senate on academic freedom and Left-wing bias on campus. Conservative activist David Horowitz and U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston also testified, along with two students who'd been ridiculed and harassed by teachers for their conservative views.
I’ll discuss the NAS piece later. Here I just note that the Chronicle piece asserts that “we can’t open the university to conservative ideas and persons by outside command”. But what is a state senate resolution if not an outside command? Outside pressure, I suppose. This, the NAS piece argues, is justified: “there is no reason why outsiders should countenance universities that break the terms of the social contract”—the supposed contract by which society grants the privilege of academic freedom to universities (Bauerlein makes no distinction here between private and public).
The year-end report of the Students for Academic Freedom states that in addition to Colorado and Georgia, “legislators in 8 other states are already moving to introduce legislation based on the Academic Bill of Rights”, including my own state Missouri, which now has a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature (). These efforts have so far yielded only the passage of the Senate resolution in Georgia and the Memorandum of Understanding in Colorado. The bill introduced in the US Congress by Jack Kingston has, to my knowledge, not emerged from the subcommittee to which it was consigned. Almost the entire impetus for legislative action—or for action by universities—has come, directly or indirectly, from Horowitz, and it may well remain so. I don’t see any groundswell of opinion in favor of the Academic Bill of Rights; its net effect on the public seems to be that of reinforcing among those who already believe it the view that academia is saturated with leftist thinking.
The philosophical interest in these efforts to create legislation based on the Academic Bill of Rights is indirect. It is that if ideas do have an influence in public affairs, it is often through channels like this. We like to pick apart arguments and to analyze the relations among concepts; but arguments and concepts are inert until taken to heart and put to work, the political expression of which is legislation and policy. That part is messy: lots of sloppy thinking, insincerity, hypocrisy, unavowed motives, and so forth. After going through the details of the Colorado episode I have felt as if I needed to clear my mind with a plunge into the fresh waters of pure reason—a bit of topology, say, or the Structure of appearances. But I think it’s necessary at times to descend from the heights of abstraction and see what happens when the foot soldiers and their officers go to work ().
As a historian, I am fascinated by the epidemiology of ideas (). Just how does the cogito wind up in comic strips, or the Critique of pure reason show up on The Simpsons? How do notions like diversity enter public discourse, only to become mere tokens in discourses quite opposed to the motives with which they were introduced? There is a great deal to think about here, even in the rarefied regions of the philosophy of language: the bulk of the words we use—at least in public controversy—are not clean and simple like Hesperus and Phosphorus; they are what Raymond Williams called “keywords”, or what Empson called “complex words”, tangled bundles of denotation and connotation, whose use may involve us in histories we hardly know and can scarcely control ().
Addendum to Part I: I mentioned a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. When that study was mentioned to Horowitz, here is what he said:
Academia, too, is suspect: “I want to know,” he snaps, “how many reading lists have von Hayek on them as opposed to Chomsky.” But what about the UCLA survey of 35,000 professors cited by Robert Hughes in his book Culture of Complaint, which revealed that only 4.9 percent called themselves “far left,” while 17.8 percent put down “conservative.” Horowitz’s voice rises to a shout. “Norman Podhoretz cannot retire and be a professor anywhere! Clancy Sigal, the novelist, is a fucking professor at USC! He has no degrees. He’s written books that nobody reads, and he’s got a sinecure.”
From the Academic Bill of Rights: “Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study”.
() See “Congressman Kingston introduces Academic Bill of Rights/Designed to take partisan politics out of America’s colleges and universities”, 21 Oct 2003; also at Frontpage. The bill (also in pdf) is essentially Horowitz’s “Bill of Rights”. The bill was referred to a subcommittee where apparently it remains. On Kingston, see his biography at the Friends of Jack Kingston site.
() Malhotra, as it happens, is or was the Chair of the College Republicans at Georgia Tech. Her testimony at the Senate hearing can be found in “Georgia Institute of Political Correctness”, Campus Report 23 Apr 2004. Campus Report is a website run by Accuracy in Academia (see the report at People for the American Way). She met with Horowitz during his visit to Emory in April 2004 (Horowitz, “Democratic Abuse of the Academy”, Frontpage, 19 Apr 2004).
The following exchange is instructive: Dogan to McMath 12 Aug 2004, McMath to Dogan 23 Sep 2004, Dogan to McMath 20 Dec 2004. Sara Dogan is the national coordinator of Students for Academic Freedom, Robert McMath the provost of Georgia Tech.
The first is almost entirely grandstanding. Dogan writes that we (i.e. SAF, or rather Dogan and Horowitz—I don't see that anyone else took part in the writing of Dogan’s letter) “would like you to work with Dean Ray to formally incorporate the clause we have proposed in your diversity rules so that every professor and administrator at Georgia Tech understands the gravity of this issue and the seriousness with which the Georgia Tech Administration regards it”, and goes on with a number of other we would likes that, even if the Provost himself were favorable to them, he has very little power to bring about.
The point of the letter is, I think, clear when you look at who is being sent copies: university officials, various state and US representatives and senators, the Chair of the Georgia College Republicans, Ralph Reed. McMath responds, as you might expect, with a polite version of “cut the crap”, and points out that Bush, Gingrich, Bob Barr, the CEOs of Wal-Mart and Home Depot, and various others not noted for their liberal tendencies have all visited campus. Dogan’s reply complains about the “curt dismissal of our reasonable requests”. What comes across in Dogan’s letters is arrogance. What standing, exactly, does Dogan or Horowitz have to attempt to alter the policies of an institution with 16,000 students and 800 faculty, & in whose fortunes they have no stake?
() See Sara Dogan, “Academic Bill of Rights Sweeps Georgia Senate”, Students for Academic Freedom Archive 23 March 2004; the same at Frontpage; and John F. Sugg, “Middle East conflict: It's academic”, Creative Loafing (Atlanta), May 6, 2004, archived at CampusWatch.
() What does Horowitz think about death threats? You might think that he’d put in a good word for civility and respect for opposing viewpoints. No such luck.
Horowitz, who has also criticized Ball State’s program, had little sympathy when asked if Wolfe deserved to get hate e-mails from strangers.
“These people are such sissies,” he said. “I get hate mail every single day. What can I do about it? It’s called the Internet.”
It’s easier to be sanguine, I’m sure, if you can afford four bodyguards.
() In a Fox News interview, “Horowitz would not name the states hammering out legislation because he said due to the ‘violence of the reaction’ in Colorado, lawmakers have gotten skittish and prefer to nail down their plans before announcing them publicly.” (Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, “Colorado State Senator Attacks University Bias”, Fox News Channel, 19 Jan 2004). In other words: people who claim to be fostering debate on campus are trying to avoid debate about their own activities.
() One poignant document from another case (a Peace Studies program at Ball State recently targeted by Horowitz) is worth reading: Amanda Carpenter, “Alves Explodes During bsYOU Interview”, 20 Sep 2004. See BioMuncie and CAFO News for background.
() See:
Dan Sperber. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Blackwell, 1996. ISBN: 0631200452
Dan Sperber. La contagion des idées. Odile Jacob, 1996 (Collection Sciences Humaines). ISBN : 2738103227.
() Viewed from this perspective, the control that science and mathematics manage to exert over their vocabularies seems almost miraculous. But it must be explicable in terms of the norms and practices of those disciplines. I won’t venture any hypotheses, except to note that the explanation must account also for the fact that although many technical terms have analogical and metaphorical uses outside their scientific homes, their use within science remains insulated against the ambiguities that such uses generally bring about. The term ‘topology’, for example, has come to be used to mean something like shape or to denote non-metric but spatial properties of all sorts (as in the “topology” of networks or of proteins); but this has no effect on its meaning in mathematics. Philosophical discourse is, on the whole, much more porous.

LinkFebruary 6, 2005 in Academic Affairs · Current Affairs