Facing Off On Political Diversity
Does the quest for diversity extend to the politics of the faculty? Earlier this year, conservative author David Horowitz wrote a book attacking liberal bias in higher education.
DI: You have been called vituperative and bombastic for criticizing professors in your book, The ProFessors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.
DH: It’s written in a very moderate tone with even-tempered prose. My opponents seize on sound bites. I have to defend myself all the time, and a lot of the attacks are based on misrepresentations.
DI: You’re famously right wing, yet your parents were communists and you supported the Black Panthers in the 1970s.
DH: I was a Marxist. You couldn’t be on the left without defending the Panthers. I swore I’d never become a conservative. But the cause really disappointed me. The gap between our words and deeds was huge.
DI: Which of the 101 would you least want to teach your children?
DH: There are several who are Jew haters and some who are racist. There are some who are deranged and are vindictive against students. There’s none I’d want. [Dr.] Orlando Patterson (of Harvard University) is an example of a disinterested scholar who represents a point of view, and I respect that. Just to be clear, I never called to remove any professor for their point of view. I defended even Ward Churchill. You cannot fire any professor for an article on the Internet. That’s a constitutional right.
DI: Is it constructive to be so hyperbolic?
DH: Most conservatives have been driven out of the university, and the ones who remain are so isolated they’re walking on eggshells. Think about a time when there were no women in academia. The men become accustomed to conducting themselves in a way that could be insulting. We had a locker room mentality. If there are no conservatives in the building, it’s the same. There should always be a pluralism of ideas, not a monopoly of the left or the right.
DI: Isn’t it acceptable for professors to have opinions?
DH: If you go into the doctor’s [office], you don’t want a moral lesson on abortion. It’s professionally inappropriate, particularly when the people making the rude remarks are authority figures, like the professors. A scholar is supposed to be detached and look at all sides; an activist is trying to recruit you. There’s a legitimate place for them, but not in the classroom.
DI: You also attack women’s studies departments.
DH: You have to subscribe to the view that women are oppressed and cross that with race and agree that all races are oppressed. This can be in the university, but you shouldn’t have to subscribe to that. You should get more than one perspective.
DI: What do you think of the mission and relevance of historically Black colleges and universities today?
DH: You could have a really good Black student who would be at the top of their class at Michigan State. Instead, they are recruited to Yale or Harvard so the liberal elite there can feel good about themselves, but the students are at the bottom of the class and feel inferior. If you’re a minority student, you should go to a school at your achievement level so you can feel intellectually powerful. I think that’s why we’re seeing Black students returning to HBCUs, which perform a valuable service by providing a community which doesn’t feel like a hostile environment to these students.
Pennsylvania State University literature professor Dr. Michael Bérubé has defended professors on his popular blog, www.michaelberube.com. This September, he published a book entitled: What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education.
DI: David Horowitz has accused you of being a “Marxist” and a “moral relativist” in his book.
MB: I snuck into the book. There are four ways you can wind up in that book. One is being in the Middle Eastern studies department and being critical of Israel. Two is having been one of his associates or competitors in the 1970s. Three is to say something really offensive and nutty about President Bush or 9/11. The fourth way is what I did: piss off Horowitz to no end on my Web site. That’s the least impressive way.
DI: Yet, in your new book, What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? you concede that English departments are dominated by liberals.
MB: I agree there is a “moral mist.” But, is the mist so thick that students think they can’t say anything else? I tell my students: You lose no points for disagreeing with me.
I would like to see young conservatives come in. But I think conservatives go where their ideas really matter. Not in graduate programs; they go to law schools or government or into think tanks. They go places where their ideas can have an impact on the world.
DI: Do you support race-conscious admissions?
MB: It’s a mess, but affirmative action shouldn’t be the only thing on the table. If you want a race-neutral admissions, you have to look at legacies and athletes. Legacies are like a “White person protection plan.” And at elite liberal arts colleges, like Middlebury or Williams, more than a quarter of the male student body is made up of athletes, and if we’re talking about lacrosse or fencing, then there’s not a lot of Black athletes in that pool. I’m of the [President] Clinton model — “mend it, don’t end it.”
DI: What advice do you give to professors who endeavor to have a balanced class?
MB: Most complaints I hear are about professors making snarky comments about the frat boy in the White House. Do you really think that changes your students’ votes? Professors actually get more done in an intellectual sense by conducting a free and open exchange in the classroom and modeling the liberal openness they preach.
DI: What’s it like being the academic punching bag for the right wing?
MB: I haven’t yet been deluged with e-mails calling for my head.
DI: Why take on that fight?
MB: The right wing assault on universities is dangerous. Not as much as the Iranian president who called for the purging of secular professors; we’re not at that level. But what’s shared is an outrage about those who don’t toe the line, and it’s an assault on one of the few autonomous institutions still existing. The Republicans in power are very radical. They are lashing out at Hollywood and the campuses — the two areas they don’t control and that are slipping from their grasp. For all our faults, we’re the best in the world. I would like my liberal colleagues not to screw it up, and I would like my conservative colleagues not to damage one of the few institutions that really works.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com