Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Conservative Student Writers

(Thanks to Free Exchange on Campus for pointing out the Campus Magazine piece.)

In an article entitled "Liberal Faculty: A Debate," two Vanderbilt University students, Douglas Kurdziel and Luke Bidikov, offer slightly divergent views on liberal/conservative “balance” within university faculties. As these are student voices and opinions, I am going to treat them with all the respect I provide my own students. After all, as a good “liberal,” I try to encourage my students to learn to think and explore for themselves—just as I would like these two to learn to do. That doesn't mean, though, that I will go easy on them.

Both students admit, at least tacitly, that liberal professors do not indoctrinate—at least, not successfully. And they are right to this extent: we don’t even try. We don’t want to convert our students to our own viewpoints but to provide the tools they need for examining and defending (or even changing) their own. These two are certainly on the road to mastery of the tools of thought but, as a look at their essays shows, they are not quite there yet.

Recognition of the general faculty desire to instruct, not convert is crucial to any understanding of American colleges and universities, but it is one that neither writer really considers in the arguments presented. At the heart of the mindset behind real adherence to the principles of a “liberal” education is the idea that students are to be provided with the tools for learning, for learning really comes through the students’ own efforts and not through wholesale acceptance of the views of others. Teach, don't convince: this could be our faculty credo. Our success in adhering to this is supported by the fact that faculties are not bothered by the idea (asserted by these two writers) that our students graduate with a more conservative mindset than when they entered. But both young writers base their arguments on the assumption that all professors, both conservative and liberal, are trying to convince, not teach.

Many conservatives seem to assume, as these two do and as David Horowitz does, that college professors see their job as indoctrination and not education. So, they argue for that “balance” between liberals and conservatives on the faculty, believing that the contradictory attempts at indoctrination will even each other out. Thing is, political viewpoints really have little to do with what goes on in the classroom. By insisting on “balance,” these people are arguing to change that, to make politics a prime classroom focus—something we liberals don’t want. Even a class on something as politically charged as gay issues is not an attempt at bringing politics into the classroom but to open students’ eyes, to get them to see the world more fully and clearly than they have before. The students needn't exit the class as adherents to some gay "agenda," simply as citizens with a greater understanding of the forces behind that "agenda."

There’s much self-congratulation in the two pieces, a feeling that the writers, as conservatives, are able to get more out of the college experience today than are liberal students. I’m glad they both feel that their experiences at Vanderbilt are worthwhile, but I wish they would open their eyes a little bit more (that’s my teacher personality coming through) and see that there is much more going on.

In what follows, I’ll point out a few problems with the essays, but simply as aids for improvement.

In one of the most famous play reviews of the twentieth century, Dorothy Parker wrote of Katherine Hepburn’s performance in The Lake as running “the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Kurdziel seems to be a bit of a Hepburn in his view of American history:
College campuses have been the birthplace for progressive moments throughout American history, ranging from the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s to the living wage debates of today.

Before the 1960s (a period covering the bulk of American history) few campuses (with the notable exception of the City College of New York) were the birthplaces of progressive movements of any sort. One should be careful of phrases like “throughout American history.” They signal to the reader than a gross generalization is coming. Here, the problem is worse, for Kurdziel then makes it look like he thinks American history starts in the 1960s, something he surely does not believe.

He goes on:
While students may encounter these ideas, their core beliefs, instilled in them by their upbringing, will allow them to stand firm. Even so, conservatives should not stop their efforts to get more conservative professors in academia and to establish a larger conservative presence on campuses.

This is a foundationalist argument, where belief trumps evidence. That beliefs were “instilled” makes them more worthy? Is “standing firm” in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary something to be lauded? Perhaps the “core beliefs” do have validity, but they should not be protected without examination. If bringing more conservative professors to campus makes it easier for conservative students to avoid examining their beliefs, then doing so is wrong. A better argument would be that conservative professors can better challenge the beliefs of liberal students—but we liberal professors do that already (witness that number of liberals we "turn into" conservatives).

Almost always, if I sense a gathering consensus within a class, I will defend the opposing view, challenging my students to defend their belief, no matter what it is. This is a core liberal methodology; it is close to the heart of what makes the liberal arts “liberal.” Willingness to do this is much more important in university teaching than is the particular professor’s political leaning.

A little later, Kurdziel writes:
As professors preach to their students, they will bicker about minutiae, rather than clarifying and strengthening their arguments.

But that’s just what we don’t do. Sure, not all professors do their jobs or do them well, but few of us are ever willing to preach. We are teachers, not preachers, and we do understand the difference.

Soon, there follows an interesting comment, one that may be at the heart of the recent right-wing attacks on academia, but one that reflects little of the reality of American culture:
If liberal professors have a monopoly on academic discourse, then mainstream culture follow suit.

If this were the case, then American culture would have moved far to the left over the last thirty years. Clearly, it hasn’t. As both Kurdziel and Bidikov admit, not even college students “follow suit.” How can Kurdziel argue that any academic “discourse” will cause “mainstream culture” to follow it? All evidence is to the contrary.

Kurdziel finally claims that:
The most important argument for attracting more conservative professors to universities focuses not on the ramifications of allowing liberal academics to dominate the discussion, but instead on what will happen if conservative students have no one to guide them.

But this simply shows his lack of understanding of the role of college professors. We aren’t there as guides but as teachers. We don’t want to tell our students what to believe, but how to learn about the world. If we guide at all, it’s to an understanding of methodology and an ability to negotiate the complexities of thought and the world. This is the difference between a college of liberal arts and one devoted to religious training. There, the intent clearly is to guide. There, panic would reign if it were discovered that graduating students were less religious (for example) than incoming.

There is plenty of “guidance” for both liberals and conservatives in our culture. Our colleges don’t need to get into that business.

Which brings us to Luke Bidikov’s essay. He writes:
Liberal students[…] do not have to hear opposing views; they can turn off Fox News if they want to. Conservative students, however, cannot stop listening to their professors. Liberal students, unlike conservatives, can completely immerse themselves in a bubble, devoid of conservative influences.

Given the conservative dominance of our national debate for a generation now, this is an impossible argument to sustain. Even on the most isolated college campus, students are bombarded by conservative ideology. Also, though most conservative students are quite willing to listen, learn, and debate, there is a surprising number who refuse to listen at all, encasing themselves in a bubble of iron belief, one much stronger than anything a real liberal will willingly construct. There’s another danger in this kind of statement: Bidikov is writing as though he really understands the experience of liberal students. Not being one, he cannot really tell what their experience might be.

Bidikov’s essay contains other assertions that cannot be supported. He says that:
colleges convince slightly more Democrats to become Republicans than the other way around.

While it may be true that there is a motion from Democrat to Republican during college years, it does not follow that colleges “convince” students one way or another. More likely, the students become more influenced by the wider media culture with its strong conservative taint. Bidikov even shows that he knows this, arguing that, in the face of liberal ideas:
right-minded students [are able] to carefully shape and mold their arguments (drawing on the wide range of conservative media available to them) until they become more convincing, more rational, and more truthful. Constantly asserting one’s opinion against adversity improves one’s clarity of thought and promotes ease of argumentation.

He follows that with a statement that contradicts what he and Kurdziel have already stated, that college students graduate more conservative than they entered:
After years of agreeing with their peers and professors, liberal students leave college with a mindset that is far to the left of the average American. Conservatives, on the other hand, leave college with a full range of well-defined, persuasive ideas.

Actually, college students graduate with political attitudes remarkably similar to that of the general American population. And conservative students, if these two are representative examples, certainly don’t show “a full range of well-defined, persuasive ideas” that is any greater than that shown by liberal students.

Some students do leave college with a good grounding in logic, an understanding of the scientific method, and familiarity with the avenues for research in a number of fields--as well as a knowledge of history and culture. These, however, cannot be characterized as predominately liberal or predominately conservative. Ideology, in fact, has nothing to do with a student's success or failure in education.

When Kurdziel and Bidikov learn that, they will have taken another important step in their own educations.

Good luck to them!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Question They Should Have Asked

Many of those who supported the invasion of Iraq, such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute who made the statement today on Public Radio’s Radio Times, say it was a ‘close call.’ Given the information they were provided, the argument goes, it appeared that something did have to be done about Saddam Hussein. After all, he had committed “genocide” and had used chemical weapons against his own people—and had certainly once embarked on a nuclear program.

Such people further excuse themselves, as O’Hanlon does, by saying that the invasion wasn’t “wrong” anyway—it was the aftermath. If, they say, we had gone in strong rather than on the cheap, we wouldn’t be in the situation we face today.

All of these people have weaseled out of responsibility—not that many of them had any in the first place—by deflecting attention from the clear and simple fact that it was no ‘close call’ in determining to support or oppose the invasion. It was only a close call (if then) if one did not ask one significant question:

“What do we do if we fail?”

Even now, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates states that ‘failure is not an option.’ Like O’Hanlon and the other pundits now trying to excuse themselves, like George Bush, like most of those who supported this travesty of a war, Gates refuses to consider that we could lose—not to mention that we have lost.

Any good strategist has a plan in case of failure—or has considered, at least, what the consequences of failure might be. The possibility of failure, certainly, has to be considered in making the initial decision. Eisenhower, for example, was so aware of the possibility of failure on D-Day that he even wrote out a statement taking responsibility for the failure that, of course, did not happen. The planning for what to do if things did not work out only stopped once the Normandy landing was a success.

“We cannot lose, so why think about what might happen then?” “Thinking of failure is only for those who will fail.” “We are too good and too strong to fail, so don’t have to consider that.” These are the lines of thinking that the supporters of the war, for the most part, followed.

Consequences. These have to be imagined any time a decision to go to war is made. Negative consequences, too. And the consequences of failure. The only things the supporters of the war looked at were the possible positive consequences. They never bothered to think about what might happen if a strong and independent Iraqi government weren’t quickly established.

They should have.

Those of us who opposed the war didn’t oppose it because we supported Saddam (no matter how much the Bush administration and its toadies tried to cast us in that light). No. We opposed it on a number of grounds. Many of us were appalled by the idea of a pre-emptive strike against a power that clearly posed no threat (this was no ‘close call,’ O’Hanlon—anyone with eyes wide open enough to see the operational methodology of the Bush White House knew to discount information from it and to look to other sources, all of which showed that Saddam posed no threat to the US), but just as many of us were looking at possible consequences—including the consequences of defeat.

There were simple facts about Iraq that should have made the negative consequences of failure (even if a remote possibility) so dire that they trumped any possible positive consequences (no matter how likely) of success. The excuse of having been lied to about Saddam’s capabilities does not change the simple fact that anyone with any sense, looking at all the possible outcomes of the war, would have seen (and many did) that this war just was not worth the cost. Success wouldn’t really get us much; failure could be disastrous.

What are those simple facts?

First, Iraq has no real integrity as a nation. Saddam ruled through one ethnic/religious group, keeping two others in thrall. This was clear to everyone: his actions against the Kurds in the north and the Shi’a in the south could not be denied. An invasion, therefore, would be seen by many in these two groups as an opening for establishing their dominance—if not of the country as a whole, at least of their areas within. Second, Iraq is not simply an Arab nation among other Arab nations, or an Islamic state amongst others. Ethnically, Iraq borders four other Arab nations, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. It also borders Turkey and Iran, both states with their own distinct ethnic backgrounds (but both with Kurdish minorities—minorities related to the Kurds in Iraq). In religious terms, Iraq, split between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, is bordered by Sunni-dominated Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Kuwait—and Turkey, where the government is secular but Sunnis make up the bulk of the population. Iran, though not Arab, certainly is Shi’a—and keeps a somewhat protective eye on its religious brethren, just as Saudi Arabia and the others do on the Sunnis. If there were not a strong central government in Iraq, these interested neighbors would certainly and quickly begin to meddle in Iraqi affairs. They would not feel it safe to do otherwise (Turkey, for example, has long feared the idea of a Kurdish state that could provide support for its own Kurdish separatists). Third, there was no real ‘government in exile’ that could be called in to replace Saddam’s regime. All that was available were a smattering of rich and exiled Iraqis, few of whom had any base of support inside the country. The likelihood, then, of a strong central Iraqi government that could exist on its own was remote from the start.

Fourth, if the US failed to set up a strong government in Iraq quickly, there would be a real power vacuum at the center of an unstable region. Jockeying to fill that vacuum by all the surrounding powers (not to mention other interested parties—interested because of oil or, like Israel and the US, because of problems with the Arab population of the region) could lead to unintended consequences of all sorts—like providing a new base for Al-Qaeda, a replacement for the loss in Afghanistan.

One did not even need to know all of this (though it was quite clear) to recognize that invading Iraq was a bad idea. Failure would be a disaster—and is.

But what about success? Would that have been any better? What success could their really be?

Democracy? That was a pipe-dream at best. Only a fool could really have believed that a democracy of any sort could succeed in Iraq through American imposition. Another strongman? Whoever it would be (if such a person existed), that person would have merely taken us back to the situation of the 1980s, when Iraq (and Saddam) was a US ally, but not a stable one, or one that could be trusted for even the short term—unless a huge US force remained in Iraq (which would make the strongman a puppet anyway, and a strongman in name only).

No. For anyone looking honestly and clearly at the Middle East in 2002 and early 2003, there was no ‘close call’ in deciding whether or not to support an invasion. It was a bad idea. Clearly a bad idea.

It amazes me that those, especially the pundits, who so heartily supported the war have a shred of credibility today—that they have the nerve to justify themselves and continue to make a living as commentators.

Their intellectual bankruptcy (not to mention the moral and ethical kind) should be clear to all. We should turn our national back on them.

Oh, and by the way: have you noticed that these are the same people, for the most part, now advocating a “surge”?

Think they have asked, "What do we do if it fails?"

I doubt it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Creating a Cripple or Saving a Continent?

Some years ago, a couple of people came into my store. As usual, I tried to strike up a conversation with the one not busily examining merchandise. Turns out both of them worked for an organization that was involved in HIV/AIDS prevention and containment in Africa.

As I had spent four years in Africa myself during the 1980s, I was interested in what they were doing. As I had buried (quite literally—I ran a small Quaker cemetery for a few months between stints in Africa) way too many AIDS victims, I was also quite attuned to the disease and even to the then-new anti-retrovirals that were just coming into use.

As they were leaving, I said something to the two women that bothered me almost as soon as I had said it, something I am only now coming to understand.

My thoughts were not clearly formed, but they came from my own personal experience in Africa. My words seemed callous to my ear even as I said them—though I knew there was something important in there, somewhere. Only today, this evening, did I suddenly understand just what it was I had been trying to express.

What I said was something like this: “We’re worrying too much about AIDS in Africa. Few people, where I lived, made it past their 40s even before this new disease. AIDS isn’t increasing deaths as drastically as we may think; many of its victims would have died young anyway.”

As I said, I was horrified with myself.

This evening, someone on the BBC show “The World” was talking about healthcare in places where HIV/AIDS is a problem. She said that concentration on AIDS had an unfortunate side-effect, the increase in problems (and deaths) from other sources.

Suddenly, I realized why I had said what I did, that day years ago. Without even consciously realizing it, I was badly paraphrasing the policy philosophy of the best of the aid organizations in the developing world: the entire community needs to be considered as part of any development project, even one with an ostensible focus on one disease.

Even one with ostensible focus on certain individuals. Save the Children, for example, doesn’t simply pay for individual children’s needs, but works to improve their entire community.

The same needs doing with any development project, even one so critical as the stopping of a pandemic. It’s not the same as addressing a problem in the United States or in any of the other countries with strong infrastructures, economies, and health-care systems. What we are doing with AIDS in Africa is like putting a patch on an old inner tube. That patch may stop the major leak, but (with that spot now stronger) other parts of the rubber will break down, new leaks will appear. The tube will be no better than it was before.

Malaria, for example, a huge killer in Africa, should have been wiped out years ago. Wars, corruption, and other problems kept that from happening. Even were it under control in one country, problems in the next would end up undoing the progress.

That radio program said that, right now, more is being spent on healthcare in developing countries than ever before. But it isolates too frequently, focusing on specific problems in specific places.

Some of this is needed. We can’t ignore the crisis situations. But by merely meeting them, we are not improving the situation. Africa, in particular, continues to stumble, no how much is done through well-meaning aid efforts like Live Aid in the 1980s. The HIV/AIDS efforts of today may have no greater effect in improving the lives of Africans as a whole.

This is what I was trying to get at, those years ago. The problems in Africa are so severe that no project, especially from the outside, focusing on just one issue—no matter how vital it seems—was not going to do much towards solving Africa’s problems.

Why not?

Part of the reason is that we in the West tend to “send in” specialists in particular problems. Each has a focus: HIV/AIDS, education, malaria, prenatal care, small-enterprise development, reforestation. Each of these, though important, can’t answer the problems of the developing world alone. Yet each jockeys for a larger part of the aid pie.

There are plenty of organizations—Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, The Mennonite Central Committee, among them—that do try to work with communities as a whole. Many others, as if overwhelmed by the sheer number of problems, just close their eyes and focus on a single piece.

And that has dangers. At the end of World War I, my grandfather was wounded by shrapnel in both feet. The doctors thought they would lose the one, so concentrated on it, and were quite happy when they realized they had saved it. But gangrene had set into the other. Nine amputations later, and my grandfather had no leg below his upper thigh. He could easily have died—others did, when what seemed a lesser wound was overlooked.

Or not simply a lesser wound. In Catch-22, Yossarian tries to take care of a gaping leg wound on Kid Snowden as they fly back from a bombing run. He does so, but Snowden keeps complaining of the cold. Yossarian finally tried to warm him up but, in moving him, sees that his stomach has been torn open, his intestines sliding out. Yossarian, too, had been trying to treat the wrong wound.

I hope that the situation we are in now is not as serious as Snowden’s. There was no way he could survive. But we do need to be treating the whole patient, and not just a part. If we don’t, at the best we will end up with a permanent cripple.

And a crippled continent is not something we can afford.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Freedom and Responsibility

Many of the people who bandy about the term “academic freedom” show little understanding of just what it means. Most people seem to think it is just another version of the First Amendment right to free speech. Others, such as David Horowitz, belong to the Humpty-Dumpty school of “academic freedom” definition: it means whatever they want it to mean at the moment. But then, Horowitz (unlike college professors) doesn’t have to take responsibility for his words anyway.

On his blog last Friday, Horowitz had this to say about whether or not a professor can speak his or her mind:
Not as a professor he doesn't. Who in his right mind would say that a geography professor has the right to espouse the view that the world is flat, or an astronomy professor to say that the moon is made of cheese, or any professor to say that African Americans are apes and pigs and should be destroyed?

Let me try to untangle this a bit.

Horowitz is writing about the case of a professor at the Canadian St. Xavier Francis University who attended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s the Holocaust Denial conference in Iran. Shiraz Dossa, a professor of political science, presented a paper at the conference but claims he is not a holocaust denier. Horowitz feels that, by even attending the conference, Dossa certainly is proclaiming himself a denier, leading to his statement quoted above.

Now, Dossa was rather foolish in attending that conference, but attendance doesn’t equal denial, any more than marching in a parade where NAMBLA also marches equates endorsement of NAMBLA—or attending a lesbian commitment ceremony raises questions about one’s competence to be a federal judge.

Horowitz, of course, knows that. But honesty has never been his strong suit intellectually, so he willingly breezes past it to make his other point—that professors don’t (as he says above) have the freedoms that the rest of us take for granted.

Horowitz also knows that “academic freedom” has different parts that affect different actions in different places. What a professor says or writes within an academic context, for example, is covered in a manner distinct from what she or he writes or says in, say, the political arena. But Horowitz, with his trademark dishonesty, ignores this. In fact, there are three distinct aspects of academic freedom: in research, in the classroom, and in the political realm. They all have different responsibilities that go with the freedoms (as all freedoms have). What Horowitz is doing is conflating these three, and for his own political ends—not for the betterment of our universities.

When Dossa writes an academic paper, it is reviewed. Often, this happens before publication. In other instances, it happens afterwards—but it does get reviewed, and Dossa’s standing within the academic community is affected by it. If he is already a tenured full professor, his job may not be affected, but his reputation certainly will be—and reputation means a lot in academia (just as it does elsewhere, certainly more than in punditry, where people like Horowitz can be caught lying and continue to reap huge speaker and appearance fees).

I don’t know what the paper was that Dossa presented in Tehran was about, but even the fact that he presented there is taken into account in such review (the venue of presentation means quite a lot in terms of promotion and tenure). This doesn’t mean that Dossa can’t hold a particular view or present wherever he wants, only that he has to defend what he has said and where. This is what is happening right now at St. Xavier Francis University, where Dossa is feeling heat from his colleagues.

When Dossa steps into a classroom, a different set of standards apply. Here, he has the responsibility of making sure his own beliefs do not trump those that are the standards of his field. He can even argue that the world is flat, as long as he does not insist that this is an accepted academic position. He can make his own beliefs clear to his students as long as he does not claim primacy for them. This is where people who support such things as Intelligent Design try to shoehorn themselves into the classroom, claiming that all beliefs should be presented equally—but that doesn’t wash. There is a hierarchy of knowledge that has to be accepted (even while someone tries to change it) within academia. Intelligent Design cannot be presented as the equal of evolution for it has no real scientific, research, or academic basis of any sort. That doesn’t mean that an ID supporter cannot mention it up in the biology classroom, only that it cannot then be given that equal status. The teacher may say something like, “I believe that evolution is wrong and ID right, but my personal belief has not yet become accepted by scholars. Therefore, though I want you to understand my belief, I am going to teach the more acceptable system while continuing my own research into this alternative.” Faculties monitor this through peer evaluation and student evaluation overseen by the faculty. This is a complex issue, obviously, and one that has never been explained to anyone’s satisfaction—but it is not (fortunately for this discussion) relevant to Dossa’s participation in the Tehran conference. As far as I know, at least, no one has claimed that Dossa espouses holocaust denial in the classroom.

Within the academy, then, professors do face certain restrictions that arise through the academic-freedom compact between the faculty and the institution. By agreeing to allow the faculty to have academic freedom, the institution demands that the faculty police itself. That is, scholarship and teaching need to be reviewed by peers for promotion, tenure, and even re-appointment. In other words, “academic freedom” on campus is freedom from outside interference, but does not mean complete freedom to espouse any view one wants—and this, of course, is what Horowitz is using to make his point. It is not true, however, that a professor can’t speak his or her own mind.

Just like anyone else, professors may say anything they want (with the same few caveats faced by the rest of us) in the public sphere. In many ways, this third aspect of academic freedom is simply a re-affirmation of general rights to freedom of speech (First Amendment rights in the US—I am not sure what they fall under in Canada, but the rights are basically the same), extending them to job protection for academics who are involved in public debate.

There’s something really peculiar about Horowitz claiming that professors don’t have the right to express their opinions, for his entire campaign against academia these past few years has been based on his claim that professors do have exactly that right, but that a left-wing cabal has been shutting conservative voices up and forcing them out.

In other words, Horowitz is trying to insure that those who agree with his fringe, right-wing views cannot lose academic jobs for what they say and believe—but that others, such as Dossa, can.

Now, there certainly are problems with how academic faculties police themselves. The majority can become too strong, forcing a certain toeing of the line. But one cannot honestly ask the faculties to protect those promoting one type of view while banning those with another, as Horowitz wants.

In fact, Horowitz notwithstanding, Dossa should and does have the right to speak his mind and even to attend conferences foolishly. As do conservative faculty members. Unlike Horowitz, however, Dossa and others on our faculties (even the tenured ones) have to face the consequences of their words—for that, as I have said, is one of the most critical aspects of academic freedom, something not imposed on the general public, and certainly not on David Horowitz.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"We Simply Cannot Afford to Fail"

So says Robert Gates, speaking on Iraq his first day as Secretary of Defense. Thing is, failure is no longer an option, a possibility, or any other part of the future.
Failure has happened. The question now is what to do about it.
It’s a failure that cannot be blamed on the lack of will of the American people, on unsupportive Democrats, or even on that horrible liberal media.
It's a failure of the people in power, of imagination, of strategy, of ethics, of morality, of more...
We could write a poem about it, dedicated to the Bush administration:
How did you fail us? Let me count the ways.You failed us to the depth and breadth and heightNo mind can reach, when feeling out of sightOf the start of your failure in that place.You failed us to the level of everyday'sMost urgent need, by all considered Right.You failed us freely, by any view or light;You failed us purely; your friends don’t even Praise.You failed us with the passion put to useOn your old griefs, and with your childish faith.You failed us with arrogance doomed to loseWith my lost faith,--You failed us with the breath,Smiles, tears, of all our lives!--and, if God choose,I shall hate your failure even after death.
The horror for us now is that no solution to the situation can come about until the US admits that it has failed, stops talking about “success” (it ain’t agonna come) and starts honestly trying to find a solution. Not a victory, but a solution.
No, those of us who want us out aren’t “surrender monkeys” or people cheering for the defeat of the US. The defeat has already happened.
Question is, can we stop fooling ourselves long enough to stop the killing before it gets worse?
The answer is, not until we recognize that failure is not an option only because the failure has already happened.
When did it happen? Oh, come on: it began the moment the decision was made to invade Iraq. The project was doomed from its very conception.
Neo-cons, Bushites: you failed! Don’t compound your failure by refusing to recognize it!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Intellectual or Polemicist? Or Both?

Mark Bauerlein, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, makes a claim that when “we assess intellectuals, we enter a rarified habitat of books and ideas.” His article, entitled “How Academe Shortchanges Conservative Thinking,” is rather a head-scratcher. Or it is until one realizes that he means any book and any idea.

Trying to set up an opposition between conservative intellectuals, who he sees as being outside of academe, and liberals ones, those inside, Bauerlein uses the likes of Andrew Sullivan, Michele Malkin, David Horowitz, and Dinesh D’Sousa as examples of conservative “intellectuals.” To be honest, he does mention a few real conservative intellectuals—problem is many of them, like economist Friedrich A. von Hayek, existed inside academe, cutting into his dichotomy. He tries to get around this by remembering that Hayak wasn’t discussed much in his graduate school department, while Michel Foucault was. I don’t know how much one can glean from that: The mathematician Kurt Gödel wasn’t discussed much in my department even though he was one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century—but my department was English. Everything has its place and time, and complaining that a certain thinker wasn’t the focus of discussion at a certain time in a certain department says very little about the importance of a thinker, especially in his or her field, especially when the department that Bauerlein was in was not Economics but English.

Not surprisingly, given his tendency to ignore significant distinctions, many of Bauerlein’s conclusions are based on blurred boundaries. Ultimately, his argument is that we need to bring more conservative “intellectual” thought into academia. But, again, not all books, nor all ideas, fit into any “rarified” intellectual realm. Not even all writing by an intellectual belongs there. Bauerlein talks of three books, one each by Sullivan and D’Sousa, and one by Michael Bérubé, a Penn State professor who certainly is an intellectual. He discusses all three as though they were all intellectuals (I am not sure that Sullivan would make that claim for himself; D’Sousa might, but few would agree), and all three books as though they belong in an intellectual realm.

Thing is, none of them does. Though that’s not to demean any of them or their arguments.

Let me explain: Following in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton (who was referred to as “Tom S**t” for some of the nasty things he wrote in the popular press, but who also composed a great deal of The Federalist Papers), Bérubé writes in different ways for different audiences. Case in point are his two books this year, books that appeared just a month apart, the What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? that Bauerlein writes about and Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities. The former, though it is about academia, isn’t really an “intellectual” book. It’s an attempt to step into the public sphere (as Bauerlein does recognize) and speak in a polemical fashion as part of a broader, American discussion. The latter, even though it even includes blog entries, is much more an “intellectual” work.

In this sense, none of the three books Bauerlein writes of is an “intellectual” work, but Bauerlein, somehow, moves from the fact that Bérubé is an intellectual to assumption that a book by him must be intellectual to a further assumptions that all books he (Bauerlein) can force into any sort of similarity must also be “intellectual.”

Bauerlein ignores the fact that there is a real difference between “intelligence” and “intellectual.” Sullivan and D’Sousa might be smart and may write books, but that alone does not make them intellectual.

Of course, neither does being an academic. Nor does one not being an academic keep one from being an intellectual. Eric Hoffer was one of the most important post-WWII intellectuals in America, yet he was no academic. Sullivan and D’Sousa, however, are essentially political polemicists, quite a different animal from the intellectual, though some of the markings (a certain native intelligence, for example) are the same.

Even Bauerlein, who has intellectual credentials of his own, is writing no “intellectual” piece in this case, though it is published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Though the polemical nature of his piece, in fact, may be the explanation for the sloppiness of his definitions.

However, just because something is meant for a broader, less “intellectual” audience does not provide excuse from intellectual rigor. Bauerlein, like Bérubé, sometimes writes as a polemicist (as he does here). And, even though it is certainly possible for polemicists to write about intellectuals, it’s a little unseemly for an intellectual to leave his rigor behind for the sake of scoring polemical points.

There are plenty of real intellectual conservatives inside academe (the whole idea that our universities are strictly leftist is the result of another purposeful blurring of distinctions). Thing is, few of them feel the need to act as polemicists—there are plenty of those on the outside already. The same is not true for their liberal counterparts. There has been no movement to establish well-financed liberal think tanks as an outside polemical base. So, liberal academics have to take up the battle that their conservative colleagues can much more safely ignore.

Though Bauerlein claims otherwise, the fact that conservative polemicists dominate outside of academia certainly is no basis for claiming that they, and their ideas, should be welcomed inside. As Bauerlein himself says, writing of D’Sousa, “the genuine and troubling dilemmas he uncovers are reduced to a campaign strategy.” Which is exactly why D’Sousa (and most of the conservative polemicists) remain outside of academe.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Company They Keep

OK, I know: my bias is showing.

But I am sick to death of the way the elite in America lord it over the rest of us, and how they, really, are all one—no matter their political “disagreements.”

A story (subscription required) in the New York Times two days ago still has my blood boiling. It’s titled “Lunch Menu: D’Amato, Koch, Clinton, ’08.”

What’s worst for me is that these are people who have become wealthy through politics. They are eating at New York’s posh Four Seasons restaurant on what should be our dime. Or $250.00 (or more) for the lunch.

No… I take that back. What’s worst for me is seeing Hillary Clinton going over to the other side without a qualm.

All I could think of was the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Remember the commandments? At first they included “All animals are equal.” At the end, that has been changed:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUALBUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERSAfter that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters. It did not seem strange to learn that the pigs had bought themselves a wireless set, were arranging to install a telephone, and had taken out subscriptions to John Bull, TitBits, and the Daily Mirror. It did not seem strange when Napoleon was seen strolling in the farmhouse garden with a pipe in his mouth-no, not even when the pigs took Mr. Jones's clothes out of the wardrobes and put them on, Napoleon himself appearing in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings, while his favourite sow appeared in the watered silk dress which Mrs. Jones had been used to wear on Sundays.
It doesn’t seem strange that Hillary Clinton, too, has taken on the trappings of the American elite.

The pigs and the humans soon have a dinner together (just like the three at the Four Seasons). One human, Mr. Pilkington, gives a speech:
He would end his remarks, he said, by emphasising once again the friendly feelings that subsisted, and ought to subsist, between Animal Farm and its neighbours. Between pigs and human beings there was not, and there need not be, any clash of interests whatever. Their struggles and their difficulties were one. Was not the labour problem the same everywhere?
Napoleon, the chief pig (or should he now be called Hillary?), soon rises to give a speech of his own:
He too, he said, was happy that the period of misunderstanding was at an end. For a long time there had been rumours-circulated, he had reason to think, by some malignant enemy-that there was something subversive and even revolutionary in the outlook of himself and his colleagues. They had been credited with attempting to stir up rebellion among the animals on neighbouring farms. Nothing could be further from the truth! Their sole wish, now and in the past, was to live at peace and in normal business relations with their neighbours. This farm which he had the honour to control, he added, was a co-operative enterprise. The title-deeds, which were in his own possession, were owned by the pigs jointly.
From outside, some of the other farm animals have been watching:
There was the same hearty cheering as before, and the mugs were emptied to the dregs. But as the animals outside gazed at the scene, it seemed to them that some strange thing was happening. What was it that had altered in the faces of the pigs? Clover's old dim eyes flitted from one face to another. Some of them had five chins, some had four, some had three. But what was it that seemed to be melting and changing? Then, the applause having come to an end, the company took up their cards and continued the game that had been interrupted, and the animals crept silently away. But they had not gone twenty yards when they stopped short. An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
No matter how much they may fight among themselves, let’s not be fooled: Hillary Clinton has become one of them.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Troop Buildup: An Analogy and a Rant

Among my other activities, I am a business owner. I've a store/gallery in Brooklyn, New York. It doesn't make much money (not since the blows of the dot-com bust and then 9/11), but we get by.

Almost eight years ago, before things began to go sour for small retail (and believe me, they are sour, no matter what anyone tells you about the state of the economy), I decided to open a second store.

I opened it in a place hours away from New York, but where I had connections. I thought it would be fast and easy: get in, set up, see the money start rolling in, and get back to my major business back in New York.

That's not what happened.

The only people who seem to shop in downtown State College, PA are students interested in tee-shirts and beer and their visiting parents--whose ideas of gifts, sad to say, were not the subtly scented soaps and sophisticated cards I sold so well in Brooklyn.

It was great at first: I rented a space and moved in, setting up a gallery upstairs above my spacious street-level shop. I couldn't believe how easy it was. Setting up my Brooklyn store had taken months and a huge investment. This was costing relatively little. I felt proud and, frankly, a little arrogant.

The expenses, though, soon started to pile up... but the income did not. Because I wasn't able to pay as much attention to the store back in Brooklyn, that one started to get more expensive, too. I was making the drive back and forth weekly, trying to run both--and running each poorly.

The State College store, which I had had such hopes for, started to cost more and more. In Brooklyn, I hadn't had to advertise (a strength of location); in State College, I did. Nothing seemed to help, though. I wasn't covering the rent, let alone the cost of goods and other expenses.

After eight months, I pulled the plug on the store in State College. It was difficult. Not only did I have to break my lease (something I hated doing), but I had to admit defeat.

But I did. I returned to Brooklyn full-time, where I began to teach a little part-time, to begin to pay off some of the debt I had incurred over the past year.

Though it had been humiliating to fail, that failure, once I accepted it, led me to new projects and even a new career (though I still manage the store on a part-time basis, my focus now is on what has become a full-time teaching gig). Though I am still cleaning up the financial mess sparked by the State College venture, I am making progress--and it looks like the Brooklyn store, whose survival was doubtful for a time, may survive.

When I look back, I am so glad I did not continue the State College store. I could have. My line of credit was not yet exhausted when I closed it up. More money could have been poured in, and more time.

The store, however, was never going to make it there. More effort would not have changed that. All continuing would have done would be to increase my debt--and, likely, force me into avenues other than the one that led me back to teaching--which I am loving.

Many people, of course, have been through experiences similar to mine. When we look back, it's with relief that we did finally pull the plug and get out. Sure, we had to break our promises to fulfill certain obligations, but we weren't going to be able to fulfill them anyway, not in the long run. Getting out gave us the chance, among other things, to return our focus to our situations at home, situations that deteriorate gravely when we are too involved in something too far away.

Now the rant:

Why the hell is our government contemplating increasing troop levels in Iraq? We have failed there; everyone know it. All we are doing by staying, at this point, is pouring lives and money down the drain. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that--the country has even said it quite clearly in this last election.

Thirty thousand, fifty thousand more troops: That's not going to help in Iraq any more that it would have helped my State College store survive for me to dump another thirty thousand or fifty thousand dollars into it. The store was not sustainable; the war is not sustainable.

There is no "victory" that we can achieve. There's no "success" that the US can pull off. Ronald Reagan once said:
It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.
He was right. But would that be victory? Would it be success? No, not in Vietnam--and not, today, in Iraq.

The only "victory" or "success" we could achieve in Iraq at this point is destruction of the whole country. Only then will it be peaceful. That is, unless the US is long gone.

We have lost, we messed this up, big time. We never should have gone in there in the first place, for we never did have any chance of success. The new neo-con argument that we messed up the occupation is beside the point. Yeah, we messed it up, but the occupation was doomed from the start. You just can't go into a functioning country and expect to change it through force. We may not have liked Saddam or his government, but the country was working a lot better then than it has been since. That's the difference between the occupations of Germany and Japan and that of Iraq: Things had gotten horrible in Germany and Japan. The situation under the occupation was immediately better. No matter how we try to frame it, the situation in Iraq got immediately worse with the US invasion--and it could not have been otherwise.

I'm defeatest, you say? Damned right! I'd be stupid to be otherwise. To claim anything else but defeat in Iraq right now is naive or willfully blind.

Sometimes you just have to admit mistakes, bow your head, go home, and attend to business there. Call that "defeatism" if you want, but it's the only realistic path.

America knows that. Almost everyone in America, that is, knows that.

Except these damned fools, waist deep in the Big Muddy and still saying, "push on."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Balance" and the Melt Down

David Horowitz continues to melt down in the wake of his attempt (with outgoing representative Gib Armstrong) to hijack the Pennsylvania Select Committee on Academic Freedom report. A draft reflected his views but was altered by the committee to show the real state of academic-freedom affairs in Pennsylvania—and became a final report that was accepted unanimously.

Yet Horowitz, master of Newspeak, continues to claim victory.

On his blog, Horowitz quotes Cathy Young, who he seems to assume is a libertarian who “should” agree with him. She characterizes his “Academic Bill of Rights” as something that “would not only protect dissenting students from classroom retaliation but also guarantee the inclusion of balanced viewpoints in the curriculum.”

For some reason, this send Horowitz further into his liquid state. He writes:
I have never advocated any measure to "guarantee the inclusion of balanced viewpoints in the curriculum." I never use the word "balance" because I don't believe you can balance ideas. I have advocated making students aware of dissenting points of view on matters that are controversial. One would think a libertarian could support that position.
Well, if he had read carefully, he would have recognized that Young wasn’t disagreeing with his position—and that she wasn’t using “balance” as the center of some sort of academic fulcrum. She was using “balance” as meaning (in Horowitz’s own words) “making students aware of dissenting points of view.”

Strangely, while I am getting bored with the puddle that used to be David Horowitz, I am getting more and more interested in questions relating to academic freedom. It’s a fascinating topic, especially if you go back and examine the forces that led to the creation of the modern research university in the middle of the 19th Century. Also, I’ve been seeing how the meaning of “academic freedom” has been manipulated in the past fifteen years or so, making the phrase have more to do with First Amendment questions than it ever had in the past. This was done as part of the fight between supporters of Fourteenth Amendment rights on campus and Free Speech advocates. With campus speech codes, the Fourteenth Amendment people seemed to be winning—until “academic freedom” began to add weight to the First Amendment arguments.

That had one ramification relating to Horowitz: it opened the door for claims like his that students are somehow covered by “academic freedom,” claims that could be used, in turn, to try to bring the classroom under legislative supervision (for all of his denials, this was Horowitz’s goal).

Academic freedom, of course, is a profession right that carries with it professional responsibilities. The student rights that Horowitz twists to try to use against the faculty are covered under different concepts, primarily under the First Amendment.

But that argument is over. All Horowitz can do anymore is whine, like the Wicked Witch of the West, “I’m melting.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Insurgencies In Their Dreams

Last year, General George Casey asserted that:
The average insurgency -- the average counterinsurgency in the 20th century was about nine years
In his dreams.

Of course, it all depends on how you define “insurgency,” but “nine years” is an extremely optimistic number.

Stephen Metz and Raymond Millen, in “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: Reconceptionalizing Threat and Response,” write:
Examples include the insurgency in Rhodesia, the one against the white minority government in South Africa, the Palestinian insurgency, Vietnam after 1965, the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet occupation

Their survey goes on to mention the Chinese insurgency, among others, but breaks that up into three sections, the first being “national” followed by one against the Japanese (a little questionable), and then again a “national” insurgency. It’s debatable whether it constitutes three separate insurgencies but, together, they went on for more than 20 years. Rhodesia’s civil war was eight years long. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa lasted for 40 years. The Palestinian insurgency, one could argue, has been going on for 50 years. The Vietnamese insurgencies began against the Japanese during WWII, turned towards the French and then towards the Americans, lasting, in all, more than 30 years. The Soviets combated an Afgan insurgency for a decade. All but one of these lasted more than nine years.

Then there is the insurgency/civil war in Columbia has been going on for 40 years. In Nepal, the insurgency by Maoist rebels has lasted for more than a decade. ETA, the Basque nationalist movement in Spain, has been fighting for 40 years. And the IRA in Ireland fought the British for close to 30 years.

Why, then, are we so willing to accept statements like Casey’s? Who established this “nine year” number? Who created the myth?

One more point: insurgencies aren’t solved by military force—except when the insurgents win. In almost all of the other cases the cessations are negotiated. Makes one wonder about the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to negotiate with anyone they consider “bad,” doesn’t it?

Friday, November 17, 2006

No More "Writing Whores," Please!

A friend of mine, who teaches Journalism at a college some hours away from where I teach, recently invited a magazine writer to her class.

“I’m a writing whore,” the visitor declared, “I won’t write anything unless it’s for money.” She advised the students to do the same, to look for opportunities to earn twenty bucks writing restaurant reviews for Internet sites—to start from there, hoping to become high-priced whores themselves.

What a meager world that woman must live in!

To her, writing has become a thing, a product. Its meaning lies on the printed page or on the screen. The skill behind it becomes no more than the ability to put pieces together in the requisite manner—to please the “john” by meeting “his” expectations, but no more.

Writing should be much more than that—and good writing is. Writing is meant to be part of a dynamic, of a conversation. To work, it needs to do more than fulfill someone’s “requirements,” be that an employer or a pimp.

Perhaps that magazine writer had composition teachers who, like so many, teach writing as though it is no more than a thing on a page, who concentrate on form (“It must be in proper MLA format or points will come off.”) over content. Teachers who see a paragraph as a construct (“You must have a topic sentence and three supporting ones.”) rather than a part of a message chain meant to generate one of a specific range of responses.

Perhaps that magazine writer had any passion for communicating through the written word beaten out of her by instructors who sacrificed her need for conversation on the altar of precision in grammar. By teachers who would have marked Walt Whitman down for his “neither time or place” in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

Yes, yes. Of course I know: understanding of grammar and form is essential to the success of any writer—even one who writes in dialect needs to have a full grasp of the grammar particular to it. But that needs to come after one has grasped just what the writing itself does—after one understands that a piece of writing doesn’t simply exist, that it does.

Many of us understand this from an early age, especially those of us raised in households where the written word performs as an important part of family conversation—where people read and respond to what they have read. Others, though, see writing as a mysterious jungle they are forced to hack through with little idea of direction or reason. The rules are arbitrary, the point obscure.

We might as well be teaching baseball to blindfolded, hobbled children, expecting them to gain expertise of the game through memorization of rules and measures of distance. Only when they have proven “competence” in these would we release their eyes and their feet—but we would also be expecting them to now play at an all-star level.

When they stumbled around as ineptly as even a child who had never learned the rules, we would chastise them and bemoan the state of baseball today.

Across the way, on another field, a coach is letting the children play. Having passed out bats, gloves, and a ball, she has let the kids fool around, watching and pointing things out, but not yet trying to impose structure. Later, she will take them to watch a game played by skilled teams, explaining what is going on as the innings progress.

When it comes to a game of their own, her team will perform much better than those who learned all the rules before setting foot on a diamond.

The same is true of writing, yet many teach it as though grammar is a base for writing instead of a means for refinement.

Adding insult to injury, such a methodology takes away love of the game and love of the writing dynamic. Even someone who finds they can develop the skills for either baseball or writing through study of rules before application will never develop the kind of love for what they are doing that another, who had jumped in for the joy of it, experiences.

Which brings us back to the “writing whore.” If she loved writing, she would write. If she loved writing, she would develop her topics on her own rather than waiting for an assignment. If she loved writing, she would stand a chance of becoming a master able to sell what she produced. If she loved writing, she would have a chance of becoming really good at it rather than simply adequate for fulfilling the tasks set by another.

Me, I write whether I am paid or not. If something I compose does bring me a little cash, I don’t complain—but neither do I mind the file cases full (or they would be, if I saved things) of work that never earned a penny—much of it unread by anyone but me. Maybe I never will manage to sell what I write regularly or easily (not many of us do). But I will continue to enjoy what I do rather than seeing it solely as a task. And maybe I will be able to imbue my students with an attitude towards their own writing that will allow them to use the medium of the written word to partake in their own great conversations.

Though I may end up poorer than the prostitute, I'll bet that I--and all my writing partners (students, colleagues, and others)--will enjoy the process in ways the whore, for all her skills, can't even imagine.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Politics Is War? Well… No

The recent furor over James Carville and his comment that Howard Dean should be replaced as head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) brings to mind the unfortunate analogy of politics and war that Carville, like David Horowitz, apparently lives by… it was Carville, after all, who said, "When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil."

It’s a stupid analogy and unfortunate attitude, no matter if it comes from the far right of Horowitz or the faux center of Carville. It’s also dishonest, for neither man lives by it. Horowitz, by all accounts, is quite nice to everyone in person—and Carville is married to his supposed political opponent Mary Matalin. A more accurate analogy might be sports where, after the game, opponents are expected to be civil, leaving competition to the playing field.

Even the sports analogy, however, isn’t sufficient to encapsulate what should go on in politics. Sports, even more than war, is based on a zero-sum outcome: someone wins, someone else loses. Politics isn’t so simple. Sure, someone wins each election, but no election is an end. In fact, it’s the beginning of another phase of politics, one quite different from the election itself.

In his news conference after the election, President Bush said that he understood the difference between politicking and governing. While that is questionable (he seems to be politicking all the time, often at the expense of good governance), it is an important distinction and one that sports doesn’t contain at all and that war can be only said to have if negotiation is considered analogous to governing.

When politics-as-war carries over from the campaign into the governing itself, as it will do once that attitude has been established, the entire nation suffers. The Republicans would not give up their war against Bill Clinton in the 1990s and so forced the nation to witness a farcical impeachment. Under this administration, the Republicans have refused to see Democrats as anything but the enemy, so have shut them out of the legislative processes on Capitol Hill.

This, in fact, is one of the reasons the Republicans lost control of Congress. Their belief in a “permanent majority” allowed them to continue to see Democrats as enemies instead of as partners whose viewpoints should be considered (at least) if not incorporated to some extent. Their belief undermined the American political system as it has operated for quite some time, now. Revulsion to the change and desire to bring us back to a system of negotiation and compromise (not some progressive agenda, alas) led directly to their defeat.

Americans don’t want politics to be war or to be thought of as war. Most of us have genuine respect for our system and are leery of anything that could lead to total defeat of one side or the other. Though I am a leftist, for example, the (second to) last thing I would want is a left-wing hegemony in the United States (the last thing would be a right-wing hegemony). I’ve seen what happens when any single party gains too much control. Invariable, the slide towards totalitarianism begins—as it did here, over the past six years.

We are fortunate. The basic American protectiveness of our system is deep and strong—and it made itself felt in this past election. There are many, however, like Carville and Horowitz, who don’t understand what happened. Carville chastises Dean for not having been successful enough—yet Dean and the Democrats accomplished something marvelous, wresting control of Congress from a group that had stacked the deck against them through gerrymandering, dirty tricks, and scare tactics. They tapped into the fears that we were going to lose our traditional system and have given that system a chance to right itself. That is extraordinary.

But it is not war.

Friday, November 10, 2006

America Triumphant

All those people out there, trying to fit the election into their view of the world so that they don’t have to change their opinions, so that they don’t have to admit they were wrong! How pathetic.

All of them--all of them--miss the point. This election was not the victory of a particular branch of the Democratic Party, moderate, conservative, or liberal. It wasn’t a vindication of a progressive agenda, either. Nor does it prove the power of the netroots or the brilliance of Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy (powerful and brilliant though they be).

What we have here is a triumph of a system more than two-hundred years old. It showed its strength on Tuesday; it righted a ship of state about to turn turtle, nearly bested by the winds of fascism.

It’s quite simple: our system was tested by 9/11, just as Germany was by the burning of the Reichstag. Germany was found wanting, and a fascist state was the result. Before Tuesday, it looked as though America would be found wanting, too.

The astonishing importance of the election results isn’t contained in the slim margins of the victories of the Democrats. The group in power had engineered our electoral system in ways that gave it what many assumed was an insurmountable advantage. So, it is not the size of victory that is important, only the fact of it.

Many, many people believed that the group in power would never again be ousted. They boasted of it, wrote books proclaiming it. They cowed those who, though they might not agree with the agenda, felt that their own professional futures were tied up with the success that they had been browbeaten into believing.

Now that the success is shown as mere braggadocio, some of those who had followed along, feeling they had no choice, are beginning to break away. When the Titanic shows it is vulnerable, even the rats start swimming as fast as they can. Witness Rush Limbaugh, suddenly claiming he never agreed with the thuggish agenda anyway, saying, “If those in our party who are going to carry the day in the future -- both in Congress and the administration -- are going to choose a different path than what most of us believe, then that's [the victory of the Democrats] liberating.” The implication is that he “carried water” (his term) for the administration only because he thought it was going to continue to win, not because he agreed with it.

Whether Limbaugh is being honest or not (or is simply trying to save his position of influence), there are probably millions who went along simply because they saw the Bushists as victors—and wanted to be part of the victory. Just as millions of Germans went along with the Nazis when they seemed as unstoppable. Thing is, the Bushists were stopped, and by the people of the United States. The Nazis were only stopped when their ambition ran up against English and Russian tenacity and America’s industrial might.

Thing is, now that the regime is shown as something less than an unstoppable force, it is quickly becoming no force at all. How long did it take for Rumsfeld to go? How long, after being nominated again, was Bolton squashed? How long did Mehlman last after the election?

How long did it take for David Brooks, Rush Limbaugh, and all the other “water carriers” to break ranks?

A regime like this one can only continue as long as it seems undefeatable. Even on the eve of the election, pundits were saying that the Democrats could never match the Republican GOTV centralized and computerized effort, that the dirty tricks and control of election mechanisms would have their impact, and that there was no way the feeble Democrats could ever stop the Napoleonic march of the Bushists.

But they did stop it. The gleaming locomotive of last week has run out of steam and been shuttled to a dead-end side-track.

America, which had been quietly waiting for that engine to pass, is now beginning to build pressure in its own boilers once again, ready to start up once again, continuing on the track laid out for it by those visionaries who set it on its way more than two centuries ago.

So, no matter what else you might say about the election this week, it really only comes down to this: our system triumphed. America can now be America again.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Yes, Horowitz Is Defeated, Too... But Now What?

In today’s The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Horowitz concedes that his “Academic Bill of Rights” campaign has failed—by claiming victory. That’s to be expected from someone whose essay “The Art of Political War” is one of Karl Rove’s favorite pamphlets, but it does throw a new blanket of confusion over the debates on academic freedom that have increased in America since 9/11 and the inception of the Patriot Act.

With that in mind, I don’t want to talk much about Horowitz or his “movement,” for he and it are more of an annoyance, a side-show, these days. He glommed on to the idea of using a popular misunderstanding of “academic freedom” as a means of bringing political control into the classroom—but his attempts have failed. Though the “Academic Bill of Rights” is still before a number of state legislatures (and is even included as an advisory in a Federal education bill), its likelihood of passing anywhere was small even before the election last Tuesday. Now it is nil. His companion “Student Bill of Rights” has also failed to gain traction. The only university he can claim as adopting it is Temple, and even that is a bit of a stretch.

What I want to talk about is how we in academia can move forward post-Horowitz, making the case for “academic freedom” clear and moving our own understanding back towards its function within the public sphere.

Too many of us in academia, and for too long, have looked upon “academic freedom” as a right, forgetting that it carries with it specific responsibilities. This is unfortunate, to say the least, and needs changing.

When the concept of “academic freedom” was introduced through the American Association of University Professor’s 1915 “General Declaration of Principles,” it was presented within the context of purposes:
These are three in number.
A. To promote inquiry and advance the sum of human knowledge.
B. To provide general instruction to the students.
C. To develop experts for various branches of the public service.

Each leads to a specific enunciation of academic-freedom rights and the reasons for them that stem from these purposes:
In all[…] domains of knowledge, the first condition of progress is complete and unlimited freedom to pursue inquiry and publish its results. Such freedom is the breath in the nostrils of all scientific activity.[…]
It is clear[… that] confidence [of students in their teachers] will be impaired if there is suspicion on the part of the student that the teacher is not expressing himself fully or frankly, or that college and university teachers in general are a repressed and intimidated class who dare not speak with that candor and courage which youth always demands in those whom it is to esteem.
It is obvious that[…] the scholar must be absolutely free not only to pursue his investigations but to declare the results of his researches, no matter where they may lead him or to what extent they may come into conflict with accepted opinion. To be of use to the legislator or the administrator, he must enjoy their complete confidence in the disinterestedness of his conclusions.

In three areas, and for clear reasons, scholars need the protection of the right of academic freedom.


This also implies that we must be active in those areas if we are to be provided such protection. We cannot claim “academic freedom” protection, in other words, under the First Amendment assumption that almost any expression warrants protecting; we can only claim protection when we are providing something more than simply individual participation in the debates within the public sphere.

Not all of us in academia are involved directly in scholarly pursuits, so we can’t consistently claim protection via “academic freedom” in that first instance. Almost all of us, however, do teach. We continue to need “academic freedom” in our classrooms or we become nothing more than “facilitators,” the word used in some of the new for-profit online “universities” for the people who oversee the courses. In such cases, the entire structure and rationale of a “university” changes from one of a community of inquiry that carries into the classroom, becoming instead a purpose-driven institution where concentration is simply on mastery of pre-defined skill sets. Each of us, as a result of our research and through our teaching, performs an important role within the public sphere and, therefore, we operate in a role slightly different from that of the citizen. We carry a burden of responsibility to the peer structures that certify us, to the students who have relied on us, and to those in the public sphere who rely on the honesty of our contributions. In this sense, “academic freedom” is no special freedom, but a recognition of the purposes and responsibilities behind our efforts.

One of the greatest problems we in academia face right now in terms of academic freedom is that we have too long been looking inward, protecting our right rather than using it. There are few of us, these days, who can honestly wear the mantle of “public intellectual,” participating in the public sphere in a manner demonstrating to the average citizen just what it is we do when we participate in our research or even when we teach. As a result, we have been open to the type of caricature Horowitz presents, of professors making six-figure incomes and working nine hours a week.

We may be coming into a new age right now, an eclipsing of the reactionary agenda that has dominated the American public sphere for a quarter of a century, an agenda that, quite frankly, has cowed academia, sending too many of us scurrying for the protection of our ivory towers. It may be time for all of us, no matter our political persuasion, to recognize once again the importance of the academic within greater American society and to act on that—outside the walls of our schools. It is time we started taking John Dewey, and his concept of the integral contribution of education to a successful democracy seriously.

When we do, “academic freedom” will start to mean something to the population as a whole, and people will begin to see it as something worth protecting. Until we do, we will continue to have to fight off periodic attacks by people like David Horowitz.

And that, though he has been defeated this go-around, is getting old.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Viewpoint Discrimination"

What makes an organization substantive? Why, in other words, should we pay attention to any particular group that has set itself up as a not-for-profit corporation and established a website? Most of us know of many that are not, certainly, all that they seem. David Horowitz, for example, founded Students for Academic Freedom—yet he hasn’t been a student in over forty years.

The other day I ran across an organization called “Fire” (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). It produced a press release last week with the heading “FIRE Warns Department of Health and Human Services Against Supporting Political Litmus Tests on Campus.” That, of course, set of a number of alarm bells in my head. Warns? That sounds rather threatening for a group claiming to protect. Litmus Tests? That has become code for what the right sees as academic leftist protectionism—it is not a phrase used so much by the left. And the very name of the organization, “Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” bothered me. What individual rights? Where are they impinged upon? The clincher for me was the use of the phrase “viewpoint discrimination” within the article. I had never heard it before, but I immediately connected it to recent rightwing attempts to force itself upon academia.

So I went to the group’s website to see if I were not jumping to conclusions.

FIRE’s Mission Statement starts off with this:

The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's increasingly repressive and partisan colleges and universities.
What a sweeping statement! As someone who has only returned to academia in a substantial way within the last five years (after what was pretty much a twenty-year layoff), I noticed nothing, on my return, to indicate any increase in repression and partisanship over what there had been before—and, frankly, that had been very little. So, I wondered, what is going on here?

I looked at the Board of Directors. There, I saw that one of the founders, Harvey Silverglate, has been active in the ACLU and has worked for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Not bad! The other founder, Alan Charles Kors, is nothing if not a distinguished academic. The Board itself seems a usual mix, though a little weak on representation from academia. And the Board of Advisors, which does include more academics, also features Nat Hentoff, known for his dedication to freedom of speech, along with Roy Innis and Candance de Russy.

Wait a minute: Candance de Russy and Nat Hentoff on the same board? What’s going on here? Frankly, I don’t know. But this organization was beginning to bother me more and more. Silverglate and Kors wrote a book together called The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. It came out in 1998—and it may be the source for the “shadow” meme that David Horowitz likes to use in his quests to unearth leftwing conspiracies. Yet, in its review (subscription required) of the book, The New York Times, in the person of Sam Tanenhaus, wrote:
To their credit, Kors and Silverglate are old-fashioned civil libertarians who support everyone's right to sound off. While most victims of speech codes these days seem to be on the right, the authors also deplore attempts by Emerson College to censor the rap music played on the campus radio station.
Yet, as Michael Bérubé pointed out to me, FIRE doesn’t seem quite so even handed today, having failed to come to the defense (for example) of the Columbia University Middle Eastern Studies Program a couple of years ago when its professors’ right to free speech on campus was explicitly questioned by the university’s president.

Now, the debate over speech codes that seems to have generated The Shadow University (which I have not yet read) is a legitimate one. The issue has concerned Hentoff for a long time—and I use his essay “’Speech Codes” on the Campus and Problems of Free Speech” in my Composition classes to bring my students into the debate.

What I wonder about FIRE is if that’s the real issue for the organization. Maybe it, as much as the “shadow university” it imagines, has its own “shadow agenda.”

It would be easy to decide that this is a group of kooks and leave it at that. Lyndon LaRouche (himself quite a kook) publishes something called Executive Intelligence Review that contains a recent piece by Anton Chaitkin called “Who’s Who in the Goebbels Zoo” that damns Kors for connections with Lynn Cheney and the Bush family (he holds the George Herbert Walker chair of Intellectual History at UPenn) and claims that:
FIRE works toward firing dissident teachers.

While I suspect that claim is unfounded (to say the least), I still am not comfortable with FIRE. In the Background section of its Mission Statement is this passage:
America's colleges and universities are, in theory, indispensable institutions in the development of critical minds and the furthering of individual rights, honest inquiry, and the core values of liberty, legal equality, and dignity. Instead, they often are the enemies of those qualities and pursuits, denying students and faculty their voices, their fundamental rights, and even their individual humanity. The university setting is where students are most subject to the assignment of group identity, to indoctrination of radical political orthodoxies, to legal inequality, to intrusion into private conscience, and to assaults upon the moral reality of individual rights and responsibilities.
While it is possible to find instances where particular institutions have gone too far (as in the Columbia one that FIRE ignored), for the most part FIRE has it completely wrong here. As so many on the right do, FIRE makes sweeping charges—but has only a few random anecdotes for backing them up.

Until FIRE can show me that it is commonly true that “students are most subject to the assignment of group identity, to indoctrination of radical political orthodoxies, to legal inequality, to intrusion into private conscience” I will continue to view the organization with suspicion.

After all, if such allegations were true, then we should be seeing millions of doctrinaire leftists stepping from our universities—and should have been, for decades now.

But we aren’t. For they aren’t. Which makes me believe that there really is a “shadow agenda” behind FIRE, something completely removed from questions of freedom of speech.

Nat Hentoff, I hate to bring this up, but I think you are possibly being duped.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Besting Our Addiction

If there is one story that’s favorite in America, it’s that of a person redeemed. Not in religious terms alone: the hero doesn’t need to turn to God, simply to have turned away from addiction or destructive behavior and towards a constructive existence. It can even be foolhardy: Yossarian rowing his rubber lifeboat away from the war in Catch-22.

Just look at our recent and popular movies—especially the bio-pics. At Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. At their stories are of falling into addiction and then struggling to overcome them. Both Ray and Walk the Line end with recovery. Both leave out the hard work that comes after that—a less compelling, less interesting, though even more inspiring, story. Both, however, do show that it takes the belief of others if one is going to conquer the addicting demons.

Why do such stories draw us? Why are we more interested in the story of the prodigal son than in his brother who stays home and simply works hard? Part of the answer to that, of course, lies in our love of drama and of the sublime—the walking on the edge. Another part is that many of us have been there. Hell, as a nation, we are there right now.

Me, I spent twenty years drunk. I know something about addiction in one’s personal life and so cheer as people begin to emerge from their struggles—be it in movies, books, or real life. And I’m certainly not the only one. We recognize addictive behavior when we see it and hate it from the memories of our own personal experiences. Sure, the addict herself or himself has to want to recover, but we know what we are seeing, and the feelings that well us as we stand by feeling helpless—they enrage us.

Each of us knows that, somewhere within, there’s an addictive personality waiting to take control. It may be gambling that wakes it, or drugs, or alcohol—or any of a number of things. Whatever. Each person has one thing, at least, that can take control of them.

As a nation, as America, we have two.

Yes (if you haven’t figured it out by now), we are a nation in the grip of addiction. The radical right that rules us right now is simply the addictive side of our national persona. Just watch how it acts, and you’ll see. Possessive, protective of its prerogatives, jealous, quick to anger. Any time conversation turns to its addictions, it changes the subject or excuses itself.

As a country, we are addicted to wealth and to power, and we have let our weaknesses for them overpower us and rule us, personified by the rightwing group now in power. We are acting as destructively as only an addict can. We have spent ourselves into near bankruptcy. We have concocted myths of persecution to justify our continued addiction. And we refuse to admit that we have a problem.

At least, a part of us does. The nation, like an individual, has a sober person within, trying to take control.

In ten days, we will see if we can take the first step towards regaining control of our national life, of casting out our demons. It’s going to be a long road, but if we can take that first step, electing a Democratic majority in at least one House of Congress, we may just be able to save ourselves from the destruction that is inevitable for the addict. No longer, at least, will we be able to partake of our addictive behavior without consequence. It will be as though someone has finally stepped in, someone with the power to say, “Stop and look in the mirror. See what you have become.”

The power of addiction should never be underestimated, even then. The addict who refuses to admit to a problem can force his or her way onward—little can stop her, or him. When Karl Rove and George Bush portray confidence about the upcoming election, they have reason. The political campaign (accent on fear and avarice) they are overseeing right now is little more than the passing of a full shot glass under a drunk’s nose. Even if the drunk really does want to get sober, the temptation right there, right in front of them, is almost impossible to overcome.

Once, we had a whole class of people who had taken on the job of making sure that the unscrupulous didn’t tempt us too successfully. Professional interveners, they prided themselves on their own sobriety. Now, however, they too have fallen, and have joined the enablers, erasing half a century of proud journalistic tradition in favor of tastes from the bottle in the hands of those who are stealing everything all the drunks once had.

Remember, when this crew came to power, how they would say that the adults were in charge once again? What they didn’t tell us is that the adults were addicts, people whose brains no longer function in any logical fashion, whose every action is skewed by the needs of their addictions. Personally, I would rather return to the children.

Our only way free is to take control, to place our sober selves at the head of our nation, repressing our demons or, for now, at least placing them in check.

We can do that, and then we can start on the long path to recovery that Ray Charles and Johnny Cash (and millions of others of us) have walked. But we can’t do that if we spend our time arguing about what exactly that road should look like, for that gives the demons just enough purchase to stay in control. We can’t allow that. If we are to survive, we have to worry about what we are doing just “one day at a time.”

And the time to start doing that is now.

By casting our votes for as many Democrats as possible. Though we may not like them all or agree with them all, at least they are sober.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

On Freedom... with Pie

Again with the conflation of “academic freedom” and “freedom of expression”! And from a philosophy professor, no less!

Marquette University’s James South, Chair of the Philosophy Department, told a graduate student to remove a quote from Dave Barry from his office door. In an email, according to an Associate Press story:
South said he supports academic freedom but hallways and office doors are not "free speech zones."

Did South forget the elementary logic he certainly once studied? “A implies B but C does not equal D” does not an argument make. He might as well be saying “I love cherry pie, but Washington did not cut down that cherry tree.” The sharing of “cherries” does not make cherry pie and cherry tree the same thing, nor does “free” makes “academic freedom” and “free speech” the same. Furthermore, there is no relationship between the statements—and wouldn’t be, even if pies and trees (or academia and speech) were, in fact, identical.

What is particularly galling about this to me is that it plays into the hands of those conservatives who are trying to paint American universities as bastions of liberal bias where deviation from the liberal line is tantamount to a criminal act. Because of the attitude expressed by South and Marquette administrators, someone named J.J. Jackson, writing for a blog called ”The Land of the Free,” is able to make hay out of this example of liberal stupidity, implying that it is just one more example of the leftist hegemony in academia.

The Barry quote?
As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer of course to the federal government.

Frankly, even as a liberal, I like that quote. But that’s neither here nor there. The right has co-opted the concept of small government over the past decades as their own—seeing any opposition to it as necessarily “liberal.”

In this case, I don’t see the opposition to the quote as “liberal” at all—just stupid, whatever James South's political persuasion might be.

Certainly, the flurry has nothing at all to do with “academic freedom”—except in this: by bringing the phrase into a discussion of the appropriateness of political expression on the campus of an academic institution, South further confuses popular understandings of “academic freedom,” playing into the hands of the right a second time, making it even easier to couch their own opposition to the perceived liberal bastion of academia in terms of a further misunderstood concept of “academic freedom.”

So fie on you, James South. Fie on you twice. First, for abridging freedom of expression (though you have the right, for Marquette is a private institution and the expression, therefore, took place on private property) and second for giving another little boost to the war on real “academic freedom” currently being waged by the right.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Why Battle the Universities?

David Horowitz is once again claiming to be a “supporter of academic freedom.” He is even going so far as to brag that his is an “academic freedom movement.”

This gets tiresome. It’s Orwellian, surely, but there’s only so much outrage one can expend on claims so inane and deceptive. Horowitz can make his boasts because he is sure that few people will even pay attention to the meaning of the term “academic freedom”—making it possible for him, like Humpty Dumpty, to make the words mean anything he likes.

Probably the most referenced definition of “academic freedom” is contained in the 1940 statement by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP):
(a) Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
(b) Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
(c) College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

Certainly, over time, definitions of this sort change. But an individual, when he or she attempts to change a definition for his or her own purposes, needs to be called on the carpet for it—for that becomes a dishonest, rather than natural, change.

Horowitz, through one of the organizations he has created, Students for Academic freedom, claims that:
Academic freedom consists in protecting the intellectual independence of professors, researchers and students in the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of ideas from interference by legislators or authorities within the institution itself. This means that no political, ideological or religious orthodoxy will be imposed on professors, researchers and students through the hiring or tenure or termination process, or through the grading system or through the control of the classroom or any other administrative means. Nor shall legislatures impose any such orthodoxy through their control of the university budget. (emphasis added)

What Horowitz is trying to do is to take a clearly delineated professional right and responsibility, apply it to an entirely new constituency (students) and (this, through his attempt to enshrine his “Academic Bill of Rights” in law) to bring in an entirely new enforcement authority—one with absolutely no responsibility to the institutions, our universities, that benefit most from academic freedom. And he is doing this from a position completely removed from academia.

Though I can’t speak to why Horowitz wants to do this, except to guess that he wants to see academic independence compromised because academia tends towards the liberal side of the political spectrum, I can try to throw light on his strategy. Why, for example, does he want to extend “academic freedom” to students? Students, after all, do not have (or need) the professional entitlements of their teachers.

What Horowitz is doing is conflating “freedom of speech” with “academic freedom.” The former is a right guaranteed to all Americans through the First Amendment. The latter, on the other hand, is not a generalized freedom, but a specific freedom based upon specific professional responsibilities.

By adding students into the mix, and confusing the issue with First Amendment rights, Horowitz is able to position himself as an advocate of what he describes as a group (students) subject to indoctrination through abrogation of their academic freedom. This immediately puts the real defenders of academic freedom on the defensive, and in a difficult position. They don’t dare do anything that could be even seen as an attack on students’ rights or they fall into Horowitz’s trap. Skirting whatever real argument they are putting forward, Horowitz can then attack them (generally with out merit—but it’s the perception that is important) as proto-totalitarians against freedom of thought.

That, in turn, allows him to take the issue into the political realm, where he can claim that laws need to be instituted for the protection of the poor, innocent students from these nefarious professors.

It doesn’t matter that students (up to the graduate level) don’t need the special academic freedom accorded to professional academics. Their rights and freedoms are perfectly well protected. In addition, it doesn’t matter to Horowitz that our universities are already structured in ways that keep individual professors from exerting undue influence over their students (chief among these being the fact that students cannot simply study with a single professor—as undergraduates, they take courses from as many as 40).

In other words, this is a manufactured campaign.

But why? Why does Horowitz want to do this?

I can’t really answer that, for I can’t get into Horowitz’s head. But it strikes me as bizarre when American universities continue to be rated the best in the world—and American academics gather in the greatest of honors at a prodigious rate. The only Nobel prizes not won by Americans this year were for Literature (an arts prize, really, not an academic one) and Peace (certainly not an academic prize). We have a system that works. Why try to harness it without need?

In the piece I reference above, Horowitz writes:
My purpose in seeking legislation has now been served. In three years, we have been able to put the issue of intellectual diversity on the national radar. On every campus in the country, intellectual diversity is now a matter for discussion and debate. A large part of the credit must go to our legislative resolutions – none of which has been actually enacted. It is these proposed actions by legislatures that have produced the lion’s share of the attention.

Aha! Through a clumsy attempt a sleight-of-hand, Horowitz here gives a clearer indication of his real purposes. Most interesting, though, is his admission of defeat by claiming that what he had been aiming for wasn’t, in fact, what he was after at all. And it wasn’t about “academic freedom” anyway, but “intellectual diversity”—a different topic altogether (though one that, as he does with the First Amendment, Horowitz tries to conflate with academic freedom). By slipping “intellectual diversity” in for “academic freedom,” Horowitz may be giving us a clue to his real purpose.

And that, not surprisingly, is that his attacks on the universities are simply a minor campaign in what Horowitz sees as a larger political war.

I use military terminology here because Horowitz himself does so often, even once penning an essay called “The Art of Political War.” There are no rules, no ethics in this “war.” Anything is fair game, as long as it harms the enemy.

In Horowitz’s analysis, the universities are one of the last bastions of liberal resistance, but ones he had no means of attacking. So, he constructed one, taking academic freedom, extending it to students, then claiming that the professors themselves were abridging it. He then could take this to the legislatures to put pressure on the universities… for what?

The easiest way to take “control” from the liberal enemies, in Horowitz’s eye, is by replacing them with people more akin to his own point of view. By taking this trumped up “academic freedom” case as far as he has, he has been able to create an opening that, he hopes, will lead to the hiring of more conservative academics, a bow to his specious call for “intellectual diversity.”

Furthermore, the very concept of an enforced “intellectual diversity” abridges academic freedom in just the ways Horowitz wants. Liberal professors will be less likely to pursue topics that might be at all controversial, fearing that they will be accused of failing to live up to this new “diversity.” Universities will become less daring and more conservative—exactly the end wanted.

Why then has Horowitz taken on this campaign? Not for academic freedom, certainly, or even for intellectual diversity. To him, this is nothing more than one more campaign in the war to gain complete control of our nation for “his” side, the right.