Sunday, April 16, 2006

Grading "Thuggery"

In his article on Michael Bérubé, “Intellectual Thuggery,” David Horowitz uses 26 footnotes. The breakdown of them is as follows:
• 10 from studentsforacademicfreedom.org, one of Horowitz’s own websites;
• 4 from frontpagemag.com, Horowitz’s main publication (where this article appears);
• 4 from michaelberube.com;
• 3 from insiderhighered.com;
• 2 from The Professors, Horowitz’s own book;
• 1 from dangerousprofessors.net, another of Horowitz’s website;
• 1 from centredaily.com, a newspaper website;
• 1 from a study on faculty political orientation.
Seventeen of the footnotes are to Horowitz’s own publications. The worm ouroubourous? Contemplating one’s own navel?

Let me go through the article, though, showing how I would respond to it, were it an undergraduate research paper:
• Paragraph 1: “Berube is in the habit of repeating falsehoods about me and the campaign that have already been refuted – many times. In fact they have been refuted on his own website, michaelberube.com.” Claiming falsehood does not constitute an argument demonstrating falsehood, neither does saying the “false” claims have been refuted. You must give at least one specific example of a falsehood with a specific refutation. Saying something is so doesn’t make it so.
• Paragraph 3: “All the statements in the above paragraph are false. They are also malicious, since they have been refuted by myself and others more than once. I am not campaigning against 'liberal bias.' In fact, I have never even employed the term 'liberal bias' except to disown the phrase itself.” Again, claiming something is false doesn’t make it so. In fact, such a sweeping statement only hurts your credibility. Be careful, also, how you respond to quotes: Berube doesn’t say you used the term “liberal bias.” He’s clearly speaking of perceptions by his colleagues.
• Paragraph 4: Again, you fall into the trap of claiming something is so because you have said it is so elsewhere. The only way to counter this claim is to show why it is important to have the “Academic Bill of Rights” enshrined in law”—something you do not do.
• Paragraph 5: Here, you subvert your argument in Paragraph 4, implying that legislative oversight is, in fact, needed. Which is it?
• Paragraph 6: A little research of my own (simply visiting Berube’s website) shows that the article in question is not the one Berube is referring to in the short line you quote. Be careful! Make sure the referent you assume is the referent in fact!
• Paragraph 7: A phrase like “significant scholarly viewpoints” can be misleading. If you are going to use a phrase like that, define it.
• Paragraphs 8-9: This is confusing. If you are going to recount an event, given the details. Plus, you seem to be changing the subject from what happened to the student to what was on the exam. In addition, your version of the event is in dispute.
• Paragraphs 10-12: Did you or did you not, while admitting your error, say calling attention to it was “nitpicking”? Here again, you deviate from your initial point. You refer, here, to arguments elsewhere, but don’t even really recap them. Your piece needs to stand on its own. Either make the argument here or don’t make it at all. To simply refer to something else makes misinterpretation possible.
• Paragraphs 13-17: These don’t add anything to the article. Consider deleting them. They simply sound petulant. You were wrong—the degree of error is irrelevant. By rehashing, you just make yourself look bad.
• Paragraphs 18-21: It’s not effective to simply call someone’s claim “false.” Instead, provide the claim and then rebut it. And stay on topic: you move to discussion of whether a professor is “qualified” or not. That is not the question. Also, your bringing in “enforcement” here obviates your earlier argument concerning the “Academic Bill of Rights.” If you are trying to persuade someone to enforce what is already in place by threatening to enforce it through another avenue, then you certainly are arguing for “hands on” legislative involvement in education. Again, which is it? Think your stand through a bit.

For a man who makes claims to being an “intellectual,” this paper is a disappointment. It might earn a B for an undergraduate, but only with a great deal of reworking—and some real research.


On another topic:

On his blog, Horowitz claims that “Terrorist Sami al-Arian has agreed to admit to conspiracy charges that he provided material support to a terrorist organization.” Apparently Horowitz didn’t even read the whole of the article he links to. The piece goes on to say, “Ahmed Bedier, Tampa spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said Moffitt was wrong about the Al-Arian plea. Al-Arian did not agree to admit to any charges associated with terrorism, Bedier said. "He stayed true to his convictions - he stayed true he wasn't going to plead to those issues," Bedier said. "There is no conspiracy to support terrorism."

3 comments:

Emily:) said...

Excellent post about Horowitz from the perspective of a teacher grading a paper. I myself am an applied linguist and ESL composition teacher and have considered doing a critical discourse analysis of the speech he gave at Penn State a few days ago. I was in the audience and my head is still spinning from the quotes that even the CDT didn't mention in their article.

AaronBarlow said...

If you do, I would love to see it!

Emily:) said...

You'll be the first to know:) But first, I'm working on an analysis of comments at ratemyprofessors.com using appraisal theory to show how linguistically comments reenforce the student-as-consumer metaphor in higher education. One thing at a time!;)