Good news! As anyone who has been following the responses to David Horowitz’s new book on what he thinks are “dangerous” professors now knows, Horowitz’s campaign to bring American universities under right-wing political control is foundering. The death-knell may have been Pat Robertson’s endorsement of the book, in which he takes Horowitz’s contention that “the professors” have been damaging generations of college students a step further: Robertson sees the professors as “termites,” “killers,” and “murderers.”
A balloon losing its air, spinning around the room with no direction, creating meaningless noise. That’s what Horowitz and Robertson now amount to.
A Florida legislative report, released yesterday, may have been the final puncture in the balloon. Of course, Horowitz:
called the report “meaningless” and a “whitewash.” He said that most students and faculty members don’t understanding what academic freedom means, so they wouldn’t know to file grievances. Rather than looking at grievances that have been filed, Horowitz said, Florida officials should have asked students this question: “Have you ever been in a class where your professor made remarks about the war in Iraq or President Bush that was not a course about the war in Iraq or President Bush?” Horowitz said that “if you think the response would be only 1 percent positive, you haven’t talked to students in a long time.”
Of course, as I have made clear in earlier TPMCafe blog diaries, Horowitz himself rarely talks seriously to anyone on campus. His exposure to students is through only small right-wing cadres and his evidence is anecdotal, at best. He doesn’t know what he is talking about—and his characterization of the report show only that he has no rebuttal (“meaningless” and “whitewash” are not particularly viable terms for debate).
The report asks and answers these questions (among others):
Do all Florida public postsecondary institutions have an academic freedom policy/statement and to whom do these policies apply? All Florida public postsecondary institutions have language and policies addressing academic freedom. In general, these statements focus on faculty and their teaching rights and related freedoms. Student academic freedom policies and/or statements generally are found in the institution’s student handbook or student code of conduct.
How are faculty and students notified of academic freedom policy statements? All of Florida’s community colleges and public universities publish their academic freedom policies in school catalogs or faculty and student handbooks. These documents also frequently are available electronically on the schools’ Internet and/or intranet sites.
Do the end-of-course evaluations include questions that address academic freedom? All postsecondary students are given the opportunity to evaluate courses and their instructors. Fourteen institutions (4 universities and 10 community colleges) reported that their evaluations ask students questions related to academic freedom principals, such as whether instructors showed respect for students and their opinions, encouraged student participation, considered multiple points of view, and were fair and impartial. Some of the remaining institutions reported that their course evaluations include open-ended questions asking how the course could be improved and/or whether students have any issues of concern. These questions would enable students to identify academic freedom-related problems or concerns, even though not specifically asked about these issues.
In a blog entry on Free Exchange on Campus, the report is characterized this way:
“Not only is there no smoking gun, the gun never went off,” says Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida, the joint AFT-NEA union that represents all faculty in the 11-university system. “Meanwhile, the same legislators who launched this investigation of faculty, attempting to distract the public’s attention from the real crisis in higher education and poison the public attitude toward higher education, draft budgets that are woefully inadequate in every category. The Legislature is punishing all of higher education for crimes that were never committed.”
Quite clearly, as many of us have argued over and over, all Horowitz is doing is trying to create enough fear and controversy to enable the right to grasp control of public university classrooms.
Quite clearly, there is no need for his campaign, no students crying out for rescue from dastardly professors.
Quite clearly, there is no brainwashed-by-the-left army of recent college graduates, mindlessly following their “leaders” in an attempt to overthrow the American system.
Quite clearly, this balloon has lost almost all of its air.