One of the facts of American education that David Horowitz dearly longs to change is that university policies aren’t laws. The title of a new piece, “Breaking the Law at Penn State,” that he co-authored with Jacob Laskin, refers to a reaffirmation of student rights that Horowitz wants to claim credit for, though it is not a law. In the title, Horowitz conflates policy and law—something Horowitz might like and lobby for, but something far from contemporary reality (thank goodness). A small point? Yes, but it is emblematic of Horowitz’s inability to keep things straight–an example of what “cps” of the Free Exchange on Campus blog calls “researchiness.”
At the beginning of the article, Horowitz and Laskin recap the Penn State policy on controversy in the classroom. Then, however, to “show” that the policy is being ignored, they switch to an examination, as a “note” heading the article says, of:
official class syllabi, departmental web pages, and course descriptions
This is a bait-and-switch, for the policy covers what happens in the classroom, not the material brought to it.
If Horowitz were really interested in studying what goes on in American universities, he would spend some time in classrooms. He does not. What he does, instead, is select whatever material he finds that confirms his opinions (ignoring everything else) and then build a case, using it to indict the whole when it was never more than a part. He is unwilling to recognize, for one thing, that what we professors bring to the classroom is significantly different from how we use it. Focusing on the first and ignoring the second leaves his readers with a picture that even Horowitz knows is dishonest. He writes:
The following analysis of course descriptions and syllabi in the Penn State catalogue shows that some professors feel free to teach the contentious issues of race, gender and justice in the social order through the frameworks of sectarian political ideologies, making no attempt to familiarize their students with the broad spectrum of scholarly views as required in Penn State’s academic freedom policies.
Again, there is no analysis of what actually goes on in the classroom in what Horowitz and Laskin present. Furthermore, the policy does not “require” one to “familiarize their students with the broad spectrum of scholarly views.” A teacher does not simply present a smorgasbord and let students pick and choose. Horowitz is twisting things here, as usual. Nothing in the policy, let me repeat, nothing, even asks teachers to, say, present Intelligent Design in a Biology classroom or Holocaust denial in a History course—or even to present both the New Critic’s “Intentional Fallacy” and New Historicism in an English class.
The problem of the narrow focus of any one teacher is taken care of in a different manner in our universities: students are allowed choices, in courses and majors. Each undergraduate, in most modern American universities and colleges, takes around 40 courses to graduate. There are requirements, but choice is available even there—of particular professors and usually of a range of courses that meet the requirement. That’s how a range of views is presented—not through forcing individual professors to put forward competing theories. It is this fact that leads Horowitz to try to build an image of faculty as monolithic in opinion–another myth.
It’s particularly noteworthy that this article appeared today, for a study by John Lee entitled The “Faculty Bias” Studies: Science or Propaganda? also came out today—it can be reached through Free Exchange on Campus. Lee busts the “studies” that are used to present faculty members as irredeemably leftist for their shoddy research. In the FEoC article on it, the word “researchiness” is offered as a way of describing what Horowitz and the like do. Lee’s report is excellent—careful and precise. It is worth a read.