Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is David Horowitz hypersensitive about campus bias?

Education gadfly David Horowitz takes issue in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education with the assertion, contained in the American Association of University Professors's Freedom in the Classroom report, that "It is not indoctrination for professors to expect students to comprehend ideas and apply knowledge that is accepted as true within a relevant discipline."

That's so in fields like physics, chemistry, or climatology, but as Horowitz recognizes, it's not cleanly applicable to the humanities and social sciences. The AAUP goes on to say that "Students must remain free to question generally accepted beliefs if they can do so, in the words of the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and
Academic Tenure
, using "a scholar's method and . . . in a scholar's spirit.""

This is ignored by Horowitz, who goes on to find the former statement "deeply troubling", bringing up Women's Studies as an example of what can go wrong and concluding that

If, as the AAUP contends, the assumptions of a certain discipline provide the criteria for what is academically "true," then intelligent-design advocates have only to establish a field of intelligent-design studies in order to teach their theories as truth — and astrologers, Republicans, or communists likewise. Indeed, if the attitude now enshrined in the new AAUP report should become an academic standard, it will spell the end of the modern research university as we know it.

Bombast! Applying the principles of the AAUP report, one must conclude that disciplines such as Women's Studies, based neither on the scientist's concept of truth nor the analytic philosopher's, have no place at the Academy. Disciplines founded on ideology meet the AAUP's narrow criterion for indoctrination

Indoctrination occurs only when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them.

That Women's Studies and most other "studies" departments ought to be liquidated, their faculty merged into legitimate academic departments like sociology, history, and philosophy and judged by those disciplines' more rigorous standards, is a conclusion surely unpalatable to many; there is an unspoken gentlemans' agreement between academic departments that they not attack or interfere with each other. Accordingly, the AAUP report does not explicitly recommend shutting down problem departments.

One who follows Horowitz's work gets the impression that he takes primary issue with the faculty's pronounced leftist tendency. (The report on which the Inside Higher Education article is based relies on self-reporting and the archaic, often ridiculous "liberal-conservative" dimension, but its results give at least a crude impression of the faculty's political tendencies.) As usual, he's missing the heart of the problem. This isn't so much about student freedom as it is about the intellectual integrity of the academy when faced with organized third-rate scholars. As astutely noted by Jacques Barzun, ideologues don't do scholarship, they merely lay a sieve on a problem and see what comes through. We need to quit being "nice" to such sham-scholars, even if they have PhDs and even if they flatter our prejudices. Austrians don't belong in economics departments, Randist Objectivists have no place in academic philosophy, feminist or Marxist critics aren't really critics at all, and Women's Studies needs to die.

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