The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Friday, November 11, 2005

witch hunting in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania state legislature—well, the right wing of same—has taken David Horowitz's project of vetting colleges for "left-wing bias" and put it into action. They've been "looking into" this problem and over the last two days hearings have been held at the University of Pittsburgh, to decide whether students are being graded on how well their beliefs square with left-wing orthodoxy. (Whatever that might be. If we did have a left-wing "orthodoxy" to which we could hold people, "message discipline" the political consultants call it, maybe we'd win an election once in a while.) Horowitz has been agitating for an "Academic Bill of Rights" that would ensure "fairness" in public universities, and has been peddling this idea to right-wing legislators in numerous states.

Currently, all Pennsylvania has is a House resolution, authorizing a committee to look into these matters. They'll be holding four hearings on state campuses (I haven't been able to find the schedule, but Pitt is the first, and we can safely assume they'll hit Penn State University Park as well) over the next few months, preliminary to what is almost certainly going to be the introduction of a Horowitz-authored bill.

Pitt's provost criticized the inquiry, telling the House select committee on academic freedom in higher education that Pitt already had a functional system for dealing with student complaints of bias in classrooms. I doubt this will be the end of things, though.

Groups pushing for these laws include:
The National Association of Scholars
Students for Academic Freedom
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
and of course Horowitz's group, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. (Horowitz is a "reformed" leftist from the 1960s who now makes a living through self-promotion and agitation for right-wing, pseudopopulist causes.)
Typically, these groups portray themselves as grass-roots organizations but, as this article from THE INDEPENDENT ONLINE makes clear, they are generally funded, and often founded, by national right-wing organizations.

Groups representing teachers, such as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, have come out against these specious bills.

It's clear to essentially everyone in higher education that the point of these committees across the nation is not to ensure academic freedom—I'd challenge any of these legislators to intelligently explain that concept in language not provided by David Horowitz and going beyond the idea of "liberal bias"—but to find the last place in America where lefties dominate and make sure that changes. I'd be willing to give these groups a little more credit if they actually spoke to real issues of academic freedom. I doubt any of these groups would be interested in talking about the McCarthy era, when university professors at Rutgers, Reed College, Oregon State University, the University of Texas, the University of Washington, and several other schools were fired for their beliefs, their histories of sympathizing with Communist ideas, or their unwillingness to sign various kinds of loyalty oaths. An interesting article about what can really be at stake regarding academic freedom is here.


  • At 2:14 PM, Blogger zp said…

    Thanks for the very thorough run down. Necessary, informative and depressing.


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