Jesse Walker's recent article on David Horowitz' proposal for an "Academic Bill of Rights" prompted the following response from Horowitz. Walker replies to Horowitz below.
Horowitz: Which Side Are You On?
Libertarians have a reputation for focusing too much on principle and ignoring real world contexts. Jesse Walker's attack on the Academic Bill of Rights comes close to fitting the stereotype. Walker suggests that my Academic Bill of Rights could have "chilling effects" on academic freedom. The missing context is this: What academic freedom? Two years ago I was invited by conservative students to speak at the University of California Berkeley. The university administration assigned 30 armed guards to keep order at the event. I was picketed by the International Socialist Organization and the Spartacist League and assorted leftwing thugs with menacing taunts and signs calling me a "racist ideologue"—a photo of which wound up in Newsweek. The Daily Cal had previously apologized for allowing an ad written by me to be published in the student newspapers. The reason for this jihad? I had the temerity to suggest that paying reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact might be a bad idea. Not a single administrator or professor at Berkeley rose to my defense or the defense of my right to speak without fear of bodily harm or reckless slander. This is the state of our campuses today. There are 16,000 Marxist professors (at least a professional association of Marxist professors has claimed such membership) but faculty libertarians and conservatives are as rare as unicorns. The airhead Cornel West according to Richard Posner's study is one of the 100 most cited public intellectuals in academic journals, far ahead of Michael McConnell. Ludwig Von Mises and Richard Epstein do not even make the list.
This is the context—or a part of it—into which I have introduced the Academic Bill of Rights, as a step towards altering this situation. Walker might have mentioned that Eugene Volokh, a libertarian and one of the nation's foremost legal experts on First Amendment rights, has found nothing to object to in the Academic Bill of Rights. (To be scrupulously accurate, he objected to one word—"solely"—in the second principle in the original version. Out of respect for his judgment, I removed it.)
As our tiny band of supporters of academic freedom approaches the coming battle with the campus totalitarians it would have been reassuring to have had some acknowledgment of facts like these, before Walker moved on to join our attackers. The fact is, that if libertarians choose not support to this cause, it will be gravely weakened. Therefore one would hope that the withholding of such support would be made on strong intellectual grounds.
Now to the issues. To begin with, Walker draws an invidious comparison between our bill and Hubert Humphrey's affirmative action legislation, which he swore would not lead to racial preferences but did. This analogy is inapt. There is absolutely nothing in the Academic Bill of Rights about affirmative action for conservatives or any other group or set of ideas. The rights the bill delineates are negative rights, limits on what authorities in the university community and outside it may do. The appropriate analogy would have been the American Bill of Rights. Would Walker argue that because so-called liberals have managed to pervert the clear meaning of the 14th Amendment, we should therefore reconsider our support for it and regard it as having "chilling effects" on our freedom?
Second, Walker claims that the Academic Bill of Rights "extends the concept of academic freedom to students," and that this is a problem. This argument came as something of a surprise to me—a libertarian objecting to too many freedoms! In fact, the Academic Bill of Rights does not extend any more rights to students than are implicit in the existing academic freedom tradition—a fact which we draw attention to in the preamble to the document.
Walker the suggests that "contradictions" between professors' rights and students' rights "could be resolved in unfortunate ways." He offers an example of a "biology student lodging an official complaint because her professor gave short shrift to Creationism." Well such a complaint is conceivable, but under the Academic Bill of Rights it would be dismissed. Article 4 of the Bill of Rights (the text is available at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org) states: "While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints." The meaning is clear. The professor has a right to teach the course any way he or she wants. If the professor is an evolutionary biologist then that's what he or she should teach. All that the Bill of Rights stipulates is that students should be made aware of other viewpoints. There is no conflict between rights here. The Bill of Rights clearly recognizes that the teacher has the right to teach the course as he or she sees fit.
The only limit to this right is article 5: "Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination." Having audited a course at one of the premier liberal colleges in the country, where a 600-page Marxist textbook on "modern industrial society" was taught as though it were a text in Newtonian physics, I can testify that this is very necessary right to protect academic freedom in the contemporary university.
Walker's next argument is ad hominem. There are articles on the Students for Academic Freedom website (as it happens taken from frontpagemag.com) that reflect attitudes he finds disturbing. One of them is about one-sided Cornell anti-war faculty teach-ins. This raises an interesting issue. In an academic setting is it appropriate for professors to participate in non-academic events like this aimed at converting students whom they teach to a politically partisan viewpoint and on a subject they are mostly not professionally qualified to pontificate on?
While this question is interesting, it is touched on by only one of the principles of the Academic Freedom Bill—as it happens one which reflects the views of Stanley Fish: "Academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside their fields of inquiry." The purpose of this principle is to preserve an academic attitude of uncertainty towards truth as opposed to an omniscient political one.
But the articles on the site to which Walker refers are irrelevant to the Bill of Rights itself. To avoid future confusions, I have had them removed from the site. Complaints about the university are now actually students' complaints and students can veer off the deep end without notice (as we know). So what?
Walker takes his discussion of this matter, which is really a side discussion, into two substantive areas. One is the issue of private institutions (his example is Holy Cross), an area where he hopes I am not recommending a legislative solution. He is right to hope this. The Academic Bill of Rights explicitly says: "These principles only fully apply to public universities and to private universities that present themselves as bound by the canons of academic freedom. Private institutions choosing to restrict academic freedom on the basis of creed have an obligation to be as explicit as is possible about the scope and nature of these restrictions."
Walker draws an analogy between the Bill of Rights and the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and TV outlets to "balance" the views of their broadcasts, and worries that this is what is intended. He need not worry. The Academic Bill of Rights strictly forbids hiring on the basis of political or religious views, and thus legislated balancing of any kind. I agree with Walker that there's no such thing as a perfectly balanced debate, but I deny that I have set out to create one in a manner heavy-handed or otherwise, and indeed I have drawn up the Academic Bill of Rights in a manner explicitly designed to prevent it.