America's academies of higher learning have become a bastion of liberal sentiment. That's the charge levied by a grassroots organization known as "Students for Academic Freedom." The group is lead by conservative commentator David Horowitz. As VOA's Maura Farrelly reports, he has called upon state lawmakers to adopt what he's calling an "Academic Bill of Rights."
The atmosphere at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, was charged with energy and a sense of victory when David Horowitz climbed to the podium in Glenn Memorial Auditorium earlier this month. The Emory College Council had refused to fund his visit, because of a very public and some might say very 'nasty' argument he'd had two years ago with the president of Emory's Black Student Alliance. So the campus College Republicans raised Mr. Horowitz's $5000 speaking fee themselves, something the conservative commentator acknowledged in his opening remarks.
"I also want to thank all the students and contributors that made this possible," he said. "And I want to thank you all for coming, first, because it's a beautiful spring evening. And second, because an intolerant political minority on this campus worked so hard to keep me from speaking."
David Horowitz told the audience that the opposition he encountered at Emory was a classic example of why states need to adopt the Academic Bill of Rights he has authored. Among other things, the bill would require university administrators to foster what the commentator calls "intellectual diversity" among faculty members. In a recent study he conducted, Mr. Horowitz found that registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by a margin of 10 to 1 in the humanities departments at 32 elite universities.
"You need to have politically and intellectually diverse instructors on your faculty," he added. "Otherwise, you're talking to yourselves, and you become progressively more and more ignorant."
David Horowitz points to faculty voter registration when citing recent incidents in which conservative students were discriminated against on college campuses. At the University of California, Berkeley, for example, a graduate student instructor wrote in his course description that, quote, "conservative thinkers," unquote, should sign up for another class. And the U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating an incident at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. There, another graduate student instructor sent an e-mail to her entire class, chastising a student who had made comments against homosexuality. The instructor referred to the student by name and called him a "white, heterosexual, Christian male."
Stanley Fish is an acclaimed literary theorist and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He's opposed to the idea of an academic bill of rights. "If you know that I voted Democratic in the last election, you don't therefore know anything about what I teach or how I teach it," he argued.
Professor Fish added that incidents like the ones just cited are reprehensible, but extremely rare. Additionally, he said that when David Horowitz calls for "intellectual diversity," he's really calling for a political litmus test to be used in hiring decisions.
"'Intellectual diversity,' as he defines it, is a requirement for political representation on the faculty--that is, there aren't enough conservatives on the faculty," he said. "That would make sense only if there were a correlation between your party affiliation and your intellectual work or your style of teaching."
Why is it that such an overwhelming majority of college faculty in the United States identify themselves as "liberal" or as "members of the Democratic party"? It all depends on whom you ask. There's Edward Thayer, president of the Emory College Republicans, who said it is because liberal administrators hire liberal professors.
"I think it's because they are surrounded with like-minded people, and because they have insulated themselves, when something that they are not conditioned to comes in front of them, they treat it very harshly, because it doesn't fit with their worldview," he said.
Then there's the opinion of Stanley Fish. "It's supply side," said Mr. Fish. "For whatever reason, bright, young men and women who are conservative, and there are plenty of them, do not choose careers in which they will be working on 19th-century French poetry. If they did the work, wrote the dissertations, and published the books, they'd get the jobs. Instead, they do none of these things, and then whine that they didn't get the job. "
So far, the legislatures in seven states have taken up the issue of an academic bill of rights. On the national level, about dozen Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a measure that's designed to ensure intellectual diversity on college campuses.