The Professors: A third look

A disagreement has broken out within the Power Line ranks as a result of my comment on a review critical of David Horowitz’s book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Here’s the review. Here’s my post. Here’s Scott’s response.

Let me begin by making a few points that I should have included in my original post. First, the tone of the review is far too harsh towards Horowitz’s book. As I said, I admire Horowitz and (as I should have said) I reject any claim that he is dishonest. Second, although I did not read Horowitz’s profiles of all 101 professors (kudos to anyone who does), I read enough of them (probably about a third) to participate in the discussion, I hope.

I stand by my view that focusing on these 101 professors results in a critique of academia that misses the most important point. The first problem is that Horowitz’s sample of profs is a mish-mash that doesn’t readily lend itself to common treatment. There are nut-jobs with phony credentials, nut-jobs with decent credentials, radicals with past criminal records, radicals without criminal records who have expressed sympathy for criminals, and radicals with good credentials and no apparent criminal connection who hold extreme but not (in my view) nutty political views. Then there are scholars like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (full disclosure, a childhood friend of our family) who are political in the classroom only in the sense that, for example, it can be considered political to read old literature with an emphasis on things gay and lesbian.

This diversity gives rise to many distinctions. For example, universities clearly shouldn’t employ nuts with phony credentials. But I see no problem with an English department that includes “queer theorists” as long as students who don’t find this type of literary criticism illuminating can pursue an English major without suffering through much from this “school.”

But let’s assume that all 101 of Horowitz’s professors are deplorable and let’s further assume that there are another 1,001 who are just as bad. The effect on students would still be minimal because students could easily avoid these professors.

Horowitz addresses this issue in the passage quoted by Scott:

When viewed as a whole, the 101 portraits in this volume reveal several disturbing patterns of university life, which are reflected in careers like Ward Churchill’s. These include (1) promotion far beyond academic achievement; (2) teaching subjects outside one’s professional qualifications and expertise for the purpose of political propaganda; (3) making racist and ethnically disparaging remarks in public without eliciting reaction by university administrators, as long as those remarks are directed at unprotected groups, e.g., Armenians, whites, Christians, and Jews; (4) the overt introduction of political agendas in to the classroom and the abandonment of any pretense of academic discipline or scholarly inquiry.

The problem is that discussing 101 professors cannot persuasively demonstrate a pattern of any of these four phenomena. And even a much larger sample (say a sample that produced an average of one professor per college/university) would not be very persuasive as to most of the four. If all colleges thought that they should have one nutty leftist or 1960s period piece on campus, I wouldn’t applaud, but neither would I see much danger. As a parent who (like Scott) is about to send a kid to college, I’m more concerned about liberal bias dominating whole departments than I am about a few spectacularly disgusting professors.

Thus, while Horowitz’s book should generate justifiable outrage against the universities that employ some of the 101 professors, it does not effectively make a more telling potential case against academia — that left-wing bias heavily influences the way the humanities are taught at many if not most elite universities to the detriment of the student body as a whole.

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