The Professors: Another Look

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Yesterday Paul referred to The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, David Horowitz’s new book on the contemporary university. Paul cited the critical review of David’s book in the current issue of the Dartmouth Review and found the review plausible based on a partial reading of the book. I think the review is immature, inaccurate and uncomprehending.

At one point, the reviewer refers to Horowitz’s “clever lies, typical of his work.” How precisely are clever lies typical of Horowitz’s work? The reviewer doesn’t bother to explain. He offers an alleged example of a “lie,” but the reviewer doesn’t show either the falsity involved or how the falsity is typical of Horowitz’s work. I think the fault here obviously lies with the reviewer rather than Horowitiz’s book, and that the book represents an important contribution. I want to add a few words about it in the interest of doing it justice.

The contemporary university is a subject about which Horowitz knows a lot; it is the institutional base of the radical left with which Horowitz has intimately familiar. He has spent a lifetime involved with the left, first as a protagonist in the movement and then as a hated antagonist to it. His campaign for intellectual diversity and exposure of academic abuses on campus strikes the left at its base. David has done a lot to earn the left’s hatred; The Professors is a product of his efforts to crack the leftist monolith in the contemporary university.

When William F. Buckley founded National Review in 1955 at the age of 29, he lit the fire that sparked the modern conservative movement. Buckley had already achieved notoriety — if not celebrity — with the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951. He attacked the undergraduate education on offer at Yale for its hostility to Christianity and its adulation of collectivism and sought to dispel the indifference of Yale alumni to their supervisory responsibility, calling on them to grasp the nettle of university governance.

Yale was of course only the example that laid closest to Buckley’s hand. Buckley could undoubtedly could have written the same book about any of America’s most prestigious universities. In the ensuing decades the conservative movement as a whole has experienced successes that must exceed even Buckley’s visionary imagination. Yet the university remains untouched by Buckley’s call to action. In fact, it understates matters considerably to say that circumstances on campus have not improved since 1951. Horowitz’s book walks in Buckley’s footsteps and provides important evidence on this point.

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and Harvard president Lawrence Summers have recently served to illustrate the absurd conditions that prevail in the university. Churchill is the tenured professor of “ethnic studies” producing bogus scholarship and anti-American vitriol in roughly equal measure. He appears to have qualified for his post on the basis of a claim to Indian lineage that turns out to have been of the cigar-store variety. In the meantime, as Horowitz observes, Churchill has become a campus celebrity who speaks before enthusiastic student audiences.

Is the case of Ward Churchill an isolated outrage? It is Horowitz’s contention in The Professors that the case of Ward Churchill is representative of a powerful campus minority rather than an aberration:

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.

(Names of professors illustrating each of the four points in the book and accompanying footnotes omitted.) For his 101 professors, Horowitz draws from colleges and universities across the country, from elite private colleges and universities such as Columbia (Columbia contributes nine of the 101 professors in Horowitz’s rogues’ gallery) and Duke to large public universities such as the campuses in the University of California system.

The University of California, Santa Cruz, for example, is the perch of Angela Davis (professor of the history of consciousness) and Bettina Aptheker (professor of women’s studies). This week the Santa Cruz campus was coincidentally in the news for what Professor Aptheker refers to in another context as “revolutionary praxis” — the antiwar left’s new “counter recruitment” tactics. (Yesterday’s Washington Times condemned the episode as “mob rule.”)

The professors examined in Horowitz’s book may not be the most “dangerous” academics in America — the subtitle of Horowitz’s book was supplied by the publisher — but they are certainly among the most radical. Horowitz focuses on their politics and how they use their perches to advance their politics. And a few of the professors profiled in the book are indeed dangerous. Example: former University of South Florida Professsor Sami Al-Arian. The AP reports that Al-Arian has reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a lesser charge of the remaining terrorism charges against him and be deported.

The Professors isn’t the last word on the degradation of the contemporary university, but it shines a light that illuminates the phenomenon. Please check it out if you have any interest in the subject.

JOHN adds: Coincidentally, it was reported this morning that Sami al-Arian has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and to be deported, in exchange for dismissal of whatever other charges are still pending against him. If correct, this sounds like a reasonable deal for the prosecutors, given al-Arian’s acquittal last December.

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