Does UT have a liberal agenda? Campus bias wildly sensationalized

By Hooman Hedayati Daily Texan Guest Columnist

Right-wing culture warrior David Horowitz has come out with yet another anti-academic-freedom book and accompanying campus tour. The book, “One-Party Classroom,” is a virtually unreconstructed rehash of his previous books, “The Professors” and “Indoctrination U.” In these works he announces the shocking news that they teach feminism in women’s and gender studies, social movements in courses on social movements, and Arab and Muslim culture and politics in Middle Eastern studies.

Once a prominent member of the New Left, Horowitz has since established himself as an outspoken conservative advocate. Through his writing and activism, he is trying to convince the public that there is a crisis of political bias in college classrooms — one that needs to be solved by censoring the free exchange of ideas critical to higher education.
In 2007 he unsuccessfully brought the Academic Bill of Rights to the Texas Legislature.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, SCR 3 encouraged state colleges and universities to implement policies to safeguard the academic freedom of faculty and students. After facing evidence mounted by students and professors, SCR 3 failed in the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education. When Pennsylvania set up a committee to investigate academic-freedom violations in the classroom, they found there were few, if any, problems and that legislation was not necessary.

In the same year, Horowitz helped to organize the “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” a national campaign to mobilize college students in support of George Bush’s war on terror and the alleged threat that Islam poses to the very foundations of western civilization. The poster promoting the event featured a picture of a teenage girl being stoned as an example of the status of women in the Islamic world. As it turned out, the “stoning” pictured actually took place in the 1994 Dutch film “De Steen.” Horowitz opportunistically claimed to be defending the rights of women during this campaign even as he called for the censorship of courses in women’s and gender studies.

Free Exchange on Campus, a national organization committed to defending academic freedom, has investigated other claims Horowitz has advanced. They concluded that he has “played fast and loose” with the facts, inventing or distorting information from course syllabi and denying the relevance of political discourse in fields like communication, sociology and literature. Imagine if your favorite professors suddenly couldn’t connect the literature you were reading to current events or even teach in the subjects they were hired to teach simply because those areas did not meet the standards of orthodoxy demanded by Horowitz.

His efforts would seem feeble and irrelevant if not for the fact that academic freedom is still seriously threatened by the political right. University administrators, under pressure from the Department of Homeland Security and right-wing donors to University endowments, have been successful in key instances of harassing and firing outspoken left-wing intellectuals in recent years. Since 9/11, universities have largely cooperated with State Department and Homeland Security harassment, wiretapping and denial of entry to Middle Eastern and Muslim scholars, such as prominent Oxford theology scholar Tariq Ramadan.

Until last September, University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian had languished in jail for more than five years as the victim of an ongoing government campaign of persecution. New hearings are exposing the over-zealous prosecution by and anti-Muslim bigotry of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who claimed during al-Arian’s trial that “all Arabs lie.”

Israel’s critics face especially harsh attacks in the name of academic freedom, as DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein discovered in 2007, when he was denied tenure after an intense campaign against him was led by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. Now that campus activists across the country have begun campaigns to boycott, divest from and sanction the state of Israel for its actions in Gaza, we can expect such pressure from the right to continue, with demagogues like Horowitz leading the charge.

Horowitz’s efforts have had serious consequences in establishing a chilling climate on our classrooms and threatening activist professors around the country. Locally, his targets include affiliates of women’s and gender studies, including communication studies professor Dana Cloud, among others. While calling Cloud an “anti-American radical” who “routinely repeats the propaganda of the Saddam regime,” he has repeatedly denied her invitation to a debate.

UT students deserve more respect from Horowitz. We are not a bunch of mindless zombies, following the lead of every theory and idea that’s put before us. On Thursday, David Horowitz will be giving a lecture with the inflammatory title “Exposing Radically Leftist College Professors.” Let’s welcome him with a peaceful protest outside the Jackson Geology Building, Room 2.324 at 6:30 p.m.

Hedayati is a government and Middle Eastern studies senior and a member of Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress.

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