Tuesday, May 09, 2006


"It's a political campaign. . . This is fine for when you're electing candidates or something, but it's really inappropriate for an academic discussion."
–David Horowitz

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to writing about poetry and jazz . . .

Like the Academic Bill of Rights itself, some of David Horowitz’s comments don’t sound particularly objectionable when taken out of context. Today’s quote, reported in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, would seem right on target if the subject of discussion had been, say, a professor who was advocating in the classroom for a partisan candidate in an election campaign. Many readers might well take this quote as an appropriate reaction to Horowitz’s own campaign as he conducts it on college campuses. Is his campaign of vilification as he carries it to university audiences really an appropriate mode of academic discussion? The obvious response to that question is that the speaking engagements for which Horowitz is handsomely paid at campuses around the nation aren’t academic discussion at all, but a mode of entertainment.

But Horowitz likes to pretend that he is engaged in some form of academic discussion, and his statement today is a characterization of the response to his campaign. The occasion for Horowitz’s comment is a report titled FACTS COUNT, released in full today by the FREE EXCHANGE ON CAMPUS coalition. (Their link can be found over there in the sidebar.) FACTS COUNT is an effort to refute many of the allegations contained in Horowitz’s compilation of rumor and invective, THE PROFESSORS, and the Free Exchange coalition is releasing their refutation today at the University of Chicago, where Horowitz is appearing. They plan to send copies of their report to other campuses where Horowitz is scheduled to appear. That is what Horowitz is objecting to as a political campaign, inappropriate for academic discussion. Horowitz is outraged that a coalition would exercise their first amendment rights to publish their response to his book at campuses where he is paid to appear.

The hypocrisy screams out at you here; Horowitz’s appearances are nothing if they are not political – they certainly bear no resemblance to any academic discussion I’ve ever been a part of. But please note, the Free Exchange release is not part of anybody’s curriculum. It’s not being offered as a scholarly publication (though from what I’ve read of it this morning, they seem to have spent more time reading their sources than Horowitz did). Free Exchange is, in fact, doing the same thing that Horowitz is doing in Chicago. They are making a public statement regarding claims made in his book. Unlike Horowitz, they will not be paid for their appearance.
Horowitz often argues that he is not interested in restraining the political rights of academics. He frequently asserts that his only concern in the Academic Bill of Rights is to offer students protection from inappropriate political indoctrination in the classroom. But his actions betray those assertions. Here it is political speech outside the classroom that Horowitz is denouncing as inappropriate.

Horowitz also has this to say about Free Exchange and their report:
"Mr. Horowitz called the report ‘stupid.’ 'This is a union operation,' he said. 'I think they're a discredited source from the beginning.'"

Now that certainly doesn’t strike me as academic discourse. We’ve got ad hominem, begging the question, a red herring and a host of other fallacies all lined up in two lines. Quite an accomplishment.

On a related matter, I kind of wish I hadn’t wondered out loud how much Horowitz is making off this tour. At least one answer is now available through Horowitz’s web sites. The Frontpagemag report of Horowitz’s appearance at Cal State Monterey links to a report of the student debate over the funding of the event. It turns out that the Associated Students group had already exhausted its funds for bringing speakers to campus, hence the debate. The question was whether or not the AS should tap their emergency funding for the purpose of co-sponsoring the event. The AS had thought it would be a good idea to have a conservative speaker, since they had earlier brought Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Ward Churchill to campus. (I suppose the Churchill/Horowitz debate show hadn’t gotten started yet – the real revelation here is that Wilson gets about half what Horowitz or Churchill take in fees, and doesn’t require quite the associated costs that come with a Horowitz.)

In the end, the student group did vote to go into deficit with their speaker budget to make this happen. So much for radical blacklists keeping conservatives off campus. In the reporting of the debate, we learn that Horowitz gets $5,000 a pop for these ad lib talks he gives. Not bad at all, though any number of luminaries get more (one hopes those who get more might actually write a speech before they arrive on campus.) But then there are those associated costs. Horowitz’s travel expenses to and from campus have to be met. AND there’s the matter, it turns out, of car rental for Horowitz, and security. Those who have seen the video of Horowitz at Duke have seen the personal security guy Horowitz brings along, and that has to cost a few pennies as well.
Makes you wonder, eh?

By way of comparison, those of us who travel around the country participating in actual academic discussions face a quite different circumstance. It is true that there are some academic stars who collect huge fees, but most of us have to pay our own way to the scholarly events in which we participate. In the decade I spent at San Jose State, part of the same system that includes the Monterey campus, I had to pay my own way to most conferences I spoke at out of my salary. I am now at a university that can afford to give me some travel funds, and I am often invited to speak at universities that might defray the cost of my coming to their campus – but I don’t usually get offered a car, I never get security, and I am generally expected to show up with a carefully researched and thoroughly documented paper to present — and maybe I should add that I do my research myself – In my current position I have, for the first time in my career, the assistance of really good graduate students – really good – but they work on research related to editing manuscripts we’ve uncovered in archives – they don’t do all my reading for me – and I have to say their record of accuracy is a whole lot better than that of the people Horowitz credits for researching his book –

but maybe that’s because we’re engaged in academic discussion –

1 comment:

Steven W. Thomas said...

One of my old elementary school friends who is an accountant and a Republican (who even ran for public office and attended young republican meetings) agrees that Horowitz is a crazy, stupid jerk. However, then my friend went on to say that what goes on in women's studies and ethnic stuides programs is "bullshit academics." I tell this story because it seems to me that the right believes the very organizational changes in the university -- the new programs, departments, and centers that have been created in the past few years -- structurally produce "liberal bias" or what we might call a "liberal subjectivity or affect." Horowitz's stupid ad hominems, red herrings, and non sequitors in a funny way distract attention away from concerns the right wing (not to mention university administrations) actually has about structural issues.

In response to my friend, I pointed out to my friend that he and I had just recently had a discussion about immigration politics and that we both agreed that it was a complex issue, the facts of which were numerous and deserving of study. He agrees with me that the House bill is xenophobic and irrational, that the rhetoric on capital hill ignores the role of U.S. corporations and NAFTA play in producing the phenomena of illegal immigration, and that the cultural effects of immigration policy are not only hard to predict but also very important to think about. He also agrees that the university and the college classroom is a good place to study and think about an issue like immigration, because the media seems to intentionally avoid discussing the facts and instead focuses on uninformed feelings.

Since we had agreed on all these things earlier, I suggested that maybe he just doesn't know what ethnic studies and women's studies programs actually do. It seems to me rather commonsensical to think that the immigration of people from Latin America might best be studied in a Latina/o studies department.

I suggested that he might consider Jane Juffer's new book as an examplar of women's and ethnic studies -- what he had wrongly called "bullshit academics" -- since it seems to do a lot of the research which he had earlier said needed to be done.

These are the kinds of conversations that I think are worth having with ordinary people on the right. Horowitz, it seems to me, is potentially useful, because he is so ridiculous that most on the right don't take him seriously either. Hence, he becomes a useful illustration of what NOT talk about (as most agree that making up nasty things about people is in poor taste and pointless) and by contrast, a left-winger like myself and a right-winger like my old chum from the Roy O. Anderson elementary school can pat ourselves on the back for transcending the bullshit, finding points of agreement as well as points of disagreement, and actually learning things from each other. (Naturally, I write the phrase "pat ourselves on the back" with my tongue in cheek, aware that this kind of back-patting is problematic for a number of reasons, one of which being that the understanding that two white boys from Orange County, CA can achieve with each other is probably based on years of culturally determined habits of mind nurtured in the financially exclusive, pristine neighborhoods of Newport Beach.)