Friday, June 09, 2006


Slogging through The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America is a bit like taking in the Interstate scenery between Abilene and El Paso—a whole lot of the same thing. Orchestrated by David Horowitz and largely carried out by an ensemble of assistants, this book consists, in large measure, of a succession of ideological portraits culled from campuses across the country. Profiles of anti-American Marxists who employ classrooms to advance their radical social agenda are interrupted by profiles of anti-American queer theorists, anti-Semitic Islamists, and anti-Caucasian racists who all exhibit contempt for ideas other than their own. Amid the mind-numbing repetitiveness of this serial critique of academic bigotry and incompetence, a few cases do stand out.

Take, for example, Bernardine Dohrn and her husband Bill Ayers. Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern, while Ayers holds the title “Distinguished Professor” at the University of Illinois, Chicago. In their youth both joined the Weatherman underground, a group that “managed to bomb the U.S. Capitol building, New York City Police Headquarters, the Pentagon, and the National Guard offices in Washington, D.C.”

Far from being on the periphery of this organization, Dohrn and Ayers were active members. Indeed, both were pursued by the FBI throughout the 70s. According to a Horowitz researcher, only a “technicality” for improper surveillance prevented the pair from receiving serious jail time for their crimes. Moreover, neither professor has denounced the activities they supported years ago.

Of his bomb-detonating days Ayers commented, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” That comment, ironically enough, was published by the New York Times in the edition that was delivered to the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Dohrn, by contrast, claimed to be “joking” when she celebrated the brutal Sharon Tate murders that were carried out by members of Charles Manson’s clan: “Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!” This same person now directs the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern and spends her professional time, along with her husband, working to prevent the punishment of violent juvenile offenders.

Then there is the inventor of Kwanzaa, Professor Ron Karenga. In 1971, Karenga and two other members of his “United Slaves” organization were convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment. Karenga, who bestowed the title “Maulana” or “Master Teacher” upon himself, spent four years in prison for these crimes before being released in 1975. This resume blemish didn’t prevent Karenga from securing a faculty appointment at San Diego State University shortly thereafter. In 1979 Karenga moved to Cal State Long Beach where, in 1989, he was named head of the Black Studies Department. That’s an amazing career track--fourteen years from prison inmate to department head of a state university!

(Meshing nicely with this case of affirmative action for criminals, researcher Thomas Ryan notes that Kwanzaa’s seven principles are the same principles embraced by the Symbionese Liberation Army—the domestic terrorist group that kidnapped Patricia Hearst in 1974 and employed a seven-headed snake to symbolize their collectivist philosophy.)

Having run for vice-president on the party’s ticket in 1980 and ’84, Angela Davis is probably the most famous Communist now teaching on American campuses. But she is surely the only “University Professor” in the University of California system who boasts that title despite a complete absence of serious scholarship. Davis does, of course, possess the distinction of fleeing from the FBI and being tried for involvement in a 1970 plot to free her imprisoned lover—a Black Panther awaiting trial for murder. This plot resulted in the death of four people, including Judge Harold Haley, whose “head was blown off by a sawed-off shotgun owned by Professor Davis.” Davis, however, acting as her own lawyer to avoid cross-examination, was found not guilty of the conspiracy charges against her—thus setting the stage for the honors that were lavished upon her by both the Soviet Union (the International Lenin Peace Prize) and the University of California system.

Horowitz’s well-written introductory chapter contains the most egregious example of academic preferences for imprisoned radicals. That case concerns Susan Rosenberg, who, in the fall of 2004, was invited to join the faculty of Hamilton College as a “Visiting Professor.” Twenty years earlier Rosenberg, another member of the Weatherman underground, had been apprehended and sentenced to 58 years in prison for helping move hundreds of pounds of explosives into a New Jersey warehouse. A midnight pardon issued by Bill Clinton, however, made all the difference between doing time in a federal prison and teaching a course on “Resistance Memoirs” to students at Hamilton.

Rosenberg’s invitation to Hamilton was only withdrawn when a student, Ian Mandel, brought intense public scrutiny to her background—a history that also included an indictment for the murder of two Nyack, New Jersey police officers whose memorial stood a mile from Mandel’s home. As if to indicate their contempt for public standards of decency, the Hamilton organization responsible for inviting a convicted terrorist to the faculty followed that fiasco with a speaking invitation to Ward Churchill—an offer that was reluctantly rescinded after Churchill’s “little Eichmanns” comment about the innocent victims of 9/11 was publicized.

The conclusion one must draw from such examples isn’t that every institution has its bad apples but rather that, at least in the liberal arts in America, moral turpitude and political hucksterism pervades higher education. Radical criminals with questionable academic credentials flourish in a milieu that bristles with hostility toward real scholars who don’t toe the party line—witness the case of former Harvard President Lawrence Summers.

Individuals with prison records or FBI rap sheets don’t get into major educational institutions because they fudge their resumes. They get in because they share the political dogmas of those who hire them—and they flourish for the same reason. Angela Davis isn’t a “University Professor” because of her scholarship. She is there because of her politics.

What The Professors ultimately reveals isn’t a list of instructors that students can avoid, but a corrupt, politicized system that has contempt for the very idea of liberal education.


Anonymous said...

It is strange reasoning that allows you to indict the entire university system for corruption, “moral turpitude,” and “political hucksterism” based on a hundred portraits thrown together by a highly politicized team of author-hucksters. Does Angela Davis really prove that the system has “contempt for the very idea of liberal education”? Anecdotal evidence drawn from a system that compromises tens of thousands of professors hardly makes your case. I could just as easily base such a report on the Bishop’s of my time that features you, Dr. Rap, and a few other teachers to “prove” that Bishop’s was systematically “corrupted” and “politicized” by a coterie of “right”-thinkers.

It is ironic that you site the case of Larry Summers, a man who reached the very heights of academia! Curious that such a corrupt system would let him climb to the presidency of Harvard. You imply that his fall was that of an innocent victim brought down by the vicious attacks of a rabid left—those damn feminists!—unable to stomach his pure and noble research suggestions. Such a depiction is na├»ve at best, intentionally misleading at worst. If you’ve deigned to follow the controversy in any depth, you know that his ouster was based on politics—of the standard research university sort, about, for instance, Summers’ arrogance, or his apparent disregard for the humanities. Much of the faculty’s anger relating to his coup de grace, his comments about the alleged scientific impairment of the female mind, derived from his inept handling of a sensitive matter, what many saw as a recurrent theme of his presidency. I wonder how you would feel if the head of your institution offhandedly suggested at a forum that the IQ of Christian intellectuals greatly trailed that of their atheist counterparts?

More importantly, you and Horowitz undercut your own claim to want a system defined be free inquiry; rather, what you want is the teaching of your values, your “party line.” Academics, you imply, shouldn’t be “anti-American” or Marxist. With all due respect, Mr. Kirk, who are you to judge the intellectual validity of queer studies? Let’s face it: your critiques are moral and political, not intellectual, even as you pretend otherwise. Your game is political name calling. Talk radio would be proud.

-Dancing with Daffodils

RKirk said...

Dear DD,
Horowitz's book should suggest to any fairminded observer that something is horribly wrong with the university system. Domestic terrorists with criminal records flourish in this fetid politicized environment. Ron Karenga spent four years in PRISON for assaulting two women. Then he becomes a Department Head at a large state university in less than 15 years! I can only imagine what reaction most leftists would have if dozens of Gordon Liddy clones became heads of Political Science Departments throughtout the country. As numerous surveys demonstrate, conservatives are outnumbered by ratios of 8 to 1 (at best)in the humanities.

Your willingness to distort Lawrence Summers remark about female IQs indicates something not very flattering about you, DD. Summers did not say that females had lower IQs than males. He said (as one of three tentative hypotheses about low female representation in mathematics and the hard sciences at Harvard and elsewhere) that natural cognitive differences between males and females may have something to do with that fact. This hypothesis is not problematic for individuals who care more about evidence than about political correctness.(This group includes Stephen Pinker--atheist, Harvard psychology professor, and author of THE BLANK SLATE: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Pinker has accumulated a great deal of evidence that substatiates the idea that male and female brains TEND to work differently. This is hardly a stunning point of view, except for those who value political correctness UBER ALLES.)

It takes some courage to admit the truth about the university system, since it puts one at odds with the regnant political orthodoxy of cultural elites. That orthodoxy constitutes the "faith" of people who wish, above all, to belong to the "in clique." Read Horowitz's autobiographical RADICAL SON if you care to see how thoroughly a leftist's sense of self is tied to political conformism. (Horowitz grew up in a communist family and was a major figure of the new left in the 70s, until such time as a friend of his was murdered by a Black Panther group. Murder does tend to focus one's attention! Unfortunately, true leftist believers will blind themselves to mass murder in order to continue to "belong.")

Horowitz's book provides 101 examples of the highly politicized character of higher education in the Humanities. There is no way that anyone could find an equal number of right-wing radicals on campus--much less examples of such persons heading departments.
What Horowitz shows, by focusing on the career track of criminals and political radicals, is that his examples are not eccentric. Radicals are regularly PREFERRED and PROMOTED and given titles such as UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, often in the ABSENCE of any real professional accomplishmnts.

You seem to be intent on discrediting and doing away with even the few dissenting voices that still exist in education--but then that perspective is typical of the totalitarian mindset and/or of the outlook of cultural conformists. In that respect you share the anti-intellectualism of the fundamentalists that cultural elites so love to pillory.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how you can possibly interpret my response to suggest that I wish to “[do] away with even the few dissenting voices” in academia. My point, of course, was not that dissent should be eliminated—indeed, strong ideas of whatever origin should be encouraged—but that your critique was spurious and misleading.

I grant that there are some very corrupt professors, departments, and perhaps even universities—just as there are corrupt high-school teachers, principals, and perhaps even entire schools. But how you can therefore reason to the conclusion that all academia is “fetid”? Between Horowitz’s anecdotal evidence and your generalizations stretches a great gulf. Far from proving a corrupted liberal hegemony, that most wayward professors are liberal simply reflects the well-accepted fact that most professors are, well, liberal.

The case of Ron Karenga, which you seem to put a lot of stalk in, touches on some complex questions. Should convicted felons who have served their time be allowed to take up positions in the academy? I don’t have an easy answer to that question, but you can rest assured there are many academics who rue the fact that criminals can climb the academic ranks. In any event, Cal State-Long Beach is an academic backwater and hardly proves your point that the corruption is systemic.

Part of the problem with your position is that you conflate two different issues: the first, best exemplified by your initial posting, is that you do not like the politics of Marxists, queer theorists, or those who are anti-American; the second is that academia has a major political bias that you think needs correcting. This latter point is an excellent contention. A good starting point for a productive discussion would be: should the political opinions of the professoriate mirror that as of the nation as a whole? I must confess that I see no more reason why the opinions of philosophy professors should match the public than that of evolutionary biologists. But I nonetheless grant that the question is a fascinating and important one.

Unfortunately, you’ve chosen to reduce the complexities of what gets taught, who gets hired, and how scholarship advances, to a crude and ungenerous conspiracy theory aimed at indicting an entire system. (Your portrayal of academics as herd animals also has the distasteful effect of aggrandizing yourself as the clear-sighted ubermench). In your formulation, we need not consider tough questions about politics and knowledge because the cause of the academy’s apparently sorry state (though the envy of the world) is simple and obvious: a conspiracy of the Left. Let us damn them, then, as Marxists, queers, and unpatriotic Americans, righteous in our assurance that we have seen through their intellectual charade and moral harlotry.

RKirk said...

Ron Karenga is not alone--as my review and Horowitz's book and unbiased observation and investigation demonstrate. Northwestern is not an academic backwater (Bernardine Dohrn), nor is Hamilton for that matter (Susan Rosenberg). Angela Davis is a "University Professor" in the U.C. system--without having produced anything of a scholarly nature. Ward Churchill rises to the head of his "discipline" based on a bogus resume. And, of course, he is much in demand as a speaker at colleges throughout the country. Then there is the revealing test constructed by physicist Alan Sokal who submitted an article comprised of jibberish wrapped in leftist dogma to the "scholarly" publication SOCIAL TEXT. As such, it met the "high standards" of the editors.

This component of American higher education, the "humanities" component, is NOT the envy of the world. It is the non-politicized, scientific, medical, and business component of higher education that the rest of the world is eager to take advantage of. [I'd wager that the percentage of foreign students in the latter programs is much much higher than the percentage in English/Literature, Queer Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Women's Studies.] Of Women's Studies the classically trained lesbian Camille Paglia observed that, with few exceptions, those courses are totally unscholarly and consist of "a comfy, chummy morass of unchallenged groupthink."

One wonders how much evidence one would have to accumulate to meet your knee-jerk (and almost plaintive) objection that all these cases are "anecdotal." When one considers that the cases cited by Horowitz cover all regions of the country, involve various levels of prestige within academia, and regularly extend beyond the mere hiring of professors to issues involving tenure and new faculty selection, Horowitz's conclusion about the politicization of higher education is hardly a stretch.

To all such specific observations you are content to observe that, as everyone knows, professors are liberal, and that any school system may be corrupted. Then you suggest that I favor a system in which popular opinion is mirrored by academia. [Apparently I must remind you that your chums, not mine, are enamoured with the idea of mirroring society in higher education--at least in terms of racial quotas. As for me, I simply want a educational system that embraces the ideal of objective scholarship and isn't egregiously biased and political.]

Universities weren't bastions of conservatism in the 50's, but they were, overwhelmingly, willing to respect different opinions. Moreover, they were dedicated to serious scholarship. If you read the introductory chapter of Horowitz's book, you will see how institutions throughout the country are now renouncing the idea of objective scholarship in favor of the ideal of political involvement and commitment. (Horowitz, in RADICAL SON, makes the devastating point that his Marxism was treated respectfully by his professors in the 50's--in a manner that contrasts dramatically with the intolerance regularly exhibited in classrooms today.

Way back in the 70's (before ideological ratios had gotten so completely out of whack) a professor of philosophy at Emory University (who was no political conservative)was lamenting the way radicals, as was the case in the 30's in Germany, were politicizing the university. That politicization continued to grow in subsequent decades and is illustrated in spades by Horowitz. But for one whose eyes and ears are closed, no amount of evidence will count for anything. As Pascal said, "The will, which prefers one aspect to another, turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does not like to see."

Of the perspective I myself assume, I can say that I have taken positions that have cost me a great deal--many years ago in terms of religious dogma, and throughout my career in terms of political dogma. You might attribute that willingness to act in ways contrary to my personal and professional benefit to a perverse masochistic streak. Or, one might attribute it to a curious passion for truth. I would be wary, however, of attributing a passion for truth to someone who has never suffered anything for espousing the ideas he does and whose ideas look suspiciously like the opinions of his peers.