A “Fairness Doctrine” For Universities

Ron Paul on what David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights really means:

Instead of fostering open dialogue and wide-raging intellectual inquiry, the main effect of the "Academic Bill of Rights" will be to further stifle debate about controversial topics. This is because many administrators will order their professors not to discuss contentious and divisive subjects, in order to avoid a possible confrontation with the federal government. Those who doubt this should remember that many TV and radio stations minimized political programming in the 1960s and 1970s in order to avoid running afoul of the federal "fairness doctrine."

I am convinced some promoters of the "Academic Bill of Rights" would be perfectly happy if, instead of fostering greater debate, this bill silences discussion of certain topics. Scan the websites of some of the organizations promoting the "Academic Bill of Rights" and you will find calls for silencing critics of the Iraq war and other aspects of American foreign policy.

See also Jesse Walker's look at Horowitz's project. He too finds in it an instrument that warhawks will use to crush dissent on campus:

why might I worry that the rules would be so misused? Because I've looked at the rest of the Students for Academic Freedom website. The group's university "case studies" offer very few examples of conservative students or instructors being penalized for their views, preferring mostly to grouse that leftist views are present on campus in the first place. Two reports—one from Cornell, one from Southern Illinois University—direct their complaints not at bias in the classrooms but at bias in antiwar teach-ins. A dispatch from Holy Cross notes tartly that there had been "five recent campus presentations opposing the use of force against Saddam, and none favoring it." I think the reporter means officially sponsored presentations—the well-known hawk Daniel Pipes spoke there in February, after all—in which case he has proven, at most, that the administration tends to lean left on matters of foreign policy but puts no barriers in the way of those who'd like to offer other viewpoints. Whatever else that may constitute, it is hardly a violation of "academic freedom."

Walker is also rightly skeptical of Horowitz's claim that the ABOR won't amount to affirmative action for Republicans. Horowitz says that the bill is not meant to establish quotas, but as Walker reminds us, "backers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made the exact same promise; Hubert Humphrey famously declared that 'nothing in the bill would permit any official or court to require any employer or labor union to give preferential treatment to any minority group.'"


One thought on “A “Fairness Doctrine” For Universities

  1. Daniel Larison April 28, 2006 / 10:14 pm

    It is funny that you should mention Horowitz today. I was just at a workshop lunch where one of the professors mentioned Horowitz’s little book. When his name was mentioned, I grumbled, and then as the conversation went on I offered helpfully, “He’s a hack.” Of course, whatever Horowitz has to say here has nothing to do with freeing up academia from the terrors of PC and leftist bias, but it is simply a complaint that he and his do not have the power to enforce their own PC and their own biases on pain of blacklisting or personally attacking professors who are lacking in a certain kind of “moral clarity,” which is an example of scraping the bottom of the intellectual barrel. In my view, this has always been the problem with conservatives whining about liberal bias in academia. As someone who has spent a lot of time in academia at all levels, I can confirm that the bias is real and pervasive, but at the same time the response to it has always struck me as whining about the unfairness of being disempowered. In other words, it is the same whining that liberals direct against conservative institutions when they complain of exclusion and a stifling atmosphere, etc. If conservatives want to (re)claim academia, it wouldn’t hurt if more of them actually became notable scholars who are genuinely good at their own research and will command the kind of authority in a field that will begin to establish a conservative academic elite. Horowitz’s tactics are those of a goon squad, whose main appeal is to the worst anti-intellectual strains in the culture. The ABOR is just a formalised version of giving conservative students a crutch to fall back on when they find that they don’t know how to argue their positions well, which is precisely the wrong attitude to instill in these kids. Conservative students should have, or should have to learn, the skills to defend themselves in debate. Unless, of course, what Horowitz wants is a way to ensure that carbon-copy yes-men who spout a certain set of talking points are what pass for “conservatives” in the future. Bringing them up with intellectual crutches like this will make it that much easier to mould and control them later, since they will never have properly learned the kinds of critical thinking and argumentation they need to deflate the claims of the Horowitzes of the world.

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