Campaign Stirs Debate over 'Liberal' Academics

Conservative activist and author David Horowitz is on a mission to purge what he sees as liberal bias from universities. In a new book, Horowitz revives a perennial debate over how college professors treat conservative students and their ideas.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up: rev up your engines for Daytona. But first, the water cooler topic on many campuses this week: Did you make this list? A new book is out called The 101 Most Dangerous Academics. David Horowitz, the author, has set out to identify what he calls quote "terrorists, racists, sexual deviants, Communists and Al Qaeda supporters" lurking in the university. It's part of a campaign against what he says is a liberal bias in higher education. NPR's Elaine Korry reports.

ELAINE KORRY reporting:

Beware aging hippie peace professors, up-and-coming Middle East scholars and proponents of the queer theory. David Horowitz is after you. Horowitz, a Marxist turned conservative, claims liberals have made universities a battleground.

Mr. DAVID HOROWITZ (Author and Conservative Activist): There are so many campuses where students are singled out in class because they're conservatives. These universities are hyper-sensitive over racial slights, over sexual orientation slights, but open warfare is okay on conservatives.

KORRY: The alleged liberal bias on campus is a perennial debate, and it won't be settled by this book. But according to survey last year by the Chronicle of Higher Education, at least half the American people think it exists. 68% of conservatives are convinced, and Horowitz has no doubts. He describes a recent visit to the foreign languages department of a college in Florida.

Mr. HOROWITZ: And on the office door they had a photograph of a dog urinating on a Bush-Cheney poster with Good Doggy written underneath it. Now, aside from that being sophomoric, it sends a signal to every conservative kid who's going there to look for help in their career or whatever in foreign languages.

KORRY: Horowitz says this kind of politicking is rampant. His response? Throw some bombs himself. All the old '60s radicals turn up in the book: Tom Hayden, Angela Davis, Weather Underground founders Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorn. But Horowitz also fingers some unlikely suspects: sociologist Robert Dunkley, a registered Republican; ethnic studies professor Larry Estrada, a former Marine who fought in Vietnam. And there's Orville Shell, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. A China scholar who's been kicked out of the People's Republic, Shell says this book is outrageous.

Mr. ORVILLE SHELL (Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley): You know, I spent 40 years covering China, and I really have a very deep and abiding acquaintance with what it is to be intimidated. I am unalterably opposed to that, and this school makes an extreme effort to be exactly the opposite.

KORRY: Horowitz describes the UC Journalism School as a quote "hot-house culture of left wing exotics." Maybe, but second-year student Joshua Chin mocks the very notion that mild-mannered Dean Shell is a radical.

Mr. JOSHUA CHIN (Student, University of California at Berkeley): Yeah, he's an incredibly dangerous man, actually. I see him prowling around the hallways corrupting minds all over the place.

KORRY: Classmate Jen Buck(ph) is just as baffled by the accusations.

Ms. JEN BUCK (Student, University of California at Berkeley): I've never thought of him as radical. In fact, the closest he's come to forcing anything on me is saying hi in the hall as he passes.

KORRY: Professors who've made the list denounce it as a smear full of inaccuracies with scant discussion of what actually happens in the classroom. The criticism doesn't faze David Horowitz, who's getting lots of attention on talk shows such as the Fox Network's Hannity and Colmes.

Mr. HOROWITZ: You know, what does it say for a university. It has a, somebody who has a, really, a Nazi version of Islam on its faculty, when he attacks students.

KORRY: But beyond the hyperbole, Horowitz has a greater aim: to convince lawmakers they need to legislate against liberal bias. He's the author of what he calls an academic bill of rights, which has been introduced in nearly half the states. It calls for a range of measures to ensure free speech and fairness in hiring and grading. Yet even some conservatives say the bill is misguided.

Stephen Thernstrom, an historian at Harvard, has no doubt that liberals dominate universities, to the detriment of scholarship, but even he hasn't endorsed the bill of rights.

Mr. STEPHEN THERNSTROM (Historian, Harvard University): I'm not sure that the remedy for the politicization of the university is to extend greater political control over it. That is, to have government intervention.

KORRY: Hearings on academic freedom are being held this year in Pennsylvania, but as of now, no state has actually passed the legislation.

Elaine Korry, NPR News.

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