From a colleague: Bully of the Academic Schoolyard

Refusing to offer David Horowitz a platform is not indicative of intolerance – it is application of standards that fairy tales and schoolyard bullying simply do not meet. Rather than introducing debate of issues of academic freedom by extending speaking offers to well known conservative and liberal scholars NCA has elected to turn itself into the quasi-academic version of a Bill O’Reilly shouting match. As an unfortunate result, Horowitz has been handed more fodder to spin into his complaints about academic bias and censorship, and those involved owe NCA members an explanation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified David Horowitz’s right-wing ideological campaign against intellectualism as “bigoted and discredited”. In Pennsylvania, Horowitz’s claims of academic bias were found – by a taxpayer funded investigation of the Pennsylvania State System Universities and state affiliated schools, including Penn State – to be utterly without merit.

Despite Horowitz’s widely recognized agenda, absolute lack of credibility, and problematic stances on issues of diversity and race, Michael Hogan extended an offer – on behalf of NCA, on behalf of all of us who are dues paying members – to allow Horowitz to speak at the annual convention of our organization. Now Hogan is “personally disappointed” that Horowitz won’t be using NCA as a public stage for his anti-academic crusade?

What are the “important issues” that Horowitz raises and Hogan believes are so vital to the proceedings at NCA that Hogan would allow our membership to be manipulated into Horowitz’s line of fire? The notion that anyone whose political ideology is left of center supports terrorism? The misrepresentation of academia through analyses that any well-taught undergraduate could poke holes through? The intolerant and inflammatory labeling of critical discussion as “anti-Semitic”? Unsubstantiated, wildly over exaggerated, and inaccurate claims of “indoctrination” by faculty repeatedly found false by neutral agencies and even Horowitz’s own allies? The accusation of a lack of professionalism by faculty who are registered Democrats, as though we are unable to distinguish between personal politics and classroom conduct?

Since when do those in our profession endeavor to elevate sophistry to the position of reasoned discourse?

Next year, I could make sure that I submit academic work before the due date (lest I be scolded by the powers that be) and then wait for a competitive review to determine if my research meets NCA’s standards. It seems, though, that I would be better served if I spent my time producing shoddy scholarship by bullhorn and waiting for Mike Hogan to give me a call.

–Kara Lakowski

Shippensburg University

Adria Battaglia on David Horowitz: Politics is War

This excerpted from the Rhetoric Society of America’s “Blogora” (http://rsa.cwrl.utexas.edu/?q=node/2000):

Communicating About David Horowitz

Submitted by Adria on February 22, 2008 – 4:41pm.

Inside Higher Ed has an article out about NCA’s decision not to invite (or to take back the invitation to) Horowitz.

I feel a bit confused about the portrayal of both the events and of Cloud’s involvement in the matter (leaving the comments section of the article aside for now). Mostly, I’m troubled by the implicit assumption that there are no real consequences to even the most rhetorically-sanctioned public sphere for “deliberative discourse.” To assume that Horowitz would speak and there would be or could be no effects goes against everything I understand discourse to be and do.

Consequently, I’m also troubled by the suggestion that a counter-demonstration to Horowitz would have been inapprorpiate. Some suggested the protests could be a threat to his safety. As someone who voiced her support of a counter-demonstration to his potential presence, I find this suggestion demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role of protests, as well as a complete lack of acknowledgment of the ideological assumptions in free speech, academic freedom, and deliberative discourse. Not all protests, even those that question the privileging, legitimating, and naturalizing narrative of “academic freedom” and of “free speech” in general, are meant to create violent disruptions. (The guy is going to be a chapter in my dissertation–if anything, I would very much like an interview with him).

Furthermore, why must Horowitz’s presence be the only means for NCA scholars to engage concepts such as political indoctrination and academic freedom? In my research for the comps question on academic freedom, I came across an interview with Stanley Fish, who, for those of you who would have liked Horowitz to be in attendance, wrote:

“[Horowtiz’s] strong suggestion is that academic freedom and intellectual diversity go together, but in fact they pull in opposite directions. Academic freedom is the freedom to go wherever an intellectual inquiry takes you without regard to directives proclaimed in advance by a regime of prior restraint. Intellectual diversity is a prior restraint; it tells you where to look and what you must look at—you must take into account every point of view independently of whether you think it is worth considering—and it tells you what materials you must include in your syllabus.” (Stanley Fish, “Think Again,” New York Times, 2 May 2006.)

Of course, I think Fish generously assumes Horowitz’s intentions to be legitimate, which I do not. But regardless, is not the negative response to NOT inviting Horowitz an assumption that we need to look in a particular direction to a particular person and consider his outrages attacks against (and the subsequent implicit harassment of) numerous scholars as a legitimate perspective?? I don’t think we need Horowitz to provoke an intellectually rigorous conversation about what is academic freedom (which, for the record, although the Supreme Court still can’t figure out, should NOT be conflated with free speech…which, it should be pointed out, advocates the right to hold counter-demonstrations without violence or disruption).

The article ends with: “Horowitz said of the turn of events: ‘It is obviously a rejection of the idea of by the NCA — the idea being that after five years David Horowitz should actually get to present his ideas to an academic association…. The fact that no academic group has had the balls to invite me says a lot about the ability of academic associations to discuss important issues if a political minority wants to censor them.'”

You know, in a 2000 interview with Scott Sherman of The Nation, Horowitz discussed his feelings on another what-he-hoped-to-be turn of events: “Lapsed radicals like ourselves are always condemned to regard the left as their Great White Whale. This book is a record of our sighting of the beast. We may not yet have set the final harpoon, but we have given chase.”

“Politics is war. Don’t forget.” –Horowitz, The Art of Political War: And Other Radical Pursuits (Texas: Spence Publishing, 2000), 11.

Protest is not censorship.

For the record, I have not advocated censorship of views opposed to my own (with one exception: right wing hate groups like the Klan and National Alliance–they recruit people to kill others). It is an embrace of the First Amendment, not an affront to it, to meet hateful speech with more speech. In political contexts, conservatives heckle me all the time. That’s politics. If I were to speak at a FrontPageMag conference or any other Horowitz outfit, I’d certainly expect a noisy crowd. I would not think that protests were an attempt to censor me.

There may be no specific “right” to disruptive protest, but there is a proud tradition of it; sometimes it is a necessity.

Horowitz feels threatened by 44 year old professor, won’t attend NCA without bodyguard

Well, InsideHigherEd today reported that NCA has withdrawn its invitation to David Horowitz to debate at its annual meeting this November. See story at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/02/19/horowitz .

Here is my response:

My reasons for not welcoming Horowitz have less to do with his anti-intellectualism (for he is, in a Gramscian sense, an intellectual organic to the ruling class) than with with decidedly opportunistic and explicitly McCarthyist m.o. The man is about persecuting intellectuals, not engaging them.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: We may remember these years as the “Horowitz years” in the same way that people remember McCarthyism if we do not successfully interrupt his campaign to purge critical intellectuals from the academy.

NCA’s decision is proof, in fact, that protest (even simply the “threat” of protest) works. I find it ironic that a communication association housing some prominent social movement scholars fears peaceful protest so much. But the implication that I or others would pose a physical threat to DH is ridiculous. He can play the martyr but the fact of the matter is, he is not getting a credible hearing. He can whine all he wants to.

Getting Ann Neal, instead, however is no victory and now we must strategize as to how to respond productively but strongly to her agenda as well. ACTA (her outfit) was the organization behind the Churchill firing; their report called him “low hanging fruit,” and intimated that his case was just the beginning of their quieter efforts to rid universities of activists.

I believe that the influence of these folks is waning given recent shifts in the national political climate. However, I believe that they must always be challenged in public in the way that McCarthy–once dismissed as a crank–should have been from the get-go.