TCS Daily

Bulls#@* and the Academic Left

By James D. Miller - May 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Graham Larkin, a Stanford humanities professor, injects the words "bullshit", "bullshitter" and "BS" a total of 14 times in his recent 1,192 word op-ed piece in Inside Higher Education, the unintentionally illuminating title of which is "David Horowitz's War on Rational Discourse." Larkin must believe that repetitively labeling Horowitz's utterances as "bullshit" will help convince academics of Horowitz's opposition to "rational discourse."

The academic left has about the same opinion of David Horowitz as the French elite do of President Bush. Horowitz earned the contempt and hatred of left-wing professors in part through proposing an Academic Bill of Rights that seeks to end ideological discrimination against students. The Bill of Rights, at least on its face, should not garner any objections as it contains such phrases as "students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs." Supporters of Horowitz, including myself, believe that the Academic Bill of Rights is necessary to prevent the intolerant subset of the academic left from using their grading and college administrative powers to indoctrinate students and punish dissidents. In contrast, critics of Horowitz, such as Larkin, see this Bill of Rights as a way of foisting right-wing ideology on college campuses.

Larkin makes two slips in his piece, however, that reveal the anti-Republican climate in academia:

  • Slip 1 -- He trashes one of Horowitz's books largely on the basis that it was "much applauded by Karl Rove."
  • Slip 2 -- He claims that Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights is a "guileful attempt to sanction the Fox News agenda in the nation's universities."

Nowhere in his article does Larkin criticize Karl Rove or Fox News, yet he clearly assumes that his readers will think less of someone associated with Karl Rove and Fox News. Larkin's article was not published in some transparently left-wing publication but rather appeared in the non-ideological Inside Higher Ed whose audience, I suspect, is almost entirely college professors and administrators. As he was writing for his academic peers, however, Larkin knew his readers would share his hatred of Karl Rove and Fox News. A conservative student shouldn't be afraid to take a class with a professor who dislikes Karl Rove and Fox News. The student should, however, be wary of taking a class with a professor who assumes that everyone else in academia shares these views.

Along with Bill Kristol and Ann Coulter, David Horowitz recently had a pie thrown at him while he was speaking to a college audience. In response to the pie-throwing incident Larkin wrote, "[Horowitz] also thinks you should go on college lecture circuits where you can use incendiary rhetoric to turn civilized venues into the Jerry Springer show, and then descend into fits of indignant self-pity when someone responds with a pie to your face." (If Horowitz had been a lesbian feminist and the pie thrower a fundamentalist Christian, Larkin would probably have been fired from Stanford for making this remark.) Larkin seems to believe that Horowitz deserved to get smacked in the face with a pie. Now imagine that you're a student in Larkin's class and have read a few of Horowitz's books and agree with many of Horowitz's points. Would you feel that your grade would suffer if your papers made Horowitz-like arguments?

For good or ill, David Horowitz has the support of many college students. His Students for Academic Freedom organization has chapters on 150 campuses (including mine). If, as Larkin does, colleges define Horowitz as so out of bounds that he deserves to have pies and obscenities thrown at him then these colleges are telling many students that their views are not worth being seriously or even fairly considered. Larkin's article, therefore, goes a long way toward proving the need for an Academic Bill of Rights.

James D. Miller writes The Game Theorist column for TCS and is the author of Game Theory at Work.



TCS Daily Archives