For supporters of David Horowitz’s student Academic Bill of Rights, academic freedom is about protecting vulnerable students from indoctrination at the hands of radical professors. However, one DePaul University professor recently argued that Horowitz’s conception of academic freedom promotes a “distinctly right-wing agenda” and “contains within it a backhanded insult to the intelligence of the students he is purporting to protect.”
“If the professors listed in Horowitz’s The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America were as silly and irresponsible as Horowitz suggests, why would any student enroll in their courses?” asked Professor Matthew Abraham at a 2009 Modern Language Association panel entitled “Rhetoric and the New Academic Freedom.”
“Is Horowitz maintaining that the students,” he continued, “…have been so bamboozled by the likes of Robert Jensen and Ward Churchill, that they waste their and their parents’ hard-earned dollars on courses that are simply transparent programs of political indoctrination?” (Prof. Abraham coordinated at least three DePaul speeches by radical UT Austin professor Jensen between 2005 and 2007, according to his curriculum vitae.)
According to Prof. Abraham, the 1940 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” upholds the idea that academic disciplines should self-police their own ability to uphold professional norms. But Horowitz argues that “these leftists do not respect and have failed to conform to the professional and institutional norms of the academic profession, essentially forfeiting the claim to academic freedom protections because of their extremism,” he said.
“It’s precisely because academics pose a threat to the right-wing agenda Horowitz champions that he’s so intent in stripping so-called radical professors of their platforms.”
As Accuracy in Academia has documented, self-described “radical professors” from the MLA’s Red Caucus actually debated last year whether critical pedagogy should allow students the option not to adopt radical values.
Prof. Abraham is currently working on Out of Bounds: Academic Freedom and the Question of Palestine, which will be published by Pluto Press later this year; his presentation and CV make it abundantly clear which side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he prefers.
Prof. Abraham’s CV mentions the pro-Palestinian scholar Edward Said no less than a dozen times.
During his presentation Prof. Abraham said that former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein’s failed 2007 bid for tenure “deeply impacted me as a scholar, as [I’d] only been employed at DePaul for about six months when that case rolled along.” He described Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, as an “internationally recognized expert on Israel-Palestine conflict,” the “son of holocaust survivors” who had “been very critical of what he calls the holocaust industry, the Israel lobby and the Zionist American community in the United States…”
While crediting Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz’s “influence” with helping ruin Prof. Finkelstein’s chances, he also conveniently omitted mention of Finkelstein’s offensive behavior toward the latter scholar. In an August 2006 column, entitled “Should Alan Dershowitz Target Himself for Assassination?” Finkelstein writes that
“On his continuum of civilianality [sic] Dershotwitz appears to fall in the proximity of the Hutu radio broadcasters and Streicher less direct in his appeal, more influential in his reach. It is highly unlikely, however, that he will ever be brought before a tribunal for his criminal incitement.”
The article was accompanied by a cartoon which depicts the Harvard professor as pleasuring himself at the sight of dead Lebanese persons (warning: obscene content).
“Dershowitz pulled out all the stops, using every amount of influence he could to deny Finkelstein tenure in a year-long battle with DePaul’s faculty governance council and the political science department there,” argued Prof. Abraham.
Finkelstein is listed among Horowitz’s 101 “most dangerous academics in America,” as is Prof. Jensen. But if Prof. Abraham had his way, academics wouldn’t even concern themselves with Horowitz’s critique. “Perhaps, at some future point in history, we will have been surprised that David Horowitz occupied so much of our time and energy,” he asserts. “The fact that one must respond to him at all signals that the political forces he represents have already achieved more than an insignificant triumph in the culture wars.”
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.