Public Enemy No. 1

, Julia A. Seymour, Leave a comment

A marked hostility, if not a hatred, for David Horowitz was an oft repeated theme during the 2005 Modern Language Association Convention held in Washington D.C., and the session, “Graduate Student Teaching and the Culture Wars” was no exception.

Henry James Morello, a Penn State University lecturer, kicked off the session with a talk entitled “David Horowitz Owes Us an Apology.” “The Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) is one man’s attempt to manipulate the concept of academic freedom and force his personal agenda on others,” Morello said.

“The Student Bill of Rights [ABOR and similar ones] has been used by extreme factions of the Republican party to attack liberalism in the academy,” said Morello.

Morello believes that ABOR is dangerous and that Horowitz, its author, owes an apology to teachers, students, parents and businessmen for his incorrect assumptions and negative impact on education.

Horowitz’s belief that college students across the country are being indoctrinated by liberal professors indicates that he “assumes students are empty-headed and gullible,” said Morello, who countered by saying, “If the academy is left, why isn’t the left dominating…” and asked why so many students leave college as conservatives.

Students are not blank slates, and many get their values from their parents, so Horowitz must have a problem with parents, said Morello. “We do our jobs as parents, and we don’t need you, David Horowitz, telling us what to do,” he said.

Morello also criticized what he sees as the negative impact on students by Horowitz. Horowitz causes students to have a lack of respect for their teachers by encouraging them to investigate their professors and help run a blacklist on, according to Morello. This lack of respect for students turns into a problem within the workforce after college too, Morello said. Morello also believes Horowitz is also helping fuel students’ sense of entitlement

“David Horowitz owes us [students, teachers, parents and businessmen] an apology,” Morello repeated. The conclusion he came to was that “David Horowitz is fighting a war against higher education…Trying to spread fear and mistrust like a virus and the best to inoculate is education.” Students of all stripes should be challenged equally. All ideas should be vigorously challenged,” Morello said.

After the “Horowitz is the greatest threat to modern education” speech by Morello, Nicole McFarlane of North Carolina A&T presented “Keeping the ‘Historically Black’ of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” in which she discussed much of the history of North Carolina A&T and the challenges it has faced, as well as the personal challenge it has provided her with.

The most remarkable lesson McFarlane says she learned was how not to take things personally and how cultural politics are socially constructed.

The third speech was by Frank Gaughan of Hofstra University and Peter Khost of SUNY-Stony Brook. It was entitled, “Reading, Writing and Representing:Understanding Long Divisions in Literature and Composition.”

After Gaughan’s initial explanation that the humanities are facing a relevancy crisis, Khost explained that such departments are publicly criticized with comments like “My kids aren’t being taught to read and write because they’re [professors] trying to turn them into Marxists, feminists, homosexuals or worse: graduate students.” The public considers the work we do abstruse, cryptic and absurd continued Khost.

The pair went on to say that few professors explain things well, and fewer students are becoming English majors and the cycle of a bad reputation, influencing people not to major in the subject and a greater stratification of jobs will continue unless something is done.

Statistically, Khost said that from 1970-2001 the number of English majors dropped by one-third, but there are the same number of English professors and they have trouble finding work because there aren’t enough students. “We need to make it more relevant” in order to attract students back to it, Khost said.

We need to go public, said Gaughan, meaning that since colleges are already public it only makes sense to open the lines of communication, practice our discourse theories with the public, and act out internally and externally. We should establish dialogue between all groups to supplant negative views of our work, said Gaughan.

“The better we’re able to explain what we’re doing, the better we can make a case for what is going on,” Gaughan explained.

Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.