Voices of Dissent

, Julia A. Seymour, Leave a comment

“They would have crucified me, except they wouldn’t have called it that,” said professor Stephen C. Zelnick to David Horowitz after the academic freedom hearings at Temple University, that were called by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Zelnick, who is also vice-provost for Temple, exchanged a few words with Horowitz thanking him for making the point that professors and administrations have tremendous power to silence dissidents among their ranks. Horowitz told the committee on academic freedom about the Harvard President who was censured by his faculty; in that instance “they had him on his knees in just a couple days.” Zelnick has no doubt that if he had brought complaints to the faculty senate he would have been crucified.

In his own testimony before the committee, Zelnick explained that he chose to come forward because some people were calling the Pennsylvania State Assembly committee¡¦s actions a witch hunt.

“Students generally learn very quickly, of course, to give the teacher what s/he wants and to keep their own views to themselves. They tell me so all the time. Students learn to keep quiet,” said Zelnick who has sat in on hundreds of classes by other teachers and who has been approached by numerous students who indicated there are problems.

Zelnick did explain that he believes direct abuse of power is probably rare. Nonetheless, bias in subject matter, treatment of issues, injecting of irrelevant opinions occurs more than it should, according to the professor.

“I rarely heard a kind word for the United States, for riches of our marketplace, for the vast economic and creative opportunities made available for energetic and creative people (that is, for our students); for family life, for marriage, for love, or for religion. I did hear a great deal about the importance of diversity and tolerance, about the evils of imperialism; about the need to be skeptical of all institutions and traditional values; and about the stupidity and mendacity of prominent politicians,” he said.

The absence of relevant material from a conservative viewpoint is too common. “What I don’t find are the articulate and persuasive voices on the right, and especially on issues of race: there is no Shelby Steele, no Thomas Sowell, the cantankerous Walter Williams is absent, as is the challenging and courageous Ward Connerly. All these voices are absent and their views absent and unaccounted for,” said Zelnick making the point that the academy has blinders on.

Zelnick pointed to several other problems as well: administrators are very far away from the classroom, there is a lack of respect toward people of faith leading to faith issues being treated glibly, and classes with sensitive and complex issues are taught primarily by grad students.

Anne Neal of American Council of Trustees and Alumni told the committee she believes the lack of intellectual diversity is not a new or isolated problem and it is the biggest problem facing higher education.

ACTA conducted a survey of students at the top 50 colleges and universities, as reported by U.S. News and World Report. The findings were disturbing, according to Neal. The survey covered three issues: injecting of opinions not related to course subject, classroom atmosphere and balanced and comprehensive class materials. They found:

• 49 percent of the students at the top 50 colleges and universities say that their professors frequently injected political comments into their courses, even if they had nothing to do with the subject

• 29 percent of the respondents felt that they had to agree with the professor¡¦s political views to get a good grade

• 48 percent reported campus panels and lecture series on political issues that seemed “totally one-sided.” 46 percent said professors “used the classroom to present their personal political views.” And 42 percent faulted reading assignments for presenting only one side of controversial issues

Neal admitted that this particular study did not include Pennsylvania public colleges, but she believes the figures would be similar and suggested a study like this be conducted among the state system to determine the extent of the problems the committee is looking into. She also said that the problem should not be solved by government intervention, but by asking the schools to monitor themselves and report to the legislature periodically. Neal also promoted involvement of trustees to help correct such problems.

Closing out the hearings, was “the scary guy” David Horowitz. Horowitz is a well known author, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, founder of Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), and author of the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) which he said “has been grossly misrepresented before your committee by the representatives of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).”

Horowitz explained that he speaks on college campuses regularly and has interviewed thousands of students, including some from Pennsylvania colleges and universities. He said he has found that academic freedom is generally framed as the right of professors; “the change I have proposed (through ABOR) is that where faculty is said to have responsibilities, students should be said to have rights.”

Horowitz testified that one Temple student told him, “The chairman of my department, who is my adviser, told me during advising that ‘If Bush gets re-elected we will have a fascist country.’ He [told me] he will be scared for his survival and will consider possibly moving to Canada.”

Horowitz also specifically criticized Temple’s first-year writing program for its ideological bias on gender and race issues. He suggested that in order to create intellectual diversity the college start a new division with new faculty that present the alternative viewpoint that is lacking so that students can choose for themselves which classes they want to take.

Representative James R. Roebuck, Jr. said, “I can¡’t believe that conservatives are so wimpy [that they do not formally complain],” to which Horowitz responded by explaining, “I grew up as a radical. I would scream bloody murder [if it happened to me], but these kids are different. Conservatives are deferential to authority. I wish more kids would do it for themselves, but let’s help them out. You can do a lot of good with a little push.”

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