OAKLAND, California - A specter is again haunting U.S. colleges and universities.
At the beginning of the Cold War in the early 1950s, Joseph McCarthy, the infamous
Republican senator from Wisconsin, stalked the political landscape recklessly
hurling charges that hordes of Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government
before, during, and after World War II.
Sen. McCarthy and his band of self-proclaimed patriots also trained their guns
on the creative community – writers, directors, and actors working in Hollywood
and on Broadway – as well as public school teachers and academics on college
campuses across the country.
The hysteria these men stirred up through largely unsubstantiated charges caused
thousands of people to lose their jobs. Some committed suicide.
Flash forward 50 years: David Horowitz, the 1960s left-wing radical turned
right-wing activist/provocateur and Republican political consultant, has picked
up McCarthy's baton. Disguised as an attempt to broaden free speech on campus,
Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights – which aims to stifle the speech of liberal
academics – has been making the rounds of state houses and college campuses
during the past year or so.
In Florida, State Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has introduced an
Academic Freedom Bill of Rights after he "attended a conservative conference
in St. Louis last summer where Horowitz spoke about academic freedom,"
the St. Petersburg Times reported.
Baxley's legislation, which in late March passed out of the House Choice and
Innovation Committee by an 8-to-2 vote (the only two Democrats on the committee
voted against it), was a broad assault on academic freedom.
In addition to guaranteeing that students would "not be punished for professing
beliefs with which their professors disagree," the bill would have advised
professors "to teach alternative 'serious academic theories' that may disagree
with their personal views."
"Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about
Intelligent Design [a creationist theory], and if you don't like it, there's
the door,'" Baxley maintained.
According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, students who felt their
views were disrespected in the classroom or thought they were singled out for
"public ridicule" by their professors would have the right to sue
them and the university.
"Despite the state Senate's decision not to consider Baxley's bill, I
have heard that he hasn't given up and may reintroduce the House bill next session,"
Susan Greenbaum, the president of the Faculty Senate at the University of South
Florida, told IPS.
"Baxley also appealed directly to the state's university presidents to
implement his proposals administratively. As chair of the Education Council
and as a member of the Education Appropriations Committee, a very important
House committee, Baxley certainly has their attention."
"The real test," Greenbaum pointed out, "will come in whether
there is an escalation in student grievances at Florida universities, and what
happens to those complaints. However, what seems to be lacking in this whole
issue is real student dissatisfaction. They have garnered almost no action among
students on these campuses; David Horowitz presented a pitiful array of dubious
anecdotes when he testified in Tallahassee."
In addition to Florida, legislators in 13 other states have introduced some
type of "Academic Freedom" legislation. California and Maine are considering
"an academic bill of rights [containing] an eight-point credo designed
to increase political diversity in the classroom."
In early June, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, "Four state
universities in Colorado [had] adopted the principles under legislative pressure
In Minnesota, right-wing state senator Michelle Bachman, a vocal opponent of
gay rights, introduced two bills modeled on Horowitz's complaints, one targeted
at state colleges and universities and one at state high schools.
Horowitz who operates a number of projects – including the online magazine
Frontpagemag.com out of the well-funded offices of his Los Angeles, Calif.-based
Center for the Study of Popular Culture – set up Students for Academic
Freedom in 2003, to do the grunt work. Since then, the Washington-based outfit
has been making headway on college campuses across the nation.
Students for Academic Freedom is not only involved with lobbying state legislatures;
on some campuses, they and similarly minded groups have launched an all-out
assault on liberal professors, using classic McCarthyite tactics.
At Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) in Santa Rosa, Calif., the struggle over
academic freedom took a particularly ugly turn earlier this year. Conservative
students, supporting a California version of a Student Bill of Rights, issued
"leaflets quoting Section 51530 of the [California] Education Code,"
and then "anonymously posted [them] on the doors of ten faculty members"
at the college, veteran journalist David Bacon reported.
The leaflet quoted the code:
"No teacher – shall advocate or teach communism with the intent to
indoctrinate, inculcate in the mind of any pupil a preference for communism."
Such "advocacy," the statute says, means teaching "for the purpose
of undermining patriotism for, and the belief in, the government of the United
States and of this state."
Claiming responsibility for the action, SRJC Republicans issued a press release
stating that they "did this because we believe certain instructors at SRJC
are in violation of California state law."
At the same time, a news release appeared on the website of California College
Republicans headlined "Operation 'Red Scare.'" In McCarthyite cant,
the organization's chair, Michael Davidson, told reporter John Gorenfeld "a
lot of the college professors are leftovers from the Seventies – and Communist
Meanwhile, in Florida, Horowitz's local partner, Rep. Dennis Baxley, appears
to see himself as a modern-day Daniel fighting the lions of liberal academia.
During the debate over his legislation, Baxley claimed he was called a McCarthyist
by "leftist critics [who] ridicule me for daring to stand up for students
Then, similar to a tactic used by Sen. Joseph McCarthy himself, Baxley claimed
that he "had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors,"
but, the St. Petersburg Times reported, he "refused to reveal names
because he felt they would be persecuted."
Horowitz's efforts at campuses across the country, and Rep. Baxley's work in
Florida "represents an inversion of the original intent of academic freedom,
which is to protect the right of professors to express controversial ideas without
fear of retaliation," Susan Greenbaum maintains.
"This protection is designed to shield free inquiry and encourage innovation.
It enables the creation of new knowledge and secures the basis to challenge
old ideas," she continued.
"In Baxley's bill – which is really the Horowitz bill – students are
customers, whose tastes and prejudices must be accommodated. Professors are
likened to vendors who must take care not to offend or disturb those who have
come to purchase their wares."
"It's like the Wal-Mart model: Maybe they can import holographic images
of professors made in China, attractive classroom automatons who can be programmed
to present marketable and politically acceptable material," she said dryly.
(Inter Press Service)