Phi Beta Cons

Horowitz vs. Academia

One of the curious things about the academic freedom debates is the way the opponents are framed. Usually, it’s Horowitz vs. the entire U.S. professorate. Here is a story today in Insidehighered.com entitled just that: “Uniting against Horowitz.” It reports on a new coalition of academic and civil-liberties groups coordinating protests and polemics to drown out the dreaded and illiberal Academic Bill of Rights movement. One member group called Free Exchange on Campus describes its mission as “advocating for the rights of students and faculty to hear and express a full range of ideas unencumbered by political or ideological interference.”
We can all agree to that, but it begs the question of the choice of targets. Across the country we have speech codes written into campus by-laws, ideological advocacy groups passing themselves off as academic centers and departments, and university administrators who need regular lessons in the First Amendment. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports that about 85% of its complaints come from right-of-center figures being victimized, usually by the university-powers-that-be. And yet, what gets these groups exercised is one aging man in Los Angeles whose books and web site have rightly tapped into public dissatisfaction with the state of higher education.
The remarkable thing about it is that all the institutional heft falls behind the academics–the AAUP, the Modern Language Association, the American Council on Education, . . . Added to that, the academics themselves (the tenured ones, at least) are just about the most pampered and protected labor group in modern history. Why in the world are they so threatened and outraged?

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