At the academic freedom hearings held in January on Main Campus, academic reform activist David Horowitz said during his testimony before a panel of state legislators that current professional standards were “violated every single day, on every campus in this state, especially at Temple.”
Horowitz, a conservative author known to be instrumental in introducing academic legislation in several states, recently detailed the violations he alleged at the hearings in a controversial new book titled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.
Eliciting strong reactions from Horowitz’s opponents, the phrase “Terrorists, racists and communists – you know them as The Professors,” is printed on the book’s dust jacket. “Facts are facts,” Horowitz said in defense of the statement during a recent interview.
Released on Feb. 13, the book criticizes professors at both public and private colleges and universities across the country. Two of these professors are from Temple.
Melissa Gilbert, an associate professor of geography and urban studies, and Lewis Gordon, a professor of philosophy, are both accused of introducing leftist political agendas into the classroom. The charges made in the book drew sharp responses from university administrators and faculty alike.
Gilbert is assailed for favoring “a teaching approach that puts political ‘social action at the center of academic projects.'” In an e-mail statement, Gilbert said she prefers not to “engage in a point-by-point argument with the book, in order to not provide the appearance of substance where there is none.”
Gordon is accused of structuring Temple’s philosophy department “around ‘genuinely radical’ thinking.” He did not respond to a request to comment for this article.
In a letter printed in the March 2 issue of the Temple Times, president David Adamany denounced Horowitz’s book, calling it a “black list” reminiscent of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s tactics. He asserted that the faculty’s excellent record is its best defense.
Adamany also wrote that he welcomed the visit from the Select Committee of legislators who are investigating academic climates on public campuses across the state, adding that the hearings during winter break reaffirmed the effectiveness of Temple’s academic freedom policies.
The Select Committee’s rules for the hearings required witnesses not to identify Temple teachers by name unless they were notified 24 hours in advance. “David Horowitz does not play by such rules in his new book, … ” Adamany said in the letter.
Horowitz countered Adamany’s statements, saying they are absurd. “I am not a committee; I am a writer,” he said. “…What he [Adamany] doesn’t like is that I show that he’s got some people who are unqualified to be professors on his faculty and that he hasn’t done anything about it.”
Horowitz said much of the evidence against the professors chronicled in the book was gathered through online research. He added that some interviews were also conducted.
He said book sales are currently doing well, estimating that 50,000 copies in hardback will be sold. “I’ve started a dicussion,” Horowitz said. “That’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a big country.”
Other area professors profiled in the book include three from the University of Pennsylvania and two from Pennsylvania State University.
Michael Bérubé, a professor of English literature at Penn State, is described in the book as “a leftist and self-proclaimed ‘progressive educator.'” Bérubé, who has debated Horowitz via online blogging, dismissed the book’s allegation that he is politically indoctrinating his students as “nonsense, nonsense and more nonsense.”
Berube specified several inaccuracies in the book’s account of his academic career, saying several quotes from his published work were taken out of context. “I leave most of my political convictions at the door when I go into the classroom,” he said. “I’m still waiting to see evidence of these indoctrinations.”
The Free Exchange on Campus, a coalition of student, faculty and civil liberty groups, is also challenging the evidence behind the book’s accusations. Megan Fitzgerald, director of the Center for Campus Free Speech, an organization that is part of the coalition, said she believes the book is politically motivated. ” … It’s pretty clear that this is coming from a place where people have an axe to grind,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not attacking professors for the way that they teach. It’s more attacking them for their personal views.”
Horowitz denied the existence of a partisan agenda and said he didn’t include any radically conservative professors in the book because he could not find any. “I say very clearly in my book that it’s not about liberal bias,” he said. “It’s about an intellectual corruption in the university.”
Although the majority of students who were interviewed oppose the book’s allegations, senior law and business major Logan Fisher said he enjoyed reading it.
Fisher is the chairman of Temple College Republicans and vice president of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization founded by Horowitz.
Fisher testified at the hearings, saying that he and several others had felt alienated in the classroom by professors because of their political beliefs. ” … At the hearing they [legislators] kept saying, well ‘tell us how, give us examples,’ Fisher said in an interview.
“They got what they asked for, they wanted to know specific instances and that’s what [Horowitz] produced in his book.”
Other students, such as senior journalism major Kim Teplitzsky and senior political science major Kristen Asher, strongly condemned the book.
“The book is a scare tactic,” said Teplitsky, who is working with The Free Exchange on Campus against Horowitz’s campaign. “But I don’t think it’s going to work because I think we’re smarter than that as a society.”
After thumbing through the book and scanning the contents of its pages, Asher, a former student of Gordon’s, said ” … I think Horowitz twists information and lies about professors.”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.