David Horowitz, a conservative activist widely regarded as the driving force behind academic freedom legislation, assailed Temple’s intellectual diversity and the professionalism of its professors during an animated and combative testimony Tuesday, Jan. 10, before the state House Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education.
Horowitz, who capped a two-day hearing on Main Campus by state officials investigating possible teaching biases, introduced himself to the 12-member panel and a crowd of approximately 50 people with four words:
“I’m the scary guy.”
As the president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the founder of Students for Academic Freedom, Horowitz is leading a nationwide lobbying effort to compel state legislators to examine the effectiveness of academic freedom policies that all universities are required by law to have.
He is also the author of the Academic Bill of Rights, which Horowitz said can serve as a guide for university administrators who want to better enforce academic freedom policies and grievance policies, testifying that current university rules are “violated every single day on every campus in this state, especially at Temple.”
“I wouldn’t be persuaded to be here if it wasn’t for 20 years of being on campuses and seeing this,” testified Horowitz, who said he interviewed more than 100 area students, as well as hundreds more at universities across the country.
Horowitz’s testimony bookended two days of hearings that began with President David Adamany, who defended the professional standards of the university’s professors and its academic freedom policies. While Adamany offered ways to improve methods of informing students about their academic freedoms, he said in more than five years as president he has not received any formal complaints made by students alleging teaching bias.
Free speech groups and conservative activists, including Horowitz, say they are increasingly concerned that students are not sufficiently informed of their academic freedoms and are therefore more vulnerable to indoctrination by radical teachers. Horowitz and others say a lack of formal complaints by students can be attributed to fear of retribution.
Professors roundly deny those claims, saying professional standards and existing policies are more than enough to guard against teaching biases and to ensure student rights.
“I have no idea of the abuses to which [Horowitz] has referred to,” said Adamany during the first day of testimony. “Our students are an assertive group. They do not hesitate to complain. There are no complaints. There’s no retaliation that should discourage students from complaining.”
State lawmakers in July passed House Resolution 177 to investigate the charges against professors and to ensure that current policies are effective. The resolution created the committee, which is touring the state to examine if possible slanted teaching at public and state-related universities is cause for corrective legislation.
The committee so far held testimony in Harrisburg and at the University of Pittsburgh. Following Temple, the legislative panel will travel to central Pennsylvania for two hearings before May. The committee must then present its findings before November 30.
Pennsylvania is the first state to form such a committee, though nearly 20 other states have considered similar action.
To lead Tuesday’s testimony, William E. Scheuerman, president of United University Professions at the State University of New York, and William Cutler III, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, said unsubstantiated claims have been used to “hurl allegations” against professors who “live and die” by professional standards.
“Horowitz’s picture of higher education is as incorrect as it is insulting,” Scheuerman said.
Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Stephen Zelnick, a veteran Temple professor, sharply criticized the academe for its lack of intellectual diversity. Both agreed that teaching biases are pervasive and suggested that universities prepare annual academic freedom reports to submit to state officials.
“In the face of years and years of denial by the academe, legislators must not bury their heads in the sand,” Neal said.
Zelnick said many inexperienced, “highly idealistic and deeply opinionated” faculty teach the university’s general education courses – including Temple’s race requirement – and added that in observing 100 classes, he “almost never heard a kind word about conservative issues.”
Horowitz said two other Temple programs – intellectual heritage and the university’s first-year writing program – also violate academic freedoms by pushing political agendas.
Horowitz said the goal of the first-year writing program, which includes English 40 and English 50, “is to indoctrinate students with radical views of gender and, to a lesser degree, race.”
During public comment, Susan Wells, chair of the English department, refuted Horowitz, testifying that “we desperately value having different perspectives in the classroom.” Daniel Tompkins, director of intellectual heritage, also defended his program’s curriculum, saying that Zelnick and Horowitz were “cherry picking intelligence.”
Throughout Horowitz’s lengthy testimony (it went 40 minutes over his deadline) that featured heated exchanges between him and some representatives, he stressed that academic freedom inquiries are not meant to attack liberal professors. Horowitz said all viewpoints should be respected.
“What we are devoted to today,” Horowitz said, “are manners.”
Venuri Siriwardane and Brandon Lausch can be reached at TempleNews@GMail.com.