“You could mention my name in any hallway in any academic institution and you would have people foaming at the mouth,” said David Horowitz, a noted conservative commentator, of his reputation as a controversial crusader for academic freedom at universities across the country.
“I have a slogan,” continued Horowitz during a recent interview. “It says you can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story.”
After visiting more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide and interviewing thousands of students, Horowitz decided that this was exactly what university professors were doing: telling students half the story. His campaign to reform academia, which he launched in 2003, has been making waves ever since.
Horowitz founded Students for Academic Freedom, an organization that he said is dedicated to the promotion of intellectual diversity and educational values. He also authored the Academic Bill of Rights, which Horowitz said can help curb political indoctrination in the classroom.
Horowitz attributed the language of House Resolution 177, which was passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in July, to that of the Academic Bill of Rights. The resolution established a House Select Committee that is currently investigating the enforcement of academic freedom policies at public colleges and universities in the state.
As part of its fact-finding tour, the committee recently held hearings at Temple’s Main Campus. Assuming his role as a major player in the academic freedom movement, Horowitz gave controversial testimony on Jan. 10 before a panel of legislators. His appearance at the hearings marked his first time at Temple.
The allegations he made included an assertion that Temple’s curriculum was dominated by leftist principles. Horowitz specifically highlighted problems he had with the intellectual heritage department and first-year writing program.
“While Temple has an academic freedom policy, it is disregarded and not enforced,” he said. “Whole courses at Temple … violate the basic principle of academic freedom as defined by the American Association of University Professors.”
President David Adamany and members of the university’s faculty denied the existence of a widespread problem and said that no aggrieved students have come forward with complaints.
Horowitz countered by saying that students are not being made aware of their rights.
“It’s so normal to have your professor call George Bush a moron in class,” he said. “You don’t know that your academic freedom rights are being violated when they do that.”
Horowitz’s opponents have denounced his efforts to reform higher education as an agenda to promote conservative doctrines in university curricula. He has dismissed these criticisms by offering $10,000 to anyone who can substantiate a recent charge made by the American Historical Association against the Academic Bill of Rights.
“You can’t read a story about me in a leftist journal without … connecting me to right-wing funding and this and that,” Horowitz said. “Why don’t they just deal with the issues?”
Despite Horowitz’s strong affiliation with the conservative right, he was once radically liberal.
He dubbed himself a “Marxist revolutionary” as an undergraduate at Columbia University during the 1950s. He blamed an incident involving the Black Panther party for his drastic political shift.
“What the left says sounds very good but, in practice, it works out very badly,” said Horowitz, who has written several books about his political transformation.
Reminiscing about his days as a student, Horowitz hailed his time at Columbia as the ideal academic experience.
“In my day, professors did not use the classroom as a soapbox for their politics,” he said. “I am so grateful to my professors for being so professional and I want every student to have the same privilege.”
Members of Horowitz’s staff applaud his mission as a heroic cause.
“I think it takes a lot of courage to go up against a system as big as the university system and to put up with what he’s been putting up with as far as being attacked, misrepresented and misquoted constantly,” Elizabeth Ruiz, his personal assistant, said.
Brad Shipp, who is the national field director for Students for Academic Freedom, agreed.
“… If you listen to David’s message, you would be amazed that students from the left and students from the right are not standing up and shouting from the ramparts of the university,” Shipp said.
While Horowitz’s employees praise him, some legislators on the Select Committee, including state Rep. Dan Surra (D., Elk) and state Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheney), remain skeptical of his motives.
“He’s in many ways sincere, though I think there are forces at play behind him that certainly are politically motivated,” said Frankel in an interview after Horowitz’s testimony.
Regardless of his obstacles, Horowitz said he is determined to achieve his goal of higher education reform.
“What I am pushing is so basically American and democratic, and that’s why I’m going to win this,” he said. “I’m raising the issues and I’m not going to stop that no matter what the committee does.”
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.