Campus / News / April 8, 2009

Horowitz introduces controversy into Knox College civil discourse

Conservative author and commentator David Horowitz spoke to a crowded audience in Kresge Hall Monday evening on the liberal bias in the American university system. This topic is the subject of his latest book, “One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine our Democracy.” The event, which was co-sponsored by the Knox Republicans, the Intellectual Diversity Foundation (IDF), and the Young America’s Foundation, was well attended with an almost equal mix of students, members of the Galesburg community and a handful of professors.

Horowitz was introduced by Knox alumni and founder of IDF Cory Atkinson, who has worked with the Knox Republicans to secure a relationship that brings speakers to campus each term. Atkinson noted that Horowitz’s previous engagements have included appearances on television shows such as the O’Reilly Factor and Crossfire, and have earned him a reputation as an incendiary personality.

Horowitz has spoken at over 250 universities in the US, and he expressed his gratitude for the lack of protest at Knox, particularly in light of previous engagements that he mentioned have required him to bring bodyguards to his talks.

Horowitz began the talk by citing a Harvard study, announcing “95 percent professors in the liberal arts are on the political left.” He continued to say, “Of a hundred-odd faculty [at Knox], there are eight conservatives. This is deplorable. It doesn’t happen by accident either.”

Although many of the assertions Horowitz made were controversial, he spoke in a rather subdued manner for a little under an hour. He said that the university system has declined to a regrettable standard since the time of his education, and that students are often served with radical ideology rather than education, as professors teach their opinions as facts without offering alternative perspectives. He firmly said, “You can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story. Even if you’re paying $40,000 a year.”

The primary targets of this criticism were women’s and black studies departments, which according to Horowitz, “are not academic departments or fields but political parties.”

In these disciplines, Horowitz reasoned that students are given controversial opinions as scientific fact, and denied access to opposing arguments due to professors’ failures to assign readings on the other side of the issues.

In writing his latest book, Horowitz said he referenced course catalogues, syllabi, and reading lists from 150 courses at 12 large American universities. He said that by applying this initial survey to the 4,000 American colleges and universities he reached the conclusion that there are “somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand courses whose purpose is to indoctrinate students … [which] teach that America is a racist, sexist homophobic imperialist power.”

Later in the evening, when asked a question about the issue of race in our society, Horowitz said, “America is the most tolerant country on earth and if you’re not being taught that in class, you’re being brainwashed.”

During the question period, senior and president of the Knox Republicans Mike Burt read questions audience members had submitted on note cards (a formatting decision made after consideration of John Ashcroft’s visit last spring). According to Sue Hulett, faculty adviser to the Knox Republicans and professor of political science, Horowitz was disappointed by this mediation, and some students certainly shared his sentiment. The format maintained a civility between the speaker and the audience despite several tense moments when students disregarded the regulations in favor of a free exchange with the speaker.

There was a palpable change in the auditorium as questions like “what should colleges do to address the issue of racism?” and “how can you, as a white male, say that race and gender are not issues in our society today?” gave way to fiery tangents into Horowitz’s radical conservative ideology.

One particularly tense moment occurred as a question alleging that white males run the media and government remained unfinished as Horowitz interrupted, chanting “Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama,” and was met by clapping from sections of the audience and the stunned silence of the rest.

There was an uncomfortable divide in the auditorium, as a number of audience members chuckled at opportune moments and nodded in agreement throughout the talk as others remained quiet, allowing only an occasional hiss, or “wow.” The division was particularly notable at the night’s conclusion, when half of the auditorium, led by older members of the Galesburg community, applauded in a standing ovation while the remainder of the audience, largely students, remained seated with resolve, heading for the door only as a queue of visitors formed for Horowitz’s book.

Asked about the decision to bring Horowitz to Knox, Burt said he had seen Horowitz at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and that he had been impressed with his performance there. He said, “It really hit home, having things that he was talking about that have happened to me personally,” although he was quick to include that there “are a lot of good professors who give two perspectives.”

Additionally, Burt said that in considering Knox’s reception of Ashcroft last spring, Horowitz seemed a good choice to address problems surrounding the idea that “no other opinion is valid,” referencing the protests of Ashcroft’s visit.

Burt said that he thought the evening “went great … a lot better than I had hoped even.”

Opinions on the night were varied. When asked her opinion on the night’s talk, a community member who wished to remain anonymous said, “As a Knox graduate, the school would do very well to take some of his advice about intellectual diversity in the classroom.”

Junior Abby Pardick voiced her opinion that “David Horowitz was a complete hypocrite. He was standing in front of signs that said intellectual diversity and then continued to preach from his podium that diversity is not what we needed, but instead a society with a rule that applied to everyone.”

Senior Pac Pobric said, “I would really appreciate it if the Knox Republicans would at least once bring someone on to campus with whom our student body could engage in with a real conversation. By inviting David Horowitz and before him John Ashcroft, the Knox Republicans only succeeded in bringing in conservatives with whom no one can engage in with conversation. What ends up happening is that a series of inflammatory remarks are made on both sides, and nothing gets done. The result? Another huge waste of time. In effect, just as with the John Ashcroft lecture, all who attended learned nothing, no real conversation was had, and the events can effectively be described as non-events.”

Offering an extended opinion on the event, Kelly Shaw, professor of psychology and gender and women’s studies, said that she was in favor of having speakers with a variety of perspectives visit Knox and present opportunities for students to ask questions, but that she did not believe that there were many thoughtful answers provided at the talk.

Of Horowitz, Shaw said, “I think that he did not hold himself to the same intellectual standard that he says he expects from everyone else, an example of that for me would be his claim that the fact that we have elected a black president means that racism is over in this country…he also used the same logic in referring to the oppression of women by saying that there is no oppression of women and the proof of that is that we’ve had female secretaries of state. We’re trying to help students learn how to think critically here … his statements on racism and sexism using those examples to back up the idea that they no longer exist would not be acceptable evidence to present in the classroom.”

Hulett said, “Horowitz certainly presented a provocative set of ideas about liberal professors (primarily in the social sciences and humanities) being the overwhelming majority in higher education. His main points were that a small but increasing percentage of liberal faculty one, try to indoctrinate students; two, treat their theories or opinions as if they were facts; and three, denigrate or exclude opposing views in their classes. These claims are quite provocative and controversial, but if they provoke us into discourse on the value of wider intellectual diversity at Knox — great.”

Hulett said she applauds the Knox Republicans’ “commitment to bring diverse intellectual and political views to campus for all of us to chew on.”

However, Senior Brady Myers interpreted Horowitz’s visit differently. He said, “The lecture confirmed what anyone paying attention already knew: Knox conservatives are more interested in polemics than either dialogue or positive PR…both of which could prove useful to an endangered species. The real irony is that in spite of their wildly pointing fingers, they ensure their own continuing irrelevance. No authentic intellectual looks honestly at the American right and thinks ‘I want to be a part of that.’ To be fair, my aversion is bipartisan; the endless moralizing of the campus ‘left’ should garner equal contempt.”

Gaby Fox

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