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Ideology My Teacher Taught Me
David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin profile political indoctrination in academic departments.
17 April 2009

One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine Our Democracy, by David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin (Crown Forum, 336 pp., $26.95)

To some extent, the recent jury verdict holding that the University of Colorado had wrongly fired Ward Churchill was correct: political pressures did inspire the investigation leading to his termination for academic misconduct. It doesn’t follow, though, that Churchill was fired for his political views, which notoriously included comparing 9/11 victims to “Little Eichmanns.” Plagiarism and falsification of evidence aren’t covered under any definition of academic freedom.

The Churchill verdict makes an appropriate moment for the appearance of David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin’s new book, One-Party Classroom. The authors note that several of the fraud charges against Churchill “had apparently been well known by scholars in the field, although perhaps not by responsible University personnel, for years before the University took any action whatsoever concerning them, and it did so only after the controversy over Professor Churchill’s essays became national news.” Churchill was an academic provocateur who made his career in the politicized world of ethnic-studies departments, where he was easily hired, promoted, and tenured despite not having a doctorate and the growing doubts about the veracity of his work. His peers even voted him department chair.

Ethnic- and gender-studies departments have provided fertile soil for the growth of academic radicalism. One-Party Classroom examines such departments at 12 universities. The selection doesn’t appear scientific—all are large universities, but little unites them otherwise. Some have strong radical reputations; it’s little surprise to read again about Duke, or Columbia, or U.C. Santa Cruz. It’s perhaps more useful to find detailed profiles of radical programs at universities without much political reputation. Who knew of a burgeoning women’s studies department at Penn State, or the School of Social Justice and Inquiry at Arizona State University? Each features heavily politicized professors, mission statements, and course offerings. All they lack is a Ward Churchill to make them famous.

Behind every academic radical, the authors argue, you’re likely to find a department offering eager support. The Duke lacrosse players’ scandal is a case in point. Members of the infamous “Group of 88”—liberal-arts professors who signed an open letter that ran in newspapers condemning the players—were clearly not accustomed to confining their opinions to such paid advertisements. They offered them daily in their teaching. English professor Karla Holloway, one of the signatories, published a scholarly article in which she asserted that the lacrosse players had victimized blacks and women. As the first head of Duke’s African and African-American Studies program, she insisted on race- and gender-influenced hiring and a mission statement proclaiming that “it ought not be surprising that many of the courses in the African and African American Studies (AAS) Program reflect a concern with issues of social justice, nor that our intellectual stance is often one of critique.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silver, another Group of 88 signatory, teaches a class called “White Supremacy and Global Capitalism.” The course description asserts that “central to this discussion is understanding that ‘racism’ is not ‘prejudice,’ ‘ignorance,’ or a ‘set of beliefs’ but a comprehensive historical system of racial domination organized by the logic of white supremacy.” Jumping to quick conclusions about the Duke lacrosse players’ guilt came naturally for such professors.

The academic departments have developed spurious core competencies for their students. The Columbia Teachers College Peace Education Center’s mission statement, for example, declares that its goal is to “further the development of peace education, particularly in recognition of the unprecedented need to address issues of security, war and peace, human rights and social justice, sustainable development, and ecological balance.” Think that’s academically tendentious? Try the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri, where peace is defined as “providing the basic necessities of life for every human being.” The declarations don’t end at mission statements, either. Missouri’s Introduction to Peace Studies notes, in its course description, that “this course will deal primarily with issues related to peace building and social justice. . . . Hopefully the student will consider the ways in which phenomena such as poverty, racism, sexism, and violent conflict are closely intertwined with one another as well as linked to human suffering generally.” Well, hopefully.

Take your pick of any other modish discipline and you’ll find similar expressions chronicled in One-Party Classroom. As Horowitz and Laksin write, “numerous academic disciplines have incorporated sectarian ideologies as ‘scholarly truths’ and view their academic mission as instilling these doctrines in their students. These ideological programs include Women’s Studies, African-American Studies, Peace Studies, Cultural Studies, Chicano Studies, Gay Lesbian Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Whiteness Studies, Community Studies, and recently politicized disciplines such as Cultural Anthropology and Sociology.”

For the uninitiated, One-Party Classroom provides an invaluably detailed profile of academic radicalism—and a decisive rejoinder to claims that explicitly politicized instruction is isolated or marginal. Apart from the courses that Churchill taught, for example, the University of Colorado’s curriculum is still peppered with offerings such as “Queer Rhetorics: Program for Writing and Rhetoric 3020-026,” which requires volunteer work for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) organizations, and “The Civil Rights Movement in America: Black Studies 4650,” whose instructor frankly declares that “it is my contention that the Black Civil Rights Movement in America is a kind of domestic war created and sustained by white people (or their surrogates), whose origins may be found in the involuntary transportation of Africans to the New World.”

Not all of the courses or instructors profiled here seem set on indoctrination. Some of the classes included on, say, African history or Marxist literary theory set out frankly narrow, yet not especially political or objectionable, frameworks. Such debatable entries might expose Horowitz and Laksin to criticism that they’re seeking to purge academia of views that they dislike. Yet the unavoidable truth is that these 12 schools are replete with explicitly left-wing courses and departments that allow no answer from other perspectives. I challenge any critic to come up with a companion volume on right-leaning classes or departments at these universities. The nearly complete homogeny of left-wing opinion on campus provides an atmosphere in which ideological indoctrination doesn’t attract scrutiny, let alone criticism.

The next time a Ward Churchill or a Group of 88 appear in academia, as they inevitably will, be sure to take a look at the courses they teach and the academic departments that support them. Or you could spare yourself the trouble and peruse One-Party Classroom.

Anthony Paletta is senior editor of MindingTheCampus.com, a web magazine sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University.

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