Fight the power!

How a conservative radio host is battling the leftist lock on the American Academy.

Published June 15, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

It's graduation time on America's college campuses. As these rites of passage scroll across C-SPAN, it's also a time to reflect on the near total dominion of the left over our institutions of higher learning -- a political control of academic life unprecedented in the history of our democracy.

Typical was the ceremony at the University of Michigan, whose invited speaker was racial extremist Mamphela Kamphele, a leader of South Africa's "black consciousness" movement. The four previous graduations at Michigan featured Hillary Rodham Clinton, Children's Defense Fund President and friend of Hillary Marian Wright Edelman, liberal cartoonist Cathy Guisewite and leftist educator Johnetta Cole. By contrast, notable conservatives like Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, thinker and writer William F. Buckley, bestselling novelist Tom Clancy and Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were passed over not only by Michigan but by all 3,000-plus colleges and universities across the land.

Even greater political bias was revealed in university hiring practices. As the Wall Street Journal noted recently, the number of registered Democrats on the faculty of the University of Colorado exceeded the registered Republicans by 31-1. There was not a single Republican or conservative at Colorado in the English, psychology, journalism, philosophy, women's studies, ethnic studies and lesbian and gay studies departments. This in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 100,000 voters and account for six of the eight members of its congressional delegation.

Based on my personal experience, I would guess this situation is fairly typical of colleges across the land. At the 75 college campuses I have spoken at in the last few years -- in every region of the country, at state schools, private schools, religious schools and technical schools, I have found that the number of professors who are conservative in their outlook usually amounts to a mere handful. And I found them to be more isolated, more hesitant to express their views and more restricted in their opportunities for scholarly advancement than communist and pro-Soviet professors were in the McCarthy period.

Of the 75 colleges at which I spoke, only three invited me officially. By contrast, communists like Angela Davis and racial extremists like Kwame Ture (the former Stokeley Carmichael) and
the Nation of Islam's infamous Khalid Muhammad are regularly asked to speak by university administrators and student governments, and paid handsome sums to do so. This spring, Davis, whose reported fee is $10,000, was the featured official speaker at the University of Chicago's Martin Luther King Day commemorations. Conservatives like myself, by contrast, have to rely on small conservative student groups for invitations and off-campus organizations for expenses. Wherever I go, I ask the students who invite me how many conservative professors are available to be their official campus advisors. Their answers invariably are: two or three. That is, two or three who are willing to identify themselves openly as conservatives.

This situation did not happen by accident. It is the result of calculated political hiring practices, systematic exclusion and an atmosphere of political intimidation to a degree seen only in communist, fascist and theocratic dictatorships. In this case, however, the state is not the enforcer of political orthodoxy. It is leftist faculty members.

The resulting intellectual environment has been described by literary critic Harold Bloom as "Stalinism without Stalin." ("All of the traits of the Stalinists in the 1930s and 1940s are being repeated in the universities in the 1990s," Bloom observed.) One faculty advisor to the College Republicans at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., put it another way in a letter to the Wall Street Journal: "Republican faculty members operate on a 'don't ask, don't tell' basis to the best of our ability. At official faculty meetings, Democratic fund-raising requests, political buttons, bumper stickers and petitions are very publicly circulated, putting non-tenured faculty in a very difficult position."

After the letter-writer says she was "outed" as a non-liberal, a department colleague told her, "We would never have hired you if we'd known you were a Republican."

This situation is now being challenged in a suit brought against the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism by
Michael Savage, a top-rated -- and outspokenly conservative -- radio talk show host in the Bay Area. Savage also has a Ph.D., two master's degrees and 18 published works to his credit. Last year, Savage applied for the dean's job at the journalism school, which was advertised in the New York Times.
Despite his qualifications, Savage says he was quickly informed by the chairman of the search committee, sociology professor Troy Duster, that he would not even be interviewed for the job. Duster happens to be an old acquaintance of mine, a Berkeley radical who, clearly, has not had significant second thoughts.

The candidate actually selected for the deanship was Orville Schell, another old radical friend. Schell does not have a Ph.D., and although he was for many years a staff writer for the New Yorker and has written several critically praised books on China, his chief occupation before he acquired the deanship appeared to be operating a cattle ranch he then co-owned in Bolinas, just north of San Francisco.

Schell was what I used to call a Gucci Marxist; his chief credential for the Berkeley deanship seems to be that he has similar politics as Duster and the faculty powers who control journalism school appointments. Savage believes that the placement of the advertisement in the New York Times was little more than a sham to cover a decision already made to hire a political comrade for the position.

Savage decided to fight. He turned to the Individual Rights Foundation (a public interest law group I created) for help. The legal director of the IRF, Patrick Manshardt, filed suit against the University of California Regents and also against Duster -- both as an individual and in his capacity as chairman of the journalism school's search committee.

The case rests on two contentions. The first is that the manner of Schell's appointment
constitutes political patronage, which is illegal under the labor laws of the state of California. The second is that the political litmus test for the deanship is a violation of Savage's First Amendment rights, in this case that one may not be excluded from public employment because of political ideas.

The Savage case will perform a public service if it succeeds in highlighting the current political subversion of America's institutions of higher learning. In today's polluted academic atmosphere, "Afrocentric" racists can expound theories of blood destiny and "queer theorists" can defend reckless sexual practices in the face of a mortal epidemic; and they can do so with the imprimatur and all the resources at the university's disposal. And while such charlatans and extremists control entire departments and liberal arts faculties, conservative scholars are treated as pariahs.

The politicization of the university and the debasement of the academic calling is a national disgrace.
Savage's suit is a small but meaningful step toward the restoration of democracy and institutional integrity to the nation's university culture.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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