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Fact-Checking David Horowitz

May 9, 2006

From the moment in February that David Horowitz's new book appeared, scholars have been poking at it, identifying errors and what they consider to be distortions (even as Horowitz was praised by many conservative talk show hosts, who have helped him boost sales).

Today, a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups is releasing a more detailed analysis of the Horowitz book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. In "Facts Count," the debunking document being released today, Horowitz's book is slammed as "sloppy in the extreme." The analysis also says that the details included in the book suggest that Horowitz is not concerned with the students he says he is trying to protect, but is actually trying to punish professors whose views he doesn't like.

Among the findings in "Facts Count":

  • Horowitz does not cite a single example of a student having his or her grade changed because of political views -- despite his repeated statements that the "Academic Bill of Rights" is needed to prevent such grade punishment. (That bill would bar such grade changes and would also require that a range of views be taught -- a measure many professors say would require them to teach intelligent design or Holocaust denial, or risk getting sued.)
  • In 52 of the descriptions of professors Horowitz critiques, he does not cite a single classroom event or statement -- despite his statement that his concern about professors is over what they do and say in the classroom.
  • Of all of the evidence offered in the book, 80 percent concerns non-classroom activities.
  • Professors who teach women's studies or other alternative viewpoints are consistently criticized, regardless of the quality of their work or scholarship.
  • While Horowitz's book promises a list of the 101 most dangerous academics, he actually includes only 100.
  • Quotes and facts from Horowitz about individual professors are incorrect and many quotes are "wildly out of context."

Not surprisingly, Horowitz is not backing down. In an e-mail interview, he said that the only mistakes he had seen in his work were "trivial and normal to a book of this size and do not affect in the slightest the argument I have made." He did not object, however, to the report's contention that he doesn't like women's studies, a field he termed "generally conceived in ideological not scholarly terms." He also said that Free Exchange on Campus, the coalition of groups that released the report, was engaged in "dishonesty and malice."

The new report notes that Horowitz makes subjective judgments about many scholars and also questions the way he presents his criticisms, saying that the "tone and format" of his book bring to mind a McCarthy-era blacklist. But the report focuses on specific allegations, with the idea that facts can be verified (or rebuffed) on many of those statements.

But on numerous points, Horowitz will not budge. Take a seemingly simply matter of how many professors he writes up. The alphabetical listing of professors, like the book title, uses the number 101. When Free Exchange on Campus counted, it came up with 100. Horowitz said that's because he included at least two and possibly three professors in his introduction. So it turns out that the book is really about the 102 or 103 most dangerous professors. But all are agreed that it's not about 101.

On the more substantive charges, there is also disagreement. Horowitz rejects the argument that it means anything that he doesn't cite politically inspired grade changes in his book. He said he was focused on "unprofessional conduct in the classroom" and "unprofessional courses," not grading. So the fact that he left out such examples is "irrelevant," he said.

As to specific statements about professors, the new report offers plenty of examples. For example, Horowitz writes that Kathleen Cleever, who teaches law at Emory University, has "no qualifications to teach at a major law school." But Free Exchange on Campus notes that she holds a law degree from Yale University and clerked for a federal appeals judge -- qualifications that are in fact quite typical of those who teach at major law schools.

In numerous other cases, the report faults Horowitz over questions of context. For example, he quotes Michael Bérubé, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University, as saying that the university is "the final resting place of the New Left" and "progressives' only bulwark against the New Right." What Horowitz did not write was that those comments were from a list offered by Bérubé of ways various authors described the university -- and that those views covered a range of views.

Many similar examples are offered.

For his part, Horowitz says that the accusations being made against him are an effort to divert attention from his book. "Free Exchange is an organization created by the teacher unions who are defending their dues-paying members by any means necessary, in this case by means that are dishonest and designed to prevent a discussion of the issues," he said.

Some academics have advocated ignoring Horowitz. But the report makes the case for countering his views very specifically. The report notes that however much many academics may dislike him, he appears regularly before legislative committees, backing and inspiring legislation, and reaching many more through his public appearances. Together, the report says, his statements challenge a basic ideal of freedom that allows professors to speak out on controversial issues and to take unpopular stands.

The report quotes Mari Matsuda, a professor of law at Georgetown University, as saying that "the most dangerous falsehood in this book is the idea that social critics are somehow dangerous or anti-American." Matsuda adds: "The central premise of the Constitution is government by the people. This requires public inquiry and dissent, not group-think and blind deference to the state. That is what I teach and it is standard constitutional interpretation."

 

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