Caroline Higgins is 66 years old, and at 5’2” she’s not a daunting figure. Walking on the Earlham College campus last week, she ran into one of her students, a football player who very much towers over her. She mentioned that she was about to be named to a list of the “101 most dangerous academics in America.”
Higgins said that her student just started laughing -- and that for anyone who knows her, “dangerous” just isn’t the word that comes to mind. She teaches peace studies.
But today, with the release of David Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Caroline Higgins finds herself in elite company. She makes the list along with such big name academic stars as Derrick Bell, Michael Bérubé, bell hooks, Noam Chomsky and Eric Foner. Horowitz, a one-time '60s radical, includes plenty of '60s radicals who didn’t have the conversion experience he did, so Angela Davis and Bernadine Dohrn make the list, of course, along with the likes of Ward Churchill and a who’s who in Middle Eastern studies.
Most of the 377-page book consists of short essays on each professor – they are in alphabetical order and are not ranked according to their relative danger levels, although there are cross-listings so a reader can jump to scholars with similar ideas.
Whether to laugh at the book, like Higgins’s student, or to take it seriously, has been the subject of much discussion among academic groups and those who made the list in recent weeks. Some fear taking Horowitz too seriously will only legitimize his sometimes breathless attacks. (The book jacket promises information about professors who “say they want to kill white people,” “support Osama bin Laden,” and “defend pedophilia.”)
Some professors worry that they really don’t gain much by discussing a book that can have them explaining that, no, they are not murdering, pro-terrorist, child molesters. And several said that they hoped the press would just ignore the book. Others who are named -- and academic groups that represent them -- disagree. They say that a book with blurbs by Harvard professors, a Congressman, and a talk show host is going to cause a splash. With Horowitz‘s list likely to outsell Derek Bok’s new book, academics who just view The Professors as a joke risk having their ideas distorted and losing credibility as Horowitz defines their work for large audiences of the people who don’t frequent faculty clubs.
On Friday, a new coalition of academic groups -- called Free Exchange on Campus -- issued a joint denunciation of The Professors as “a blacklist” that was attempting to intimidate leading thinkers on campuses. The coalition includes the three groups that represent more faculty members than any other organizations: the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association. Others involved in the coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States Student Association.
Higgins finds her inclusion on the list both funny and disconcerting. She ‘s been teaching at Earlham since 1974 -- focusing her academic career on the classroom, not publishing. Why, she wonders, is a low profile professor at a liberal arts college in Indiana worthy of being on Horowitz’s list? In The Professors, Higgins is criticized for classes that focus on peace and social justice movements and for encouraging students to apply the ideas they learn about in class in the local community. Horowitz criticizes Higgins for teaching courses that feature both reading lists and lectures from a liberal, pacifist, feminist, environmentalist perspective.
In some respects, Higgins replies that she is guilty as charged -- she does have a point of view in her classes. But she rejects Horowitz’s larger analysis. “I object to the idea that students are passive and that I somehow indoctrinate them,” she said.
First of all, she noted that she puts her syllabuses online (that’s presumably how Horowitz learned about her classes). Higgins said that she believes students have a right to learn something about her ideas before they pick her classes. But what really strikes her as absurd is that she’s being criticized for teaching about peace and social justice, as if her students would prefer classes about combat strategy. Higgins pointed out that she teaches at a Quaker college and that Quakers are pacifists. A “self-selected group of students,” she said, wants courses with her philosophy at a religiously oriented college that takes its faith seriously. If students enrolled in peace studies at a Quaker college and didn’t find pacifism, she said, they might have reason to be angry (presumably in non-violent ways).
“I see a hegemonic culture with views that are quite different from mine, and a small number of colleges where you can learn from a different view,” Higgins said. “If I’m dangerous, it’s because education is dangerous. If you follow truth wherever it will lead, which is from Earlham’s mission statement, I guess you open yourself up to risk.”
That risk frustrates many of those named in the book. Joe Feagin, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University and a past president of the American Sociological Association, is mocked in the book for his research on race, poverty and sexism.
“This appears to be a new type of McCarthyism. I remember McCarthy made up dangerous people lists too,” Feagin said. “I never thought, as a 1930s baby who lived through the Depression and World War II, that I would live to see this country sink so low as to have public attacks on social science researchers because of their research.”
Feagin said that Horowitz or anyone else is entitled to disagree with his findings. But Feagin said that his conclusions are based on a 43-year research career in which he has published nearly 50 books and 180 research articles. Before Horowitz and his allies attack him, Feagin said, he’d like to know: “What are their research credentials? Have they done 40 years of solid research on racial and gender issues?”
An undercurrent of the book -- that Feagin and other scholars are somehow un-American for their views -- is particularly grating, Feagin said. “I was taught by my folks, and still believe in, the old American values of liberty, justice and equality. Are these now ‘dangerous’ values?”
In an e-mail interview, Horowitz strongly denied that there was anything McCarthyite about his book. He noted that he writes in the introduction to the book that he believes all professors -- liberal and conservative -- have points of view and are entitled to interpret their fields according to their philosophies. Such expression, he writes, “is the essence of academic freedom.” In the interview, Horowitz said that a McCarthyite would never make such a statement, and he said that the only McCarthyism in evidence with regard to his book are those who criticize it with “a rash of misrepresentations" and without having read it.
Horowitz said that his purpose in writing the book was to expose the “political corruption” of higher education -- a system that, he said, is dominated by “tenured radicals who are smarter and less extreme than [Ward] Churchill.” He said that these professors are trying to have their politics dominate the curriculum, and that there are “virtually no conservatives in the academy anymore.”
Trustees and legislators, Horowitz said, should take the book and “get a good look at the magnitude of the problem in our institutions of higher learning.” He said that he hopes they will create new “Offices of Intellectual Diversity and Professional Standards” to help deal with the problems Horowitz has identified.
At the end of the book, after the sections on the various professors, Horowitz writes that the professors he names are quite representative of higher education generally. Horowitz writes that the university is “by nature and structure a conformist institution.” Noting the way leading professors play a role in training graduate students (future professors) and in hiring and promotion decisions, Horowitz writes: “Far from being eccentric or peripheral figures the professors in this volume are integral to the intellectual life of the institutions they inhabit and to the course of higher education in America.” (In other parts of the book, however, he appears to have a different view -- and in the e-mail interview, he drew attention to his sentence in the book that “It is a reasonable assumption that the majority of university professors remain professionals and are devoted to traditional academic methods and pursuits.”)
The list is in many ways not representative of higher education. Of the 101 professors, only one is at a community college. Most are at research universities, with Columbia University leading the way with nine. The sciences are hardly represented and the sole engineer is Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who is presumably little threat to students since he is behind bars, despite the lack of convictions in his recent trial.
An exact disciplinary breakdown is difficult because many of the professors do interdisciplinary work. But by far, Middle Eastern studies seems to be the most dangerous field to Horowitz, with at least 15 scholars on his list who do work on the subject. Many other professors on the list work in relatively new fields such as ethnic studies, gay studies, or women’s studies. But there are also plenty of people from traditional fields such as history, English and law.
Horowitz said in an interview that the fields that are well represented on his list are “most prone to the corruption I am describing.”
Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who is among the 101 and who is also president of the Middle East Studies Association, said that it’s not surprising that Horowitz would go after his colleagues. “He is an ideologue and he has a particular view of the Arab-Israeli conflict which cannot be sustained by anyone who studies the region with primary texts and a global perspective,” Cole said.
Cole said that he’s not particularly concerned that Horowitz will change anyone’s views. “I think he has no impact whatsoever,” Cole said. “He’s not relevant to our academic governance or the way we make decisions in the academy.”
At the same time, Cole had seen the section written about him and was ready to question it. He said, for example, that Horowitz falsely accuses him of stressing the Jewish role in the neoconservative movement, and of calling Israel a fascist state. Cole said that while he may have criticized individual Jews who are neoconservatives, he never calls that movement a Jewish one, in part because he doesn’t believe it reflects the views of most Jewish people. Further, while Cole said that he has said that the Likud Party has “fascist elements,” he does not call Israel a fascist state.
Asked to back up the claims in his book, Horowitz noted a reference in a Cole column to “Israeli fascists,” but that is, of course different from the claim in the book that Cole “routinely brands Zionism” as “fascist.” Asked to back up the book’s claim that Cole focuses on a Jewish neoconservative group whose views he disagrees with, Horowitz sent back a quote from a Cole column in which Cole criticizes “powerful Likudniks” within the U.S. government and also Paul Wolfowitz, But in the column, Cole does not identify who the “powerful Likudniks” are (and in fact many of the Likud’s most powerful supporters in the United States aren’t Jewish) and doesn’t refer to Wolfowitz’s religion.
Cole called the chapter on him “dishonest” and said that it is “if not libelous, then verging on it.” He declined to say if he’s planning any legal action.