Beware the Academic Bill of Rights!

Dangerous and Underhanded Attack on Education Seeks to Silence Dissent

by Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1233, March 21, 2004, posted at

Conservative forces are focusing their sights on higher education with a sinister new piece of legislation called the "Academic Bill of Rights." Already, this sophisticated and carefully worded bill--written by right-wing ideologue David Horowitz for his group Students for Academic Freedom (SAF)--has been introduced to Congress and the Georgia and Colorado State Legislatures. It has already passed in those states' Educational Committees. The bill could be passed officially in one of the states soon--perhaps by the time you read this. Horowitz is seeking government intervention because SAF was unable to get a single college administrator to apply the bill on their own.

The bill claims it would ensure a range of political views are taught in college classes and protect students from "ideological indoctrination." But it is actually part of a right-wing pincer move-- with the repressive legislation coming down on people from on top and unleashing their reactionary base of students on the bottom--to close in and squash dissent and opposition and any kind of real intellectual debate on U.S. campuses.

To Horowitz, his backers and his student followers, "academic freedom" means "freeing" the universities of critical thought and critical thinkers.

The bill was introduced to Colorado's State Education Committee in February with conservative and Christian students organized by SAF to "testify" to feeling marginalized, repressed, and even under attack for their beliefs while in class or on campus. The College Republicans at Colorado State University in Boulder even had a "Conservative Coming-Out Day"--mocking gay and lesbians coming out--with conservative students coming out of reactionary closets.

One of these students complained that when they spoke in class about feeling "uncomfortable" around gays, other students dared to challenge him and he felt "singled out"--as if what should happen in class is students just putting out unengaged ideas.


The involvement of David Horowitz should immediately alert people that something really rotten and dangerous is afoot with this bill.

A former leftist turned rabid anti-leftist, Horowitz is best known for his ad against reparations for descendants of former slaves called: "Why Reparations Are Racist and Bad for Black People, Too." The ad argues that U.S. society is not marked in any real way by the legacy of slavery and that Black people should be grateful for what they have here. Horowitz stirred intense outrage on campuses when he placed this ad in 10 campus newspapers in 2001 and became the darling of the right-wing media. He continues to be a constant guest of conservative radio and television shows.

Horowitz is associated with Karl Rove (close advisor to Bush, architect of the "faith-based initiatives" and patron of right-wing organizations from the Young Republicans to Focus on the Family.) He has been a major spokesman for those attacking the whole package "the `60s" came to represent: resistance of people of color and women against their oppression; opposition to the unjust U.S. war against Vietnam; and a youth culture of rebellion against the government and the status quo.

Horowitz has a dangerous mission of labeling leftists--including the Revolutionary Communist Party, revolutionary journalist Clark Kissinger, Refuse & Resist!, Not in Our Name and the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal--as traitorously dangerous to the U.S.

Horowitz also runs "Campus Watch," to identify and punish any opposition to the state of Israel on campuses as "anti-Semitism." It also monitors Middle Eastern Studies professors who "have a disregard for the national interest of the U.S."


Horowitz and the other reactionary forces involved with this bill aren't interested in intellectual wrangling and they're even less interested in truth. Conservatives and reactionaries have a history and established method of attacking any opposition by not really taking on the content and instead accusing individuals as "terrorists" and "un-American" to silence them.

Honest intellectual discussion--with the purpose of grasping objective reality --has never been their intent and it isn't now. These reactionary forces (within and connected to the government) not only want to silence dissent and critical thought, they want to stomp on it and purge it. They want people to fear critical thinking and simply fall in line, and they are undertaking a mean-spirited, aggressive and dangerous effort to create a climate hostile to critical analysis and understanding of the world.

Just look at the example of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When school administrators placed Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America on the summer reading list for incoming freshmen, a group calling itself the Committee for a Better Carolina took out an ad in the school paper denouncing author Barbara Ehrenreich. Here is how she described the attack in The Progressive , September 2003:

"The ad charged me with being a Marxist, a socialist, an atheist, and a dedicated enemy of the American family--this last confirmed by a citation from the Heritage Foundation on my longstanding conviction that families headed by single mothers are as deserving of support as those headed by married couples. I was greeted on North Carolina radio talk shows by hosts asking, `What does it feel like to be the Antichrist in North Carolina?' and similarly challenging inquiries."

What were these students being asked to do that was so treasonous? "Think and form an opinion. Then be ready to defend that opinion in an open discussion."


What's it all about?

"...academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth, that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and that no party or intellectual faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech."

--Academic Bill of Rights

Under the guise of academic freedom and diversity in education, this bill could be used to silence-- and even fire--dissenting professors and intimidate them and students into submission to the government's juggernaut of war and repression. Already Republican student groups use slogans like "Bring Back the Blacklists," and they have been investigating professors' political affiliations, backgrounds and voting records.

Contrary to the claims of Horowitz and other reactionaries like Lynne Cheney that the universities are hotbeds of radicalism, controlled by unrepentant '60s radicals, overall U.S. universities are geared toward orienting and educating students in the dominant bourgeois world outlook. But people in various fields are struggling for critical and creative thinking--in the pursuit of truth.

Radical and critical thinkers are working in many fields--gender studies, ethnic studies, science, law, history, literary and cultural theory, the "new geography," and other disciplines--restructuring curricula, challenging received wisdom and encouraging creative scholarship. One of the legacies of the rebellious movements of the 1960s is a generation of college professors who believe that intellectuals have a responsibility to society and the world--and the right to manifest that social responsibility in academic life.

In opposition to these trends, the advocates of this Academic Bill of Rights want to impose conformity in the name of academic freedom.

The bill could establish grounds for hiring quotas for conservative professors and replacing those who are in opposition to the status quo, politically or in their field. It could turn back advances made around what the bill's proponents have called "unsettled truths" in the social sciences, which means the hard-fought struggle around Black/Women/Latino/Asian Studies would be turned around with the initiative on the side of the opposition. Middle Eastern Studies professors (often immigrants from countries the U.S. seeks to dominate further) are also under surveillance and suspicion for questioning the U.S. role in that region.

As Stanley Fish, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago wrote about the bill in the Chronicle of Higher Education , Feb. 10, 2004:

"Someone is going to say, let's monitor those lefty professors and keep tabs on what they're saying; and while we're at it, let's withhold federal funds from programs that do not display `ideological balance' (`balance' is also an unworthy academic goal); and let's demand that academic institutions demonstrate a commitment to hiring conservatives; and let's make sure that the material our students read is pro-American and free of the taint of relativism; and let's publish the names of those who do not comply. This is not a hypothetical list; it is a list of actions already being taken. In fact, it is a list one could pretty much glean from the Web site of State Senator John K. Andrews Jr., president of the Colorado Senate (, a site on which the Academic Bill of Rights is invoked frequently."

A dangerous move is underway with this Academic Bill of Rights--one that needs to be met with energetic opposition from all thinking people.