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Head of Professors Association to Students Wanting to Suggest Books to Improve Classes: SHUT UP!

Posted on August 13 2010 2:00 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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When you really look at the history of the Academic Freedom campaign (and you can August 31 when David Horowitz’s new book of its history comes out) it’s really been an entirely moderate, mild, dare I say liberal (and therefore far too radical for the tenured Left to handle) effort. The principle message has been simple: professors should behave in the classroom like academics with a skeptical attitude toward claims to the Truth, not bare-knuckled activists in a political arena trying to bludgeon others and “persuade” them they’ve found it. Horowitz has never attempted to shut down departments,  get any professor fired, or have a book removed from the classroom. It’s just been about restoring academic traditions and policies that have been largely ignored in recent decades because of the hegemony of  the politically-correct Left.

Most professors know and observe the professional standard  — Horowitz has always acknowledged this — it’s only perhaps a 10% vocal minority of academics who have aggressively implemented the theories of Italian Stalinist Antonio Gramsci by hijacking their classrooms to begin their “cultural production” in pursuit of “social justice.” However the percentage of professors who practice “soft indoctrination” (i.e. who recruit for the Democratic Party instead of ACORN) — is probably far greater.

The education press has already taken a shot at Horowitz’s modest effort to create a classroom discussion with two sides. Here is how Inside Higher Ed reported on the Freedom Center’s announcement:

David Horowitz is getting ready for the publication this month of his latest book — Reforming Our Universities, a history of his campaign for the “Academic Bill of Rights” (much derided by faculty groups as an attack on academic freedom) — with a new campaign. Horowitz is calling his new effort the “Adopt a Dissenting Book Campaign.” He is asking students to approach faculty members who endorse one side of a particular issue in their courses and to ask them to add a “dissenting” book that they recommend for the syllabus.

Pretty mild stuff, don’t you think?

What’s an appropriate teacher response to a student’s suggestion that a new book be considered for classroom discussion and inquiry? I remember what several of my professors said when I brought books and essays into the classroom: they encouraged me. They were open-minded — of course I was Chomskyite leftist then.

On the other hand, when the head of the American Association of University Professors was told of the campaign he was not so open minded:

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, said that “students are free to make any suggestions they wish to a faculty member,” but “any responsible administrator would tell a student that it is the faculty member’s responsibility to decide what goes on a syllabus and take no other action on such a request.” He said Horowitz was engaged in “nothing more than a publicity stunt, destined for Fox News and the circular file.”

Honestly, how hard would it have been for Nelson to have at the very least paid lip service to the campaign? Why not merely say, “Well, professors should listen to students that come to them with books and consider the merits of their suggestions”? That’s pretty non-committal and neutral, isn’t it? But Nelson has a long history of defending indoctrination in the classroom and couldn’t help himself. That’s the way a scholar should respond. (And it’s a way that would have neutralized any potential controversy.) That he did not pursue this course can only indicate one thing: Nelson has no higher priority than provoking a fight with Horowitz and conservative students.

Nelson is not interested in critical inquiry. He could not help but reveal his smug sense of superiority and invoke the sentiment of the above Andrew Klavan video: SHUT UP.

Imagine Nelson’s attitude projected across the country. A student suggests a book with an alternative perspective and the immediate response: we, professors, will judge what ideas are acceptable and what aren’t. We have the Truth and you will listen to it — and put yourself in debt for decades for the privilege of doing so. Nelson’s attitude about suggested books is the same as when the ideas of such works would come up in discussion or papers: SHUT UP.

Now here’s the reality: You don’t have to imagine this is going on. You’re looking at the current reality of tens of thousands of classrooms across the country. And what are your plans to do something about it?

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