Wednesday, September 17, 2003

A pebble down a mountainside 

About a week ago we noted discussion on the Volokh Conspiracy of a story that the Colorado Legislature might be pushing for affirmative action hiring ... for conservatives. The story is overblown, however. The impetus for this story was David Horowitz' creation of an academic bill of rights that would require among other things that hiring, tenure and promotion of faculty be made without consideration of one's political or religious beliefs. Somehow, the Rocky Mountain News conflated this into an attempt to create political viewpoint quotas for hiring faculty. They now have recanted.
We feel a bit today like the boy who threw a pebble down a mountainside and watched it set off a raging rockslide. A News story and an editorial published last week on David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights have sparked nearly hysterical journalistic commentary and a faculty petition at a local college urging an investigation into Horowitz's contacts in this state.

One columnist in another newspaper said Horowitz's efforts were right out of the Soviet Union's playbook. Another evoked the Nazis and Joe McCarthy. The petition circulating at Metropolitan State College asks college officials to investigate "the scope and extent of the secret meeting" between state politicians and Horowitz, as if the outspoken author and activist were an agent from an underground revolutionary cell.

Along the way, the Academic Bill of Rights has been characterized as a plan "to force the hiring of more conservative faculty members at the state universities through encouragement, mandate or extortion," inject "more classics in the curriculum" and require the invitation of more conservative speakers onto campus.

As they admit, if they had simply read the document, they would not have reported it this way, and perhaps the hysteria would not have happened. As it is, they've handed Horowitz some great press.

As I suggested last week, this is largely a warning shot to get administrators and trustees to see how bad things are -- as the Rocky Mountain News notes in its recant.

If it's accurate, then maybe higher ed officials do in fact need someone like Horowitz reminding them of the values and practices they're supposed to defend. And if it isn't accurate, then the Academic Bill of Rights is an irrelevant restatement of the obvious and a threat to no one. Metro's faculty can turn off the sirens and relax.
Actually, I like the sirens. One can chase them to find the perpetrators who defraud academic freedom.