David Horowitz, a well-known writer and Fox News analyst, has accused some UA instructors of conditioning students so they fall in love with Marxism, feminism and Osama bin Laden. He's been examining the courses at a number of schools in an attempt to expose liberal claptrap to the cleansing power of conservatism.
Horowitz founded Students for Academic Freedom, which bills itself as "a national coalition of student organizations whose goal is to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge." Naturally, a "political abuse" is a situation in which Horowitz and his cohorts do not agree with what is being taught.
And by not teaching what they think should be taught, students aren't getting all sides of the story. It's a similar argument to the one floated by proponents of intelligent design, who try to open up doubt about evolution by insisting there's more than one credible viewpoint on a bedrock principle of biology.
An editor's note appended to the SAF article "Abusive Academics: University of Arizona," written by Horowitz and Tom Ryan, claims there is "a disturbing trend in higher education that began in the 1970s with the advent of politically designed courses in newly created fields like women's studies and black studies."
As part of that trend, Horowitz and Ryan assert that the UA "offers a menu of courses in radicalism."
"In many courses at the University of Arizona there is not the slightest pretense of scholarly approach to the subject or minimal respect for the academic rights of students who have enrolled expecting to receive educational instruction, not a political indoctrination," they wrote.
The name V. Spike Peterson, an instructor in the political science department, appears over and over again in the SAF article--generally in combination with snarky comments about her supposedly "extreme leftist views." She teaches classes on gender and politics and feminist theory.
Unfortunately, Peterson has disappeared into a black hole where she can receive neither telephone calls nor e-mail for the next three or so weeks, according to a receptionist at the UA Department of Political Science. The department's Web site says she's on leave, and a colleague told the Weekly she was in Europe.
Other professors named in the article reacted in a variety of ways to the SAF road show visiting their university.
The article claims that Laura Briggs, acting head of the Department of Women's Studies, uses one of her courses to "recruit" students for "radical and feminist causes," with no supporting evidence beyond a course description and the fact that the class texts are written by so-called "radical feminists."
"I'm not interested in being called to account on academic standards by a man who thinks the name of our governor is 'Jane' Napolitano," e-mailed Briggs.
According to SAF, graduate student Jeff Larson's course Collective Behavior and Social Movements is "a thinly concealed program to recruit students to radical political organizations." Larson e-mailed that Horowitz is "an interesting character who's been dragging his politics into the educational field."
"I'd rather not give him any undue attention," he continued. Larson then provided the Weekly with the address (driedsage.blogspot.com/2007/01/enter-horowistas.html) to a blog posting in which he gives Horowitz and the SAF article his undivided attention.
Bill Alexander, an assistant professor and program coordinator in the anthropology and Latin-American studies departments, fired off a lengthy e-mail to serve as his rebuttal to the SAF article.
"My initial response upon reading the misleading and dishonest description of my course Current Struggles for Human Rights and Social Justice in Latin America was to just ignore it," he wrote. "Any rational person can read the syllabus and see that Horowitz and Ryan's summary is filled with distortion and falsehoods."
Alexander's e-mail continued for another 10 paragraphs, in which he stated that no one has ever complained to him in more than a decade of teaching of "ideological bias" or "indoctrination." He wrote that end-of-the-semester course evaluations frequently describe his classroom as "an open one in which students feel free and are encouraged to voice their opinions, and in which topics are considered from multiple points of view."
Alexander accused Horowitz and Ryan of an "absurd pattern" of twisting facts about social movements that are patently geared toward "peace and justice" in order to make them appear violent and totalitarian in nature.
"If they keep screaming loud enough and long enough that universities are infested with radicals indoctrinating students in subversion, then the public may start to believe it," he wrote. "The real danger would be if extremists like Horowitz succeed in denying students access to the choice of courses and exposure to the range of ideas and issues that they expect to receive in a liberal-arts education."
That's precisely the issue, said Karen Anderson, president of the UA Association for Women Faculty. She suspects Horowitz and Ryan are focusing on Arizona because of a bill that failed in the Legislature last year that would have allowed students to disregard any coursework they found "personally offensive." The bill specifically enumerated "sex, morality or religion" as three grounds upon which students could object; they would then have been entitled to complete alternate coursework that was more palatable.
"Apparently, there are some who want to present it (the bill) again this year, but they haven't done so," Anderson said. "We're hoping, quite frankly, if we keep it kind of quiet, maybe they won't."
Anderson also pointed to the number of women spotlighted in the article (at least five out of eight total), as well as the fact that most classes criticized are offered by the Department of Women's Studies or focus on feminism.
"I think there's a kind of subliminal sexism in it as well," she said. "I think that someone with Horowitz's gender politics--it says on that Web site that he thinks all differences are actually sex differences; they're inborn, and women better just get in line with biology, I guess--promoting a different view, I think he sees as insubordinate."
Indeed, gender differences are widely considered across a number of disciplines to be social constructions. But maybe Horowitz and Ryan never learned that in college.