[sixties-l] Horowitz and the Myth of the Radical University

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 21:22:46 EST

  • Next message: radman: "[sixties-l] UFW honors Cesar Chavez by continuing his work"

    Published on Saturday, March 24, 2001

    Horowitz and the Myth of the Radical University

    by Robert Jensen

    Thanks to conservative author David Horowitz's recent lecture at the
    University of Texas, I have new hope for radical political organizing
    on campus.

    Many of us on the faculty with left/progressive values have felt
    rather isolated on what we all thought was a conservative campus. But
    it turns out that all this time we've been working in a nest of
    left-wing radicals who have over-run the place, leaving conservatives
    cowering in silence.

    At least that's Horowitz's analysis. University faculties around the
    country, including UT, are "skewed far to the left" as a result of
    conservative professors being "systematically purged," according to
    Horowitz, a one-time leftist turned right-winger.

    My colleagues and I are hoping Horowitz will help us find where all
    these radicals are hiding; more company would be nice.

    In the decade I've been at UT, a handful of faculty members have been
    willing to get involved in left/progressive causes. Events and
    actions that address racism, sexism, militarism or corporate
    domination usually involve the same small group of committed folks.

    If the "left-wingers run the universities" claim were coming only
    from Horowitz, it wouldn't be cause for much concern. The political
    analysis that comes out of his "Center for the Study of Popular
    Culture" is so consistently loopy that he's hard to take seriously.

    But this assertion about left-wing dominance of universities is
    repeated so often throughout the culture that it has become widely
    accepted. The fact, however, is that the typical American university
    is dominated by centrist to moderately conservative faculty members
    and administrators, with steady movement to the right in the past two

    At UT, for example, there are some professors -- mostly scattered
    throughout the liberal arts and social sciences -- who might
    reasonably be called left or progressive, a few even radical. But in
    my experience the majority of faculty members run from liberal
    Democrats to conservative Republicans.

    In some places on campus -- the well-funded McCombs School for
    Business comes to mind -- it would be silly to argue that the
    ideology of professors is skewed even mildly to the left; they are
    bastions of conservatism where no critique of the basic nature of
    corporate capitalism is voiced.

    More and more, universities are influenced by the wealthy donors and
    corporations that exercise increasing power as public funding for
    higher education shrinks. Professors, no matter what the nature of
    their research, are being told that attracting outside funding is
    increasingly a requirement for tenure and promotion.

    That means that people doing work that critiques the fundamental
    assumptions of powerful institutions in this culture (one reasonable
    definition of a "leftist") are becoming even more marginalized. Not
    "systematically purged," as happened during the McCarthy era, but
    squeezed out by a system that values conformity and subordination to
    power more than deep critique.

    I am not so naive as to expect institutions to go out of their way to
    foster dissent; institutions tend to reproduce the relationships of
    power in the wider society, and universities are no different.

    But we should put away the fantasy that radicals are running the show
    and begin to ask seriously whether our society cares about
    maintaining universities as a place for independent critical inquiry.

    This is not a plea for sympathy for poor lonely radicals on campus.
    As a tenured professor, I enjoy a freedom to pursue my intellectual
    interests that is available virtually nowhere else in the culture,
    and I'm grateful for that freedom. But I worry that graduate students
    and younger colleagues coming up through the ranks won't enjoy that
    same freedom.

    That should be of concern not just to aspiring academics but to a
    society that wants to call itself democratic. If higher education is
    not a place for critical self-reflection on the powerful, we're all
    in trouble.
    Robert Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the
    University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at
    rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu. Other writings are available online at

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Mar 28 2001 - 02:16:21 EST