Posted by: Magistra | July 27, 2006

What Assault?

Guess what’s dragging down our institutions of higher learning – feminists and social workers.

This little brochure I read, “The Political Assault on America’s Universities,” is basically David Horowitz’s testimony to a Kansas House Committee. Like the other things of his I’ve read, he starts off with a strong point, but then ignores that point when it gets in the way of his political stances.

His main point is that the reason we give university professors tenure and protect them from arbitrary firing isn’t to protect their basic right to free speech. Of course professors have the same freedom of speech that anyone else does. To oversimplify, that basic right is to have and share an opinion on any matter, regardless of our knowledge of that matter. The reason professors get tenure, according to Horowitz, is to protect their special right to free speech about their area of expertise. To quote Horowitz, “The tenure provision is specifically intended to protect their valued expertise, not their inexpert opinions on controversial political and social matters…They [principles of academic freedom and tenure] are designed to guard the disinterested knowledge of professional scholars from unwarranted censure by persons who are unqualified – because are not experts [sic] – to pass judgement on what their scholarship has revealed.” (If you should find a copy of this brochure, look at pages 12-13.)

Now, I am fairly ignorant of arguments for and against tenure, but this sounds like a good explanation to me. We give physics professors tenure not to tell us how to vote on Prop. 209, but because they may develop a theory of the beginning of the universe which angers a group by contradicting their theological stance. And we don’t want that group to be able to fire the physics professor.

But how does Horowitz apply this point? He starts by looking at the Women’s Studies Department at Kansas State University, which he claims is more interested in the indoctrination than the exploration of ideas. His “proof” is a list the Department provides of knowledge that students will demonstrate to earn a degree in Women’s Studies.

I want to focus on one point, that students will have demonstrated, “Their familiarity with key Women’s Studies concepts such as the social construction of gender, oppression of and violence against women, heterosexism, racism, classism, and global inequality.” (I have not verified the accuracy of this quotation with actual documents from Kansas State University. I am more interested in looking at how Horowitz applies his point than in how accurately he quotes material.)

Horowitz claims this “statement takes a non-academic, partisan view of issues that are controversial – whether women are in fact ‘oppressed’ in the United States, whether there is ‘gender inequality’ in our society, or whether ‘heterosexism’ and ‘classism’ are meaningful let alone valuable categories of analysis” (pages 17-18).

Stop me if I’m wrong, but haven’t we already established that in their area, scholars are granted the most latitude? What I read says that the experts in Women’s Studies have identified core concepts they feel students must be aware of before the experts are willing to grant a degree in their area of expertise. Maybe if the Department said students will demonstrate the ability to identify and fight against heterosexism Horowitz would have a leg to stand on. But that is clearly not what this says.

I thought choosing Social Work as his second target was an interesting choice. I mean, I know that those social workers who give out welfare to all those unmarried women who keep on having babies are clearly a bad lot, but I also thought that social work was generally considered good. You know, the part about helping the elderly and abused children. What I didn’t realize was that they’re all socialists (who are, of course, just one step down from communists).

Here’s the problematic statement from the Kansas State Social Work program: “Social work is a profession for those with a spark of idealism, a belief in social justice, and a natural love of working with people.” Idealism and working with people are okay in Horowitz’s code book, but not “social justice.” Apparently Horowitz is in a better position than social workers and sociologists to define “social justice.” He recognizes it as “a generally recognized code for partisans of socialism and the expansion of the welfare state” (page 20). Here again, Horowitz is imposing his political assumptions and is unwilling to grant experts, working in their field as he says is appropriate, the latitude to do their jobs.

Goodness knows I’ve got my own problems with higher education, but Horowitz isn’t going to improve anything.

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