At the annual convention of the Modern Language Association last month, David Horowitz once more shared a panel with AAUP President Cary Nelson, who has previously replied to Horowitz’s exaggerated claims of bias in the classroom. As Chronicle Review editor Liz McMillen’s coverage pointed out, there wasn’t much actual debate in this over-hyped appearance, which featured almost as many security guards as audience members.
The real draw was the more timely panel featuring Stanley Fish debating critics of his notion that faculty should shut up and “do their jobs.” (Staging a meeting between Horowitz and an articulate critic has been done before.)
As many others have pointed out, where students have been given the chance to protest grades based on faculty political bias, they rarely do so. The few complaints made are even more rarely upheld, and are just as likely to be claims of right-wing bias.
In my view, Horowitz is manufacturing a problem in order to push a real agenda: ie, by making exaggerated and often simply ridiculous claims about left-wing bias in classroom instruction and the “danger” that faculty political beliefs represent to student learning, he wishes to sweepingly institute affirmative action for right-wing scholars in hiring, and employ “intellectual diversity” as a wedge to force conservative ideas onto curricula.
The author of The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, Horowitz has openly identified himself as a partisan political operative, receives substantial right-wing foundation funding, but wishes to represent himself as casually thrown up by a grassroots student movement.
On the other hand, faculty and graduate students are finding that their academic freedom is under actual, sustained and intensifying assault.
This is most obvious among the faculty serving nontenurably, now the overwhelming majority of college faculty. Not counting graduate students, or factoring for widespread administrative under-reporting, in 2005 at least 70% of all U.S. faculty served on nontenurable appointments.
Nontenurabililty is the norm of academic employment; therefore it is now simply normal for college faculty to enjoy little to no protection of their academic freedoms, as Cary Nelson makes clear in one of the more popular videos in our series. The precariousness of their employment means that most can be retaliated against for almost any speech or action, without the administration engaging in due process (or even giving a reason) by the simple expedient of non-reappointment.
As reported in this month’s Academe, in one particularly egregious case investigated by AAUP’s Committee A, a North Idaho faculty member serving contingently was retaliated against by an administration that had a beef with her tenured spouse.
The report concludes:
The case of Jessica Bryan exemplifies the plight of many contingent faculty members: vulnerable and insecure no matter how long and how well they might have served their institution. An experienced, highly regarded parttime English instructor with thirteen uninterrupted semesters of teaching at North Idaho College, Ms. Bryan was informed by e-mail on the last day of the fall 2007 semester that the administration would not offer her any courses to teach in the spring (or any time thereafter, it would appear) despite the fact that other part-time instructors junior to her in years of service were being assigned courses she had taught for more than six years and the administration engaged new instructors to teach some of those courses in fall 2008. When she asked for a substantive explanation for its decision not to reappoint her, the administration, through college counsel, declined to do so. When she requested an opportunity for faculty review of her claim that inadequate consideration had been given to her qualifications and that the decision resulted in significant measure from impermissible considerations, the administration, again through college counsel, told her that the contract governing her temporary appointment afforded her no such rights.
So far from the intellectual “threats” and “dangers” that Horowitz imagines, most faculty are in fact reticent and easily intimidated, living perpetually “30 seconds from humiliation,” just as Anonymous describes.
The report goes on to suggest the “chilling effect” that the absence of protections has on the contingent faculty majority. They might well have added to that the chilling effect that the ability to do this to one’s spouse or partner has on many of the tenured–some estimates calculate that at least a third of all faculty partners are other faculty.
Dangerous? One can only wish that every campus had a handful of faculty who were half the threat that Horowitz imagines.
Coming attractions: new video featuring Paul Lauter and Gary Rhoades, among many others….
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