Lefty apostate David Horowitz is getting a run for his money. This time, though, it’s from a fellow prankster who hails from the other side of the political fence—one who is just as determined to show that free speech isn’t thriving on conservative college campuses any more than it is on liberal ones.
As I reported in this column a month ago, Horowitz stirred the pot recently when he sent a controversial advertisement entitled “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks Is a Bad Idea for Blacks—and Racist Too” to an array of college newspapers. Most of them refused to print it, and the few that did, like Brown University’s Daily Herald, promptly found themselves knee-deep in race trouble. Several of those who ran the ad also found their entire print runs stolen from newsstands by wilding packs of angry students.
Immediately Horowitz declared victory. His stunt, he said, had proven beyond a doubt just how closed-minded students and faculty at our nation’s top colleges and universities are when it comes to disseminating ideas that are anathema to the left.
Now, in response to Horowitz, David Mazel, an assistant professor of English at Adams State College in Colorado, has committed what you might call a copycat crime. After drafting an ad he felt sure would prove offensive to the right, Mazel sent it to 12 conservative-college newspapers. The list of schools included Bob Jones University, Brigham Young University, the Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Abilene Christian University, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, the University of Alabama, and Troy State University. The missive, as Mazel wrote in an April 27 piece for Salon, was “nothing much, really, just an ad proclaiming in bold letters that 1) abortion is not murder and 2) God is an abortionist.” Mazel chose his bait well. Arguably, inflammatory pro-choice rhetoric is to the right roughly what inflammatory anti-black-reparations rhetoric is to the left. To wit, mighty offensive.
Predictably, only one school, Michigan’s Hillsdale College, agreed to run the ad. (You may remember Hillsdale as the school made infamous in 1999 by its former president George Roche III, whose affair with his daughter-in-law was discovered when she killed herself over him.) The rest demurred, making it shamelessly clear that their distaste for the ad’s unorthodox content was their sole reason for declining to print it. Naturally, Mazel, à la Horowitz, did his own gloating and goading end-zone dance. Alas, he declared, when it comes to free speech, conservatives are as bad as, if not worse than, liberals.
Whoa. Now there’s a big surprise.
But Mazel’s tit for tat doesn’t quite show what it hoped to show. First of all, Horowitz didn’t target liberal schools. He targeted the top colleges in the nation—the Ivy League, the Pac-10, etc. Part of Horowitz’s point was to show that America’s top colleges, all self-declared institutions of the liberal arts, are, in fact, quite illiberal. Horowitz’s free-speech gripe with liberals is not, after all, that he thinks they’re too liberal. On the contrary, he thinks they’re not liberal enough. And because this is happening at so many of our best institutions of higher learning, it’s a genuine cause for concern. If it were happening at Joe Shmo Community College, it wouldn’t matter nearly so much.
The bald truth is, nobody cares about Bob Jones University, except maybe John Ashcroft, and then only when he’s getting an honorary degree. People do care, however, about Harvard and Columbia and Brown. Moreover, nobody, including Horowitz, ever expected conservative schools (most of which are religious) to be open-minded. Almost by definition, they’re not. This is not a good thing, but it’s true. Liberal institutions, however, should be living up to their names. But in most cases they’re not. And this, not liberalism per se, is the problem.
A deep concern and love for the liberal tradition may not be at the heart of most conservative critiques of mainstream, upper-crust academe, but to give credit where it’s due, in Horowitz’s case it is. If you read his autobiography, Radical Son, you’ll find that Horowitz, who was once the editor of the radical magazine Ramparts, didn’t leave the left because he had renounced its principles. He did it because the left itself had lost sight of those principles.