David Horowitz: Response to Luker, Beito and Johnson

Roundup: Talking About History

Editor: This is a response to an article by Ralph Luker, David Beito and KC Johnson published in the American Historical Association's Perspectives .

Professor David Beito is a libertarian, Professor K.C. Johnson a conservative whose job I defended when it was under attack, and Professor Ralph Luker a liberal who is obssessive in his hatred for myself and this website. The three put up a resolution at the rececent convention of the American Historical Association which would have simultaneously condemned my Academic Bill of Rights and speech codes. The leftwingers who run the AHA of course support speech codes because they are totalitarians. The resolution they passed condemned the Academic Bill of Rights and was silent about speech codes.

Beito, Johnson and Luker turned a blind eye to the fact that the AHA leadership is an enemy of academic freedom because it is professionally easier to attack an academic pariah like myself than to take on the powers responsible for the stifling of intellectual diversity and the debasement of the intellectual curriculum in the university. Recently, they defended their position, which I have posted following my response. My response is this:

I am impressed by the hypocrisy and intellectual cowardice of Beito, Luker and Johnson as revealed in this explanation of their condemnation of the Academic Bill of Rights at the AHA convention. The main AHA resolution, which all three voted for, claimed that the ABOR would impose political standards on the curriculum and hiring process. This was a lie. To dramatize the fact that it was a lie, I offered $10,000 to any member of the AHA who could point to language in the text of the ABOR that would substantiate their claim. I had no takers.

In this article, Beito, Luker and Johnson shift ground. Now it is their claim that by promoting intellectual diversity the ABOR risks encouraging students to make false claims of indoctrination, thus chilling professorial discourse. This is like opposing the First Amendment to the Constitution on the grounds that someone might make a false claim that their free speech right had been infringed. The solution to this problem is quite simple. Universities can set up grievance committees to ajudicate such claims. In fact they could simply extend the mandates of existing grievance committees that deal with racial and sexual discrimination to handle these matters. What's the problem, then?

Meanwhile there are courses in universities across the country which are self-evidently courses in indoctrination for which there is no present remedy. Social Work 510 at Kansas State University, for example, is billed in the catalogue as a course in Social Welfare. The entire syllabus, however, is a chapter by chapter reading of Howard Zinn's atrocious diatribe,"A People's History of the United States." The ABOR is a suggested remedy for a widespread problem which is corrupting the intellectual enterprise of universities across the country. But Beito, Luker and Johnson prefer to ignore this problem in favor of addressing the greater threat allegedly presented by my bill. Interestingly not of them or anyone else in the academic community has approached me with any suggestion as to how the wording of my bill might be changed to accommodate their concerns while achieving its goals of promoting intellectual diversity and ending the practice of political indoctrination in our academic classrooms. This failure shows their bad faith. I have been open from the beginning to suggestions from sincere critics of my bill -- that is critics who are concerned about the political abuse of the universities by faculty activists. I once had the illusion that David Beito and K.C. Johnson might be such critics. I no longer am. Their AHA resolution was an attempt to strengthen the credibility of the enemies of academic freedom in the university at the expense of an effort to protect it.

Click here to read Ralph Luker's response.

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Tim Matthewson - 3/31/2006

March 30
Grading Edge for Conservative Students

In debates over the Academic Bill of Rights, supporters of the controversial legislation have suggested that conservative students are the victims of classroom bias — and receive lower grades or even failing grades because of their political views.
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Much of the debate has involved trading anecdotes — with David Horowitz citing examples of oppressed conservative students and his critics debunking those examples or providing counter-examples of classrooms where political bias is nowhere to be found in grading or student interactions.

It turns out that there is actual research that has been done on the subject. And the research suggests that there is no widespread relationship between students’ political views and their grades. But there is one exception: In some disciplines favored by conservative students, liberal students seem to receive lower grades.

Markus Kemmelmeier, a sociologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, has been watching the Academic Bill of Rights debate with growing frustration, because he thinks there is proof about the question about classroom bias that has been ignored. “I just don’t see evidence” of bias, says Kemmelmeier, one of three authors of an in-depth study on the topic that was published last year in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The research looked at the politics and grades, over a four-year period, of 3,890 students at a large public university. The students — most of whom entered as freshmen together and participated in the study by choice — were asked a series of questions about their politics, shared information about their educational backgrounds and SAT scores, and then had their college grades tracked. The students in this sample broke down as 20 percent conservative, 42 percent middle of the road, 35 percent liberal, and the rest scattered in various extreme categories. The research focused on grading patterns for which there was an enrollment pattern by students’ politics.

To try to identify cases of bias, the study controlled for factors such as students’ SAT scores and grades generally, gender and race adn ethnicity, so that any grading bias would jump out.

Here’s what the research found:


The more liberal students are, the more likely they are to take courses in fields like sociology and American studies where “questions of social justice” are a focus. Conservative students are more likely to enroll in departments like economics and business. This is a key fact, Kemmelmeir said, because the fields conservatives tend to study are fields where average grades are lower — across all political groups. So when conservative students complain that their grades are lower than their liberal friends, they might be right — but it has nothing to do with bias.

In disciplines that tend to attract more liberal students, there was no relationship between students’ politics and the grades they received. The disciplines examined here included sociology, American studies, African-American studies, cultural anthropology, education, nursing and women’s studies.

In disciplines that tend to attract more conservative students (economics and all of the disciplines in business schools), conservatives have a slight edge — the equivalent of 0.25 on a 4-point graduate point average scale.

Before liberals rush to embrace the Academic Bill of Rights to protect their students, Kemmelmeier said that the size of the grading gap isn’t so large that it necessarily means that there is bias. He said that there are any number of possible explanations. And he noted that the grading patterns took place in large courses (which tend to use multiple choice tests and in which professors may not know individual students) as well as in small seminars, where an instructor might be more likely to know students’ inclinations.

Kemmelmeier, who described himself as a centrist with slight left leanings, said he wasn’t making the case that no professor is biased. “It is possible that somewhere, somebody might be discriminating against conservative students. It’s also possible that somebody discriminates against liberal students,” he said.

What the research strongly argues against, he said, is the idea that there is any large-scale pattern in grading that hurts conservatives.