According to right-wing activist and author David Horowitz, two of America’s most dangerous professors lurk at the University. In “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” Horowitz accuses academics of advancing their radical agendas in the classroom. University history Prof. Juan Cole was cited in the book for his views on the Middle East conflict, and anthropology Prof. Gayle Rubin made the list as well, denounced for her belief that there are no natural differences between men and women.
A dangerous professor would be one who threatened his students with sharp objects or mixed bleach and ammonia during a chemistry experiment – not one who holds liberal beliefs. But while Horowitz’s book is neither credible nor scholarly, the trend it represents is no joke at all. Horowitz and others like him claim they oppose professors who push their political views in the classroom. But given the frequent antagonism between these conservatives and mainstream academia, it is more likely that Horowitz is disturbed by the liberal views that some professors hold, not by the way they express them.
His argument – that professors with “radical” political beliefs threaten free speech and open dialogue – is incoherent. Ideological diversity in the classroom is important, but it can be obtained by allowing students to freely express their own beliefs – not by using political litmus tests to hire professors.
It is unrealistic and unhelpful to expect professors to leave their political views at the classroom door. Good professors provide students with facts, but great professors challenge their students’ beliefs as well. Should a faculty member’s bias prevent students from speaking freely in the classroom and receiving the grades they deserve, it is a sign that he is a bad teacher – not a dangerous academic.
At the University, many argue that it is the conservative student who receives the superior education because his views are frequently tested by left-leaning professors. But while this may hold some measure of truth, the reality is that University faculty – even in the most politicized of departments – are not hired on the basis of their political views, but on the quality and value of their research.
Horowitz’s tactic of whipping up a list of “dangerous” professors is reminiscent of the McCarthy era. The only criteria needed to make the list seems to be a left-leaning ideology of some kind, since merely holding these ideas, in Horowitz’s mind, goes hand-in-hand with trying to indoctrinate students. In an April 7 interview with televangelist Pat Robertson on the Cable Broadcast Network, a conservative media outlet, Horowitz referred to academics as “termites who have worked themselves into the woodwork of our academic society” and revealed an alarming sense of paranoia that is unsubstantiated and politically charged.
Any attempt to deem thought “dangerous” should be greeted with a healthy degree of skepticism. It is the restriction of thought and expression that is dangerous, not the exposure of young minds to new, different and yes, sometimes even radical ideas.