Book Review: The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics In America By David Horowitz

September 2006

During the Kennedy Administration, there was a Republican Congressman from Massachusetts who said that he would rather have the country run by people picked randomly from the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard (whom JFK was busily inviting to Washington). As a young and naïve academic, I wrote him an indignant letter; but seeing what has been happening in academia during the past couple of decades, I have come to admit that he was right and I was wrong. This book confirms that view.

Horowitz begins his examination of academia by citing the high proportion of professors, especially in the humanities and social sciences, whose concept of legitimate political positions ranges from A all the way to B: that is, from liberals to left-wing radicals. This is an incontrovertible fact, supported by numerous studies and contradicted by none. He goes on to look at the concomitants of this restricted view: the indoctrination rather than education of students; the positive feedback loop when the true believers gain control over hiring, tenure, and promotion and use that power to prevent other opinions from being represented; the imposition of “speech codes” to prevent such opinions from even being expressed; the failure to punish students or faculty who violate the academic freedom of dissenters by, e.g., shouting down or attacking speakers, stealing and destroying publications, and so on; and the proliferation of noble-sounding centres, institutes, and departments that spew out streams of one-sided propaganda.

Then we get down to the meat in the sandwich: the list of 101 “most dangerous professors,” in alphabetical order, each with a 3-4 page vignette explaining why he or she merits such distinction. Some are characterized by their admiration for Communist dictators, Islamist mass murderers, and/or domestic criminals masquerading as victims of political or racial persecution; some are dedicated to pushing self-serving and ludicrous interpretations of American history and society; some disguise their obvious anti-Semitism under a cloak of Holocaust denial, endorsement of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and policies for the destruction of Israel.

The descriptions are necessarily sparse. They lack information as to personality factors and any but the most superficial analysis of background and work. There is a bit too much portentous solemnity, and too many reminders (as if we needed it) that senior professors and administrators have power over who gets to teach in their unit, for how long, and what courses.

I started to give some examples, but soon realized that I didn’t know where to stop without reproducing the whole book. To summarize, some are well known, usually for the extremism and outrageousness of their teaching and “scholarship” (the number who have made serious intellectual contributions won’t exhaust the fingers of one hand), but in some cases for their prominence in old Communist or New Left radical and terrorist activities. A few are notorious because of their serious criminal records, or because they avoided having such records by the skin of their teeth and America’s tendency to forgive fugitives who hide successfully for several decades. Most, though, are deservedly unknown. The institutions that employ them range from the most elite universities in America, including major state universities such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and California, as well as Stanford and the Ivy League (Columbia seems especially hospitable to them), to the most obscure institutions in what has been termed “academic Siberia.”

Many of the chosen occupy endowed chairs or administrative positions, collect awards and grants, and generally bask in the sunshine of academic tenure and respect. This is the surprising thing: it requires not just the adulation of the young, who are frequently dazzled by extremist rhetoric attacking the “Establishment,” but also support from academic seniors and earlier groups of administrators as well as present-day colleagues. I would ascribe much of this support to plain conformity and cowardice, a fear of going against what seems to be the politically correct, popular, and unanimous view. Academic invertebrates are averse to open and vehement confrontation, especially face-to-face rather than in writing; and academic radicals have a penchant for such attacks. The travails of Lawrence Summers illustrate both aspects of this relationship; Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” comes to mind.

Another source of the radicals’ success is the fad of multi- or inter-disciplinarity. Reading the vignettes, one is struck by how many of them are teaching courses outside any area in which they have academic credentials, how many have their appointment or affiliation in programs whose name includes catch-all words such as culture, global studies, or facile labels for doing whatever you want as long as your politics is correct (women’s studies, of course; “Africana” studies; Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern studies or some variant thereof; studies related to sexual preferences other than the norm; and above all, “Peace Studies”). In an intellectually rigorous institution, where departmental boundaries mean something, such units would not exist as administrative entities; and if they did, the charlatans who inhabit them would be in trouble – not because of their politics, but because of their lack of qualifications, lack of rigour, lack of knowledge and judgment, and lack of respect for the views of others.

Are these professors really dangerous (much less “the most dangerous”)? Academics in the “soft” disciplines overestimate their own impact on society and on their students; even the famous Bennington study, purportedly showing the liberalizing influence of faculty on students, conflated that influence with the general leftward movement of American public opinion in the 1930s and ‘40s. Perhaps it is only their fellow professors, aspiring professors, and the integrity of the professorial enterprise, that are in most danger from them.

One more anecdote from the early atomic era sums it up. At that time, psychologists who were too enamoured of their discipline’s importance were reminded that it would be considered a national catastrophe if someone like von Braun, Teller, or Oppenheimer were kidnapped by the USSR; whereas if B.F. Skinner were kidnapped….

Last regretful word: too bad the book didn’t cover North American academics. We don’t have many colleagues in Canada who deserve to be on this list, but even a few prominent loonies would have been an entertaining addition to it.