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Lyons: College in the crosshairs

Part one

Editors note: The print version of this piece states that Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, is run by David Horowitz. Campus Watch is directed by Daniel Pipes.

I hate to admit it, but I am now middle-aged enough to have a daughter looking at colleges. Her first campus visit was just last week. She loved the place, made new friends, bought a T-shirt in the bookstore and devised all sorts of big plans for this next phase of her life. Of course I was happy for her, and also a bit envious. That particular college offered some innovative programs, including indigenous studies and women's studies, that weren't available when I was a student.

But as we walked those beautiful campus grounds, I kept thinking about that old episode of ''The Sopranos'' when Tony takes his daughter on a similar trip and ends up murdering a ''rat'' who had the misfortune of attending the same college tour. That episode implied that just beneath the ivy-and-brick tranquility of today's college campuses lurks violence.

Are our colleges safe?

Oh, I'm not worried about gun violence like that at Virginia Tech, such things being statistically rare. Nor am I concerned about the violence that would doubtless increase if the gun lobby had its way and college students everywhere were armed (an idea as crazy as anything I read in Cho's manifesto). I do worry about my daughter's safety as a young woman, but I'm not even talking about that.

The violence I mean is the intellectual kind inflicted by the Radical Right in its war on higher education. This assault on teaching and learning is widespread, systemic and heartily financed by the enemies of progress and science. Its targets are diversity, democracy, the environment - even enlightenment itself. Its weapons are propaganda and fear, its casualties are facts and reason, and its collateral damage is the student body.

This war is led by a little general named David Horowitz, a conservative attack dog whose books ''The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America'' and ''Indoctrination U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom'' falsely depict colleges as liberal gulags where students are shackled to desks and forced to listen to Ward Churchill lectures for four years. He also runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center (yes, he named the center after himself), and Students for Academic Freedom, which are handsomely funded to pressure institutions into adopting their ''Academic Bill of Rights,'' a document ostensibly promoting ''intellectual diversity'' but which actually seeks to dismantle diversity, intellectual and otherwise.

Consider Horowitz's January 2007 report, ''Breaking the Law at Penn State,'' which accuses the university of violating its own already-existing academic freedom policy discouraging the teaching of ''ready-made conclusions on controversial subjects.'' Horowitz didn't examine, say, the business school to see if they presented free-market capitalism as a ready-made conclusion to controversial economic subjects. Please. No, he headed straight for women's studies, African-American studies, peace studies and environmental science, accusing them all of promoting ''sectarian viewpoints.''

One example of sectarianism was N. Scott Momaday's ''The Way to Rainy Mountain,'' which, according to Horowitz, presents ''a radical view of American culture'' requiring another ''perspective at odds with [its] extreme viewpoint.'' Gosh, did he read the book? Anyone who has knows that it isn't about American culture at all, let alone some ''radical view'' of it. It's a lengthy personal essay (not a ''novel,'' which is how Horowitz misrepresents it) on the Kiowa written by a Kiowa. What's so ''extreme'' about that? Perhaps it was Momaday's Native identity that warranted condemnation, or maybe the fact that the Kiowa were represented respectfully. Either way, I wonder: What exactly would constitute an alternative ''perspective'' to it? Another book trashing the Kiowa? Probably not teaching it at all.

Horowitz has little problem calling for censorship, as seen in his report's hostility towards the field of women's studies, which he flatly calls ''not a proper academic program'' because it ''analyzes the unequal distribution of power and resources by gender.'' This is for Horowitz a ''clearly controversial opinion'' and not a statement of fact, despite overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary. Who believes that power and resources are distributed equally by gender? I think the real point here is that gender inequality shouldn't be studied at all, lest it lead to change. Back to your kitchens, ladies!

This same sort of willful ignorance is also applied to global warming, of which Horowitz is a major denier. Regarding a Penn State course called The Politics of Ecological Crisis, the report asks, ''Is there an ecological crisis in the first place? The very assumption of the course is a controversial viewpoint. There is, in fact, no consensus about whether this 'crisis' actually exists.'' Actually, there is at least one consensus on this subject - they're called ''scientists'' - but Horowitz thinks science is just one opinion among many. Not since the Inquisition's investigation of Galileo, who posited the ''controversial viewpoint'' that the Earth revolved around the sun, has science been so persistently attacked as it is today by propagandists like Horowitz.

''Academic freedom'' was invented to protect scholars and students from precisely this sort of political pressure, not to promote it. Horowitz's appropriation of this phrase and others (''bill of rights,'' ''indoctrination'') is classic Orwellianism: the distortion of words to mean their exact opposite. Horowitz isn't against indoctrination and for academic freedom. He's against minorities, women and ecologists being represented in the curriculum, and he's for the purging of programs and professors who represent them.

Horowitz commits repeated acts of intellectual violence: misrepresentations of what really happens in college, distortions of fact, reductions of reason and science to ''opinion,'' harassments of social groups only recently included in the curriculum, and mischaracterizations of the scholarly enterprise as something akin to those cable news shows where everyone represents a ''viewpoint'' and yells at each other. That's not how academe works. As a professor myself, I find Horowitz's descriptions of college unrecognizable. As the father of a prospective freshman, I think his ''campus watching'' is creepy.

Go read Horowitz's reports for yourself at his elaborate Web site, FrontPageMag.com, and consider who might be funding such well-orchestrated attacks on academe and why. Then ask yourself if you want people like Horowitz dictating college policy and influencing the education of our children, because that is the goal of the Radical Right.

Continued in part two

Scott Lyons, Leech Lake Ojibwe, directs the Center for Indigenous Studies at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y., and is a columnist for Indian Country Today.