Issue 101, Spring 2006

Views on the News: Subversive Schools

Poor Jay Bennish, the teacher in Aurora, Colorado, who criticized aspects of the State of the Union address in his 10th grade geography class. Too bad he didn’t like it. Too bad one of his students was secretly recording the class.

Within a New York minute, the tape aired, first on a local radio show, then on the Limbaugh and O’Reilly shows, while the right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin spread news of the "unhinged" teacher. Shortly thereafter, Bennish was placed on administrative leave, even though hundreds of students protested on his behalf.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, anyone who questions government policies runs the risk of being attacked as biased, unpatriotic, or worse, and academics have been especially vulnerable. In a report issued shortly after the attacks, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, co-founded by Lynne Cheney (the Vice President’s wife), issued a report identifying speakers on college and university campuses who allegedly criticized U.S. policies, suggesting that even discussing the reasons for the attacks, or the appropriate response, was off-limits.

The newly-published book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, by conservative activist David Horowitz, contains his personal blacklist of “dangerous” (i.e., “liberal”) professors, including familiar targets of conservative wrath like Ward Churchill and scholars of international renown like Noam Chomsky. Curiously, Horowitz also targets Caroline Higgins, a professor at Earlham College, a Quaker school, whose only sin appears to be that she teaches Peace Studies and social justice – courses that reflect Quakers’ pacifist and other religious beliefs.

Horowitz is known for his claims that “liberals” dominate academia, and that they discriminate against “conservatives,” a view that has led him to promote the “Academic Bill of Rights.” As we’ve observed (in CN #98), the ABOR would strip colleges and universities of academic freedom and subject them to a potential barrage of demands based on students’ political, religious, and moral objections to course content. The latest incarnation recently surfaced in Arizona, where the state senate considered a bill that would have granted college students the right to request an alternative assignment if they found course work “personally offensive.” Fortunately, reason – and academic freedom – prevailed. For the moment.

Jay Bennish is the latest victim in this campaign to silence “liberal” voices, especially government critics. The effort is reaching beyond universities and into the nation’s high schools. An apparently chastened Bennish has been reinstated. Perhaps he should require his students to write an essay on John F. Kennedy’s statement, “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive.”