Sunday, September 10, 2006

David Horowitz and Iran: Together at Last!

This one was pretty easy to write; I'm surprise that Ahmadinejad's comments about liberal and secular university teachers didn't get wider play. Shows you how the agenda gets set, I guess. My suggested title was "The Mullahs of West Washington Street" but the editor went in a different direction.

East Valley Tribune, Sep. 10, 2006

We’ve finally found common ground between Iran and the GOP majority in the Arizona legislature: They both oppose liberal and secular university professors.

It’s no joke, but it really should be. Last week, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a purge of liberal and secular teachers from the country’s universities. And he used those exact key words: “Today, students should shout at the president and ask why liberal and secular university lecturers are present in the universities.” It sounds a bit formal when translated from Farsi, but it’s something you might hear from George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich.

Ahmadinejad’s government has been replacing university teachers deemed by the government as too “liberal” and “secular,” by sending dozens into retirement and by replacing the head of the country’s oldest university in Tehran with a cleric, sparking student protests. This putting-liberals-out-to-pasture policy mirrors what the current Islamic government did after coming to power in 1979, when the ayatollahs sacked hundreds of professors and students deemed too liberal and insufficiently religious.


What a wacky idea -- except that it’s same one being pushed by prominent Republicans and conservatives throughout the country. Republicans usually call these efforts an “Academic Bill of Rights,” but it’s only a matter of time before the Iranians discover the usefulness of such a marketing gimmick as cover for a religious-based professorial purge.

Here in Arizona, state Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, joined the parade to fix the exact same problem that’s upsetting Ahmadinejad, that there are too gosh-darn many liberal and secular university lecturers present at the universities. But Verschoor (and his nearly two dozen GOP co-sponsors) went even farther than Ahmadinejad, with a bill that required public colleges to give students “alternative coursework” if a student declares any assignment “personally offensive,” meaning anything that “conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion.”

The bill passed the Senate Higher Education committee, but died in the full Senate (a victim of what Verschoor calls “the whole academic freedom thing.”) It managed to be so extreme that even David Horowitz, who is pushing these Iranian-style “Bill of Rights” nationally, objected to giving students a get-out-of-class-free card if they find anything in the course “uncomfortable” or “personally offensive.”

Why shouldn’t legislators give students an absolute right to avoid anything in their higher education that might cause them to think or learn about things that don’t fit their existing views? It’s the very key to success as a Republican politician these days, when even Sen. John McCain must drop his “maverick” pose long enough to endorse teaching so-called “intelligent design” instead of evolution. It’s only a matter of time before the GOP platform calls for repeal of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The story behind Verschoor’s bill is interesting, too. (H/t: Michael Berube, fellow WashU parent.) A student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College enrolled in modern American literature and history course called “Currents of American Life.” The syllabus referred to potentially controversial and “adult” themes of some assigned readings, and the lecturer noted that reference on the first day so those with weak constitutions and delicate dispositions could switch classes. Several weeks later, one student demanded an alternative to Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm, saying he hadn’t paid attention on the first day. So what’s Verschoor’s “conservative” solution? To reward the inattentive student and pass a law giving him a free pass out of class. Ridiculous enough for you? There aren’t really any conservatives anymore, just cranks.


Of course, there are tremendous differences between what Ahmadinejad and Verschoor propose for their respective governments’ higher education systems. One demands that professors be less liberal and more conservative, while the other demands that professors be less liberal and more conservative. One insists that instruction must reflect his and students’ religious beliefs, while the other insists that university instruction must reflect his and students’ religious beliefs. One has a difficult-to-spell name, while the other’s name is difficult to spell. I hope that clears it up.

As Ben Adler put it, at least Iran is finally catching up to us in something besides nuclear technology.

No comments: