March 14, 2006

Book Calls C.U. Professor a 'Dangerous Academic'

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Beware students: You are putting yourself at risk daily by entering the college classroom where you are indoctrinated by the ideas of dangerous people – those commonly referred to as professors.

This is essentially the warning proclaimed in conservative author David Horowitz’s newest book, The Professors: 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Published in early February, Horowitz’s book aims to expose professors throughout the nation whose conduct he views as “dangerous.” One of Cornell’s own faculty members, Prof. Matthew Evangelista, government, is among the professors from over 60 universities to be included in the book.

“When viewed as a whole, the 101 portraits in this volume reveal several disturbing patterns of university life,” Horowitz writes.

According to the The Professors, the “disturbing patterns” include promoting agendas beyond academic purposes; teaching subjects outside of professional expertise for purposes of political propaganda; making racist comments in public; introducing political plans within the setting of the college classroom; and abandoning academic discipline and inquiry.

Horowitz said that his educational experience at Columbia University inspired his book. He explained that he was never singled out for his political views at Columbia, as opposed to today when students, such as strong conservatives, are criticized in academic settings.

“My most difficult task in writing this book was living daily with the knowledge it provides of the most enormous damage that several generations of tenured radicals have inflicted on our educational system,” he wrote.

The book claims that Evangelista is specifically dangerous because of “… the intensity of his politics and the overtly one-sided character of his teaching,” especially in regard to his “idiosyncratic” teachings on the Cold War and his participation in protests against American policy in Iraq.

In contrast to his profile in Horowitz’s book, Evangelista characterized his teaching style quite differently: “I like to expose students to a wide range of explanations for political phenomena and get them to think critically about the nature of the evidence that might support one or another account,” he said in an e-mail.

Horowitz states in his book that “… the professional responsibility of educators is to elevate students’ ability to think, not hand them the correct opinions.” According to Horowitz, many of the professors included in his book oppose this principle.

However, Evangelista contradicted Horowitz’s claim. “Sometimes my students become a bit frustrated that I don’t give them the ‘right answer’ or directly express my own view on a particular debate … for me the process of learning how to think critically and to relate evidence to arguments is more valuable to the students than simply hearing my own views,” he said.

Some students disagree with Horowitz’s claims.

“[Evangelista] does have a bit of a left-leaning [view], but he teaches an unbiased course and looks at things from a bunch of perspectives,” said Eli Baumwell ’06, a government major who took Evangelista’s course, Government 393: Introduction to Peace Studies.

Evangelista admitted that the information regarding his published work and speeches is factual, though he said that Horowitz’s claims about his teaching are “a total invention on his part, because neither he nor his associates have ever attended my classes, read my teaching evaluations or talked to my students. If they had done so, they would not be able to make such a claim.”

“[Horowitz] is afraid that professors with political views different from his are indoctrinating students and thereby pose a danger to them,” Evangelista said, regarding Horowitz’s definition of “dangerous.”

” [Because professors] insist that arguments and policy proposals be based on real evidence and logical reasoning, I suppose we could pose a danger to some of the policies that Horowitz and his supporters have encouraged the United States to pursue,” he continued.

Baumwell supported Evangelista’s statement by explaining that when he hears professors discuss issues that he disagrees with, it forces him to look deeper to find the truth and serves as a motivation for greater intellectual inquiry.

Evangelista explained that, in his opinion, professors seem to be anything but dangerous: “The critical thinking and open debate that [professors] foster in our classrooms help educate citizens whose judgment could lead to improved policies in the future. That doesn’t seem dangerous to me, though. It seems essential for the survival of our democracy.”

In addition to being a professor of government at Cornell since 1996, Evangelista is also the director of the Peace Studies Program. He received a Fulbright Lectureship and is currently teaching for a year in Italy at the University of Bologna.

Archived article by Jamie Leonard
Sun Staff Writer