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I Don't Punish Students Who Disagree with Me

Response by David Horowitz, Publisher of FrontPageMag.com

HNN has invited me to reply to an article by one of our university students, Bradley Alexander, entitled, “Profane Professor,” in the conservative Internet journal FrontPageMagazine.com (September 9, 2004), which refers to the first class meeting in my course on the World Wars at the University of Georgia.

As a chaired professor specializing in military history, warfare and society, and European history, I have taught such subjects as war and society, the First and Second World Wars, civil-military relationships, and Western Civilization for thirty-three years, the first seventeen at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the last sixteen at the University of Georgia. My published works, of which the most recent is a history of the First World War, The Great War: An Imperial History (Routledge, 2004) have gained me an international reputation as an acknowledged authority on the war of 1914-1918. I have also won best teaching awards at both universities, and in those thirty-three years the evaluations of my courses--registered by students who complete them--have been exceedingly high.

During those years, I have taught many students destined for military service, because of the nature of my specialty and my popularity as a teacher. A number of those former students, many of whom are presently in the service, still correspond with me, I am proud to say. In fact, in the midst of the “hate mail” I have received as a result of Bradley Alexander’s article, the following email arrived from a former student at Tennessee:

I was an undergraduate student of yours in the late 1970’s, I recently retired after a 23 year career as an officer in the Army, Special Forces of course, and wanted to say thanks for inspiring me as a young man so many years ago. I saw on the internet that you were telling it like it is, as usual, in Georgia. I do not think we would ever agree on politics but wanted to let you know that I am willing to come testify at your court-martial or whatever the academic thought-police attempt to do.

Bradley Alexander attended only the introductory session of my “World Wars” class, when I introduce the subject, talk about my teaching style, and purposely introduce controversial opinions to generate discussion. I teach by the Socratic method and students need to become accustomed to discussing issues openly. Alexander was one of very few students who dropped the course after that first day, as some do when they see the extensive reading and writing that the course requires. Their places, as always, were filled by even more students who wanted to take the course, which is over-enrolled at seventy-two students.

Bradley Alexander took issue not with profanity, but with my opinions of President Bush and the war in Iraq. I called President Bush first a “chicken hawk,” because his parents’ influence got him into the Air Guard and out of service in Vietnam, a war he allegedly supported. Alexander labels that a “conspiracy theory,” thus demonstrating his ignorance about the military in the Vietnam era. I stand by my condemnation of the Bush regime’s policy of lies about the war in Iraq. What Alexander failed to mention was that I further condemned this administration for ignoring and even dismissing its best military brains, who informed Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush that we needed “more boots on the ground” in Iraq, a clear set of goals, and an “exit strategy” before we entered the war. This adminstration did none of the above, and as a consequence, we find ourselves in our current situation in Iraq.

In regard to the use of the epithet “chicken shit,” I stand by it as well. For students of military history, it is one of the milder epithets, and if they are going to take a course on war, they are going to encounter a good deal of profanity. Veteran Paul Fussell’s excellent work Wartime defines “chicken shit” in reference to the bureaucratic garbage that soldiers of World War II encountered.

“Chicken shit” also refers to people who do not have the courage of their convictions. I applied the term specifically to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who avoided service in Vietnam, a war they both allegedly supported. I stated, furthermore, that it was ironic that Bush, who was able to avoid Vietnam service through the Guard, now had no difficulty sending the Guard to extended duty in Iraq, with the result that patriotic grandfathers--Bush’s contemporaries who served their country in Vietnam--have died there. Bush talks tough when the lives of others are on the line, but he did not act tough when his own life was at stake. The president should not say that he would have served if called, when he well knows that he was not going to be called to duty. The choice of plane on which he trained even guaranteed that he would not serve in Vietnam. Air Guard pilots who flew F-100 Super Sabre fighter-bombers went to Vietnam. Bush learned to fly the obsolescent “Delta Dagger” interceptor, which saw no service there.

Bradley Alexander’s summary description of my class is his interpretation. I brought his article the day it appeared to my “World Wars” class and told them about it. Alexander refers to “two dissenting voices.” The other “dissenting voice,” who remained in the class and is doing well, read Alexander’s article in astonishment. Alexander’s description of a class in “amused shock,” is his own; the students were amused at his description and gave me a round of applause.

Finally, Alexander omits our exchange. He asked me two questions, both of which I answered. I then asked him a question, to which he replied with a further question. I answered the third question and then asked him to answer my question. He said that he had not heard my question, to which I replied that I had heard his and that he could at least pay me the courtesy of listening to and answering mine. I suggested that he could answer mine the next class. He never returned.

Alexander believes that a professor teaching a class on the World Wars should not discuss contemporary issues. However, the situation in present day Iraq has its modern origins in the era of the First World War, and current issues of military service and the volunteer army serve as an interesting contrast to the conscription of draft armies of the two World Wars. When I ask students if they plan to serve in the military to act on their support of the war in Iraq, invariably students like Alexander do not. Had he stayed for more than one class, or even listened to what I explained that first day, he would have understood that the past and present intertwine inextricably. His definition of what is related to the subject and mine differ. Years of study, research, publication, and teaching have made me an acknowledged expert in my field. I have presented my credentials. Let Bradley Alexander present his.

Unlike many of the conservative students I have taught in over thirty years at major Southern universities, Alexander lacks the courage of his convictions. When I was in college and graduate school, I never dropped a course, regardless of whether I agreed with the professors’ views. I respected the fact that they knew their field and valued their personal perspectives, and took discussion as an opportunity to learn and test my ideas against theirs. The great majority of my students interact with me exactly the same way: we engage in freewheeling and spontaneous discussions in my classroom, because I find that students learn best in that atmosphere. Their student evaluations confirm this fact.

Alexander evidently ranks among the type of conservative college student who equates indoctrination with anything he or she does not already believe, and who views any criticism of the president as somehow treasonous. Such attitudes represent the height of hypocrisy and the “political correctness” that conservatives love to condemn. The use of profane language becomes their lever to attack professors for viewpoints that differ from theirs. They use it very selectively, as many faculty and public figures could receive censure for the public use of profanity--Dick Cheney included. Such students lack the courage to confront the faculty member directly, but rather they run to “higher authorities” or external sources to plead their case.

Finally, Alexander did himself a disservice by dropping the course, as he has deprived himself of an opportunity to grow and mature intellectually. I grade students on their performance on tests and papers, not on their personal or political opinions. In fact, a recent student wrote to FrontPageMagazine to say:

I took Morrow’s course last year. I didn’t agree with seventy-five percent of the things he said, but I still got a very good grade.... It just so happens that the war in Iraq can be used to illustrate several aspects of history.... If students are not secure enough in their own beliefs to have them tested, then maybe they should evaluate what their beliefs really mean to them.

Response by David Horowitz, Publisher of FrontPageMag.com

Professor Morrow's self-defense in the matter of the student he drove from his classroom is really all that is required to make the case against him. Morrow's remarks are an apparently unwitting confession of his own grossly unprofessional behavior, a vulgar display of emotions more suitable to the "Hannity and Colmes" show than to an academic classroom. Professor Morrow is apparently unaware that this type of behavior has been expressly condemned by the American Association of University Professors as a violation of academic freedom for more than sixty years.

In the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the American Association of University Professors declared: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The rationale is obvious. Professors and students are not equals in a classroom setting. Remarks such as Professor Morrow freely admits he made which have no relation to his subject are not so subtle means of intimidating students who identify with the president and are a breach of the obligations Professor Morrow has to his students -- including his Republican students -- to create an environment conducive to learning. Professor Morrow's lame reference to the fact that Iraq was created as a consequence of World War I, cannot be taken seriously. Referring to a sitting Republican president as a "chicken-hawk" and a liar obviously has no relation to the historical matters which are the subject of his class and his professional expertise.

I would like to hear from Professor Morrow how the expression of such rank prejudice about the present administration and its policies in Iraq has anything whatsoever to do with the World Wars. I would also like him to share with us how he would feel if he were a leftwing student in a class taught by Bradley Alexander and on the first day of class Professor Alexander referred to John Kerry or Bill Clinton as a liar and a traitor, and laced his remarks with profanity to emphasize his emotional commitment to those views. The fact that some students have the stomach to sit through this kind of unprofessional and emotionally charged blather is no justification for behavior that adversely impacts students who do not. A responsible educator would have the deceny to exhibit some second thoughts about driving a student away from his class merely because he lacked the self-discipline to keep his emotions over the current election to himself. Unfortunately, Professor Morrow seems to lack that decency.