Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Harry Targ

On July 17, 2013 an Associated Press story was published in several newspapers quoting from 2010 e-mails Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana wrote to “top state educational officials.” The e-mails encouraged the suppression of popular historian Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States” in Indiana public education, including university level teacher training courses. Upon the death of popular historian Howard Zinn, Daniels e-mailed that “this terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.”

When challenged on the seeming threats to academic freedom, Daniels claimed that his directives “only” referred to K through 12 instruction despite the fact that his e-mails made it clear he opposed instruction that used Zinn’s writings as tools for in-service training for teachers. 

Ninety Purdue University faculty (including this author) signed a letter to President Daniels objecting to his implied threat to academic freedom. In addition to defending the university as a place for debate among competing ideas, the faculty objected to the negative characterization of Zinn’s scholarship as an historian. They also objected to Daniels’ claim that although he was not interested in censoring scholarship and teaching at the university, when he was governor he had the responsibility to oversee school curricula from kindergarten through high school.

Faculty pointed out that restricting what was being taught to teachers pursuing advanced credits and restricting the right of teachers to use Zinn’s work in pre-college curricula violated academic freedom. Many Purdue faculty believed that extreme statements damning the substance of Zinn’s work cast a pall on the university and made serious reflection on American history in elementary and high schools more difficult for young people and their teachers.

It is important to note that the Daniels e-mails, and their threat to free discussion and debate in educational institutions in Indiana, reflect the deep struggles being waged in the American political system. Rush Limbaugh once remarked on his radio show to the effect that “we” have captured most institutions in the society with the exception of the university. Since politics is usually about the contestation of ideas and the development of ideas comes from an understanding of the past and its connection to the present and the future, schools and universities can aptly be seen as “contested terrain.” That is teachers and students learn about their world through reading, writing, debating, and advocating policies, ideas, and values in educational settings.

Consequently, if one sector of society wishes to gain and maintain political and economic power they might see particular value in controlling the ideas that are disseminated in educational institutions. During the dark days of the Cold War professors who had the “wrong” ideas were fired. Professional associations in many disciplines rewarded scholars who worked within accepted perspectives on history, or political science, or literature, or sociology and denied recognition to others. The preferred ideas trickled down to primary and secondary education.  In most instances, professors and teachers who suffered as a result of their teaching were merely presenting competing views so that their students would have more informed reasons for  deciding on their own what interpretations of  subject matter made the most sense.

American history was a prime example of how controversial teaching would become. Most historians after World War II wrote and taught about the American experience emphasizing that elites made history, men made history more than women, social movements were absent from historical change, history moved in the direction of consensus rather than conflict, and the United States always played a positive role in world history. European occupation of North America, the elimination of Native Peoples, building a powerful economy on the backs of a slave system, and a U.S. pattern of involvement in foreign wars were all ignored or slighted. 

Howard Zinn, a creator and product of the intellectual turmoil of the 60s presented us with a new paradigm for examining U.S. history, indeed all history. His classic text, “A People’s History of the United States,” which has been read by millions compellingly presented a view of history that highlighted the roles of indigenous people, workers, women, people of color, people of various ethnicities, and all others who were not situated at the apex of economic, political, or educational institutions. He taught us that we needed to be engaged in the struggles that shaped people’s lives to learn what needs to be changed, how their conditions got to be what they were, and how scholar/activists might help to change the world.

Perhaps most importantly, Zinn demonstrated that participants in people’s struggles were part of a “people’s chain,” that is the long history of movements and campaigns throughout history that have sought to bring about change. As he wrote in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times:”

“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

In the 1970s the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was formed by wealthy conservatives and corporations such as Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and AT&T which invested millions of dollars to organize lobby groups, support selected politicians in all 50 states, create “think tanks,” and in other ways strategize about how to transform American society to increase the wealth and power of the few. ALEC lobbyists and scholars developed programs and legislation around labor, healthcare, women’s issues, the environment, and education that were designed to reverse the progressive development of government and policy that social movements had long advocated.

Speakers at ALEC events have included Governors Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jan Brewer, John Kasich, and Mitch Daniels. ALEC legislative programs include lobbying for charter schools, challenging teachers unions, revisiting school curricula to include materials that deny climate change and more effectively celebrate the successes of the Bill of Rights in U.S. history.

The conservative Bradley Foundation, has awarded $400 million over the last decade to organizations supporting school vouchers, right-to-work laws and traditional marriage laws, and global warming deniers. Two of the four recipients of the organizations 2013 award for support of “American democratic capitalism” were Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, and Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

Associations which lobby for restricting academic freedom in higher education include David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the National Association of Scholars, funded by the conservative Sarah Scaife, Bradley, and Olin Foundations among others. NAS seeks to bring together scholars whose work opposes multiculturalism, affirmative action, concerns about climate change, and the “liberal” bias in academia. 

The NAS current president Peter Wood, contributed a blog article in the Chronicle on Higher Education on July 18, 2013, entitled “Why Mitch Daniels Was Right About Howard Zinn.” Wood wrote that “a governor worth his educational salt should be calling out faculty members who cannot or will not distinguish scholarship from propaganda, or who prefer to substitute simplistic storytelling for the complexities of history.”

Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States”  is a history of how social movements of workers, women, people of color, native peoples and others often left out of conventional accounts have made and can make history. This is a part of history that political and economic elites, influential organizations such as ALEC, the Bradley Foundation, and education-oriented groups like NAS do not want included in course curricula; in middle school, high school, or the university.

If education at any level is to be shaped by the principle of academic freedom it must encourage student exposure to varieties of theories, perspectives, and points of view. It is in an environment of discussion and debate that rigorous and critical thought emerges. Efforts to expunge certain scholars such as Howard Zinn from educational curricula contradict the spirit of free and rigorous thought. 

A similar version of this essay appeared in the Fort Wayne, Journal Gazette, August 5, 2013.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Harry Targ


Contemporary global society appears to be dominated by massive starvation, climate crises, terrorist violence, police shootings, street demonstrations, unpredictable election outcomes, and an enormous array of political mobilizations. To some the historical period in which we live is understood as one of global chaos; a time of uncontrollable and unpredictable physical and social change. For others, the period is best understood from a post-modern lens; claiming that social, political, or environmental circumstances cannot be explained by any coherent narrative or explanation.  

However, surveying literature on global political economy, social movements, and contemporary history suggests that various common themes and connections can be drawn to help us better understand the twenty-first century and become more effective political actors. Understanding four inextricably linked political, social, and economic factors may give clarity to an understanding of the twenty-first century and inform debates about how to change circumstances. These phenomena are neoliberal globalization, austerity, resistance, and reaction.

Neoliberal Globalization

Neoliberal globalization refers to the changing features of the international political economy that have emerged from the 1970s. Globalization is a shorthand way of referring to the qualitative increase in cross-national interactions of corporations, banks, non-governmental institutions, and people that are supported by or challenge the prerogatives of traditional nation-states. The rise of the internet has virtually eliminated space and time as variables constraining the development of global corporations, financial speculation, war making and social movements in resistance.

Neoliberalism connotes a kind of economic policy that governments, international financial institutions, and corporations and banks promote to transform the way nations and people organize their lives. The neoliberal policy agenda demands that countries cut their public spending, privatize their public institutions, and deregulate their economies. In addition, poor countries are required to redirect their economies to produce commodities for export to earn scarce foreign exchange (to repay the debt accrued to foreign banks). 

During the 1970s dramatic increases in the price of oil most countries needed to develop forced them to borrow money to maintain their oil imports. Banks which had accumulated huge surplus capital from oil profits needed to put the money to use. The two forces, the need to borrow money on the one hand and the need to lend it on the other, created the global system of debt that gave the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, private banks, and a handful of rich countries the leverage to transform international politics and economics. 


The neoliberal policies that spread to virtually every nation increased globalization and led every country to adopt these policies which are often called austerity. Public institutions have been privatized; benefits to citizens have been reduced ranging from health care to education, to transportation, to old age assistance; and guaranteed minimally acceptable wages have been allowed to stagnate. Worker rights to organize have been eliminated. Jobs were lost. Those who still could work have lost workplace benefits. Work is being routinized and demand for skilled work has declined. And through a combination of administrative changes and technology more and more work has become obsolete. 

Therefore, work itself has become precarious and as a consequence the informal sector has grown; that is people hustling on the streets and back allies to make some money have become characteristic features of the quest for survival across Latin America, Africa, and Asia and big cities in rich and poor countries. Millions, particularly those who lost access to land, have become migrants desperately seeking work. And all this has proceeded as governments cut taxes on the wealthy.

Virtually every policy embraced by most countries involves the transfer of societal wealth from the increasingly poor majority to the rich minority. That is the primary purpose of austerity policies. To put it succinctly, governments have embraced policies that starve workers to increase the wealth of financiers and huge multinational corporations.


The era of neoliberal globalization and the austerity policies that institutionalized the new age have generated growing protest everywhere. A recent study of worldwide protests (Isabel Ortiz, Sara Burke, Mohamed Berrada, Hernan Cortes, World Protests  2006-2013) indicates that protest activities, largely motivated by economic circumstance and the desire for democratization, have spread to nearly half the countries in the world since 2006. During the second decade of the new century media have reported on rebellions from Tahrir Square to Madison, Wisconsin, around issues of austerity and democracy. Austerity has animated workers in Greece, Spain, and Ireland. Student rebellions against cuts in government support for education have occurred in Quebec, Santiago, Chile, and throughout the United States. In the Global South particularly, workers have protested against land grabs, the International Monetary Fund, so-called “free trade” and the effect of neoliberalism on workers, peasants, indigenous people, women, and on the rapid destruction of the environment.

Further, anti-austerity movements have increasingly conceptualized the connections between neoliberal globalization, austerity, and parallel issues that are ultimately driven by the economy: the climate crisis, rising military budgets and war, crumbling infrastructure, attacks on women and people of color, the destruction of the labor movement, and the intrusion of wealth in the political process. Reverend William Barber who has inspired the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina refers to the resistance strategy that is driven by the vision of the interconnections of these issues, as “fusion politics.”


The movements of global resistance have grown enormously, particularly since the recession of 2008, as has reaction. Violent reaction from rightwing movements, in some places in the form of fascist and white racist campaigns, has spread. With a few more degrees of respectability rightwing populist parties such as the Tea Party in the United States have mobilized to pressure their more dignified neoconservatives and Wall Street liberals to support austerity and state repression of resistance. 

State violence against public campaigns has increased. In the United States police killings of African Americans have increased. Police agencies and vigilante groups have engaged in terrorism against so-called “illegal” immigrants. And governments have passed laws limiting mobilizations in public spaces. Through the use of implied police terror, laws, coded messages in the media that groups of people are “gangs” or “thugs,” efforts are being made to crush rising social movements.

Building Twentieth-First Century Movements for Change

The connections between neoliberal globalization, austerity, resistance, and reaction make clear that the world of the twenty-first century is not primarily beyond understanding. It does suggest however that the direction of change in which the world is headed is fraught with danger from neoliberalism, austerity, and violent reaction. And it is this threat to humanity and the planet itself that is spawning various movements for social change. These movements are spreading, occur all across the face of the globe, emerge around specific issues, and ultimately are driven by a changing global political economy. It is the consciousness of these interconnections and growing violence that activists need to address as they educate, agitate, and organize for a new global society.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Harry Targ

Purdue University has become the first public institution of higher education to adopt a free speech policy called the ‘Chicago principles,’ condemning the suppression of views no matter how ‘offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’ they may be. (Tyler Kingkade, “Purdue Takes A Stand For Free Speech, No Matter How Offensive Or Unwise,” Huffington Post, May 15, 2015).

“Colleges and universities often boast of their diversity in terms of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation, but too often they fail to encourage diversity of thought.” (Kathleen Parker, “In Name of Free Speech at Purdue, Beyond,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, Thursday, May 21, 2015, 7A).

To its credit, the Purdue University Board of Trustees recently passed a resolution defending free speech on its college campus. The new policy was strongly endorsed by the Purdue President Mitch Daniels who, quoted by Parker, condemned universities that spawn “a bunch of little authoritarians with an inverted view of our basic freedoms.”

While the policy is correct, the implied narrative of the threat to academic freedom and diversity of thought as coming from the Left, progressives or liberals, constitutes an extraordinary rewriting of the experience of a hundred years of higher education. Any serious revisiting of the history of the modern university shows clearly that the ideas, disciplines, purposes of higher education have been shaped and transformed by money, power, the perceived needs of United States national security, and conservative ideology.

For example, Ellen Schrecker documented the enormous impact that the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s had on higher education in her book, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1988).  She interviewed academic victims of McCarthyite attacks on faculty at prestigious universities.  They were subpoenaed to testify before state legislative or Congressional committees about their former political affiliations and associations.  As was the requirement of the times, those ordered to testify could not just admit to their own political activities but were obliged to give witness against others whom they may have known.

Some victims were former members of the Communist Party, others were signatories to petitions supporting the Spanish loyalists during their civil war, and still others had supported banning atomic weapons.  Perhaps the most troubling element of the Red Scare story was the fact that university administrations refused to defend those of their faculty who were attacked. Furthermore, Schrecker reports that some university officials demanded that their faculty cooperate with these committees.  Her subjects reported that they received little or no support from administrators because officials wished to protect their universities from funding reductions.

Since the end of the Cold War, some scholars have begun to examine other aspects of the anti-communist hysteria as it related to the academy. Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, in Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism: 1945-60, addressed the multiplicity of ways in which funding priorities, rightwing assaults, official pronouncements from government officials, lobbying efforts by big business groups, and shifting electoral political currents affected and shaped the content of academic programs since World War II

For example, disciplines then, and now, have been shaped by dominant "paradigms," or approaches which have included assumptions about the subject, aspects of the subject that deserved study, theories that were most appropriate for understanding the subject of the field, and the methods that should be used to study subjects in the field.  Most important, all the social sciences and humanities adopted views of their disciplines that did not challenge ongoing U.S. Cold War assumptions about the world. In each case, dominant paradigms of the 1950s and beyond constituted a rejection of 1930s and 1940s thinking, which were shaped by the labor and other struggles of the Depression era.

In the words of scholar Henry Giroux, the military-industrial-academic complex influenced personnel recruitment and retention and the substance of research and teaching.  Disciplines with more ready access to research dollars -- from engineering to psychology -- defined their research agendas to comport with the interests of the government and corporations.

However, students in the 1960s began to demand new scholarship and education.  Opposition to the Vietnam War particularly stimulated demands on professors to rethink the historical character and motivation of United States foreign policy.  William Appleman Williams and his students, the historical revisionists, articulated a view that the United States practiced imperialism ever since it became an industrial power.  Classrooms where international relations and foreign policy were taught became "contested terrain" for argumentation and debate between the older and more benign view of the U.S. role in the world and the view of the U.S. as an imperial power. 

The contestation spread.  Students demanded more diverse and complicated analyses of race and racism in America, patriarchy and sexism in gender relations, and working-class history.  Every discipline and every dominant paradigm was subjected to challenge.  The challenges were also reflected in radical caucuses in professional associations and even in some of the more upright (and "uptight") signature professional journals.  As a result there was a diminution of Red Scares in higher education, for a time.

The spirit of ideological struggle in the academy diminished after the Vietnam War and especially after Ronald Reagan became president.  Reagan brought back militant Cold War policies, radically increased military expenditures, declared Vietnam a "noble cause," and developed a sustained campaign to crush dissent and reduce the strength of the labor movement.  The climate on campus to some degree returned to the 1950s.

However a whole generation of 1960s-trained academics was now tenured faculty at universities around the country.  They had institutionalized programs in African American Studies, Women's Studies, Peace Studies, and Middle East Studies.  Critical theorists populated education schools, American Studies programs, and other pockets of the university. Faculty continued the debate with keepers of dominant paradigms, created interdisciplinary programs, and developed programs shaped by key social issues such as racism, class exploitation, gender discrimination, and war.

But by the 1990s, a new version of the Red Scare was surfacing.  Some conservative academics and their constituencies talked about declining standards they said were caused by the new programs.  Others criticized what they regarded as an insufficiently rosy view of United States history.  They claimed that the United States was being unfairly condemned for the killing of millions of Native Americans or because slavery and racism were presented as central to the history of the country.  They formed academic associations and interest groups to defend against critical scholarship.

Then David Horowitz came along.  Overseeing a multi-million-dollar foundation funded by rightwing groups, Horowitz launched a campaign to purify academia of those who had records of teaching, research, and publication that he saw as unduly critical of the United States, ruling political or economic elites, or the global political economy.  He opposed those scholar-activists who participated in political movements or in any way connected their professional and political lives.  And he opposed those academics who participated in academic programs that are interdisciplinary, problem-focused, and not tied to traditional fields of study.  

Horowitz published a book in 2006, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, in which he presented distorted profiles of illustrative faculty whom he believed violated academic standards.  Most of those identified either engaged in political activity and/or participated in interdisciplinary scholarly programs that he found offensive: Middle East Studies, Women's Studies, African-American Studies, American Studies, and Peace Studies.

In conjunction with the book and similar assaults on those he disagreed with on his electronic news magazine, Horowitz encouraged right-wing students to challenge the legitimacy of these professors on college campuses and encouraged  conservative student groups to pressure state legislatures to endorse so-called "student bill-of-rights legislation."  Such legislation would have established oversight by state legislatures of colleges and universities, especially their hiring practices.

In conjunction with campaigns led by Lynn Cheney, the former vice-president's wife, and former Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, an organization called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni was created.  As Giroux summarized it, ". . . ACTA actively supports policing classroom knowledge, monitoring curricula, and limiting the autonomy of teachers and students as part of its larger assault on academic freedom" (Giroux, The University in Chains, Paradigm, 2007, 162).

Horowitz, ACTA, and others conservatives who attacked the university targeted visible academics for scrutiny and persecution.  Ward Churchill, a provocative professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, was fired after a university committee was created to review his scholarship because of controversial remarks he made off campus.  Norman Finkelstein, a DePaul University political scientist who had written several books critical of interpreters of Israeli history and foreign policy, was denied tenure after a coordinated attack from outside his university led by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.  Distinguished political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt became the subject of vitriol and false charges of anti-Semitism because they published a long essay and book analyzing the "Israeli lobby." More recently, the University of Illinois reversed its contractual relationship with Professor Steven Salaita who posted electronic messages strongly critical of the state of Israel.

In addition, the new Red Scare has reinforced and legitimized the dominant paradigms in various academic disciples and created an environment of intellectual caution in the academy.  While the impacts are not easily measurable, untenured faculty cannot help but be intimidated by the public attacks on their senior colleagues.  The system of tenure and promotion in most institutions is vulnerable to public pressures, individual reviewer bias, and honest disagreements among faculty about whether published work and teaching is worthy of promotion and tenure.  Therefore, just as the administrators and faculty of the 1950s felt vulnerable to outside assault on their institutions, those passing judgment on today's faculty might see the necessity of caution in hiring and retaining faculty whose perspectives are new, different, radical, and engaged.

In short, the real threats to academic freedom and free speech on college campuses have almost always come from those who wish to defend the status quo in scholarship, teaching, advocacy, foreign and national security policy, and the way the economy is organized. 

One would hope that the new defenders of free speech and academic freedom, such as Kathleen Parker and the Purdue University Board of Trustees, will defend faculty who are critics of various public policies and the prevailing distributions of wealth, income, power, and unequal privileges based on class, race, gender, and sexual orientation. This would be an historic change from the practice of silencing progressive voices in higher education.