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Acase in point is an undergraduate Fiat Lux seminar, "Rereading Democracy in
America: Politics Before and After 9/11," which Lal taught in the fall of
2003. The course prompted scathing criticism from David Horowitz, a
prominent Los Angeles-based conservative commentator who has been urging
Congress and state legislatures to adopt his "Academic Bill of Rights," a
set of principles that he says colleges should follow to create greater
intellectual diversity on their campuses.
Horowitz castigated Lal for offering certain examples to his students to
help them make a mandatory classroom presentation. "A presentation might
focus on what the election to California's governorship of a movie star who
has been charged by a dozen women with sexual molestation, drives perhaps
the most environmentally unfriendly vehicle in the world and appeared not to
have a single idea about governance says about American Œdemocracy,' " Lal
wrote in an online catalog about his course.
Last September, writing in FrontPage-Mag.com, an online magazine that he
edits, Horowitz called Lal's course description "political argument which
could not be more remote from any pedagogical enterprise or scholarly
inquiry.... Given the pervasive left-wing bias in UC's academic-hiring
process, which has gone on for more than 30 years, this travesty of an
academic seminar is neither surprising nor unique."
Conspicuously absent from Horowitz's critique was the fact that the bulk of
Lal's course was devoted to a close reading of Democracy in America, Alexis
de Tocqueville's 1835 political classic that is an abiding favorite among
conservatives. Instead of mentioning the book, Horowitz berated Lal for
assigning another text, Vietnam and Other American Fantasies, by H. Bruce
Franklin, whom Horowitz called a "notorious radical."
The idea that scholarship ought to be completely objective is archaic, Lal
says, not least because "the fundamental task of the intellectual is in some
sense to go against the grain." Further, says Lal, echoing an opinion widely
shared among liberal faculty, it's ridiculous to have any parity between
liberal and conservative views. "The [conservative] side of the story has
been told ad nauseum," he says. "Students who come to a university like UCLA
have heard endlessly about America's Founding Fathers, for example, unless
they've walked through school blindly. Such [mythic] narratives are not only
overrepresented, but often indefensible" in light of historical research.