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Winter 2004
Too Liberal?
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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.


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