University professors whose teaching is tinged with left-wing bias are the target of a new conservative watchdog group.
Accuracy in Academia is a spinoff of Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, which publicizes alleged liberal bias in the news media. The new group intends to begin monitoring selected university classes around the country in September.
Claiming that 10,000 known Marxists teach on university campuses, Malcolm Lawrence, who heads the new group, said, "We're looking for political bias based on incorrect information."
The formation of Accuracy in Academia has sparked a sharp response from academics and civil libertarians who view it as the latest in a series of New Right assaults on academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas.
"It sounds like intellectual goon squads," said Thomas Mann, executive director of the American Political Science Association. "They have in mind intimidation, inhibiting people from exercising certain points of view."
Lawrence, an ex-Foreign Service officer, also leads a Montgomery County group trying to increase parents' right to censor materials in public elementary and secondary schools. He said the goal of Accuracy in Academia resembles his parental-rights group: to end what conservatives see as the Marxist "brainwashing" of America's youth through "misinformation and disinformation" in classrooms.
"The idea is to get in at the university level," he said, by using volunteers -- preferably senior citizens -- to sit in on political science, history and sociology classes at targeted universities and report instances of bias.
Ernst Benjamin, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said, "They seem to be trying to frighten faculty members into supporting their obviously right-wing point of view. It is not only frightening, it is reprehensible."
"What goes on in the classroom is the essence of academic freedom," said John Shattuck, Harvard's vice president for government, community and public affairs. "Any attempt to influence it from the outside is a deplorable development, particularly if there is one point of view trying to impress itself from the outside."
No strong evidence exists concerning professors' political attitudes. But academics cite a general impression that engineering faculties tend to be furthest to the right, followed closely by faculties in the physical sciences. Sociologists and anthropologists tend to be furthest left politically, with economists on the center-right and political scientists occupying the center-left.
Most academics say that in contrast to many European countries, no significant Marxist faction exists among professors in this country.
"Marxism hasn't achieved the level of intellectual influence that it has achieved in Europe," Mann said. "There are neo-Marxist perspectives on politics, but what that means to most people is paying attention to the connection between politics and economics . . . to classes of people and the rest."
American political science, he said, while not value-free, tends to concentrate more on process and methodology than on ideology.
The August edition of AIM Report, Accuracy in Media's newsletter, cites three kinds of "disinformation" the group hopes to combat.
One case mentions an unnamed professor at "a large state university" who "told his students that there is more injustice in America than there was in Nazi Germany."
The newsletter also names Saul Landau, a University of California at Santa Cruz professor who it claims "produced a documentary glorifying Fidel Castro's Cuba." Landau, once a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, is a well-known documentary filmmaker who has specialized in Latin American subjects and liberal political themes.
On the subject of his 1968 film "Fidel," Landau was quoted three years ago in The Washington Post as saying, "I found Fidel a sympathetic figure and a hell of a good actor. You have 999 anti-Castro films. So why don't you run one pro-Castro film?"
Landau could not be reached for comment on the newsletter.
The newsletter also names former University of Maryland Prof. Bertell Ollman, a Marxist whose appointment as head of the government department was blocked in 1978 in a case that gained national attention. Ollman is on leave for the summer and could not be reached for comment