Magazine Feature / People

Saitta targeted as a ‘dangerous’ professor

The University of Denver’s new Faculty Senate president is one of the 101 most dangerous academics in America, according to author and activist David Horowitz.

Dean Saitta, professor and former chair of anthropology at DU, was named in Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Regnery Publishing, 2006). Horowitz, who has never met Saitta, claims in his book that Saitta promotes radical political agendas instead of disseminating knowledge in the classroom. He also blasts Saitta for his defense of University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill and his membership on the editorial board of the interdisciplinary journal Rethinking Marxism.

Horowitz’s book, which focuses on Churchill as the poster boy of academia gone bad, has provoked a reaction from about a third of the professors named in it, including Saitta. They have formed a group called Teachers for a Democratic Society and are circulating a petition calling on CU administrators not to fire Churchill.

“We were thrown together by David Horowitz,” Saitta says.

Saitta does not consider himself dangerous. He says he doesn’t teach his students to hate America, as Horowitz alleges, but rather to think critically and not shy away from “provocative thought.” He defends Churchill’s free speech and continued employment at CU, but not the scholarship that got him into trouble with his bosses and colleagues.

And he admits to having Marxist leanings, but says he’s open to—and often hears—opposing views in his classroom.

“Politics make courses relevant, and students demand relevance,” Saitta says.

But Saitta wasn’t always political. It wasn’t until he began studying philosophy in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts that he began to embrace Marxist theory as a way to make sense of the world. He now considers himself a “historical materialist” who is as much influenced by Darwin and other revolutionary thinkers as by Marx.

Saitta has written extensively on American labor history, the impact of Marxism on anthropology, and the history and teaching of anthropology. He has taught at DU since 1988 and chaired the anthropology department for seven years.

Saitta has earned several faculty awards during his tenure, including the Mortar Board “Top Prof” in 1993 and 1995 and the 1998 United Methodist Church University Scholar-Teacher of the Year.

Saitta, who has been active in the Faculty Senate for several years, will serve as its president for the next two. He decided to vie for the leadership position, he says, because of the enormous and exciting changes and challenges ahead for DU.

He wants the senate to work closely with the new chancellor and provost in charting the future of the University, ensuring a faculty voice on a future endowment campaign and new University Planning Advisory Council efforts.

Saitta helped draft the Faculty Senate’s position on academic values, rights and responsibilities, and he plans to continue to stand up for the faculty on issues of free speech.

“What we’re witnessing is a renewed assault on academic freedom,” he says.

Horowitz believes that it’s cultural conservatives who are under attack. The left has taken over academia, he says, forcing conservatives into hiding and filling classrooms with political rhetoric that has no relevance to scholarship. He claims that more than 90 percent of university faculty members nationwide are leftist and brands the other 10 percent as extremists who push radical agendas.

“There’s nothing wrong with having Marxists on the faculty,” Horowitz says. “But they should teach, not preach.”

Saitta insists his classroom approach is scholarly. But professors have an obligation, he says, to teach “a breadth of ideas,” even experimenting with new ones and championing others that might advance human knowledge or have a positive impact on everyday life.

“If we make some of our publics uncomfortable in the process,” Saitta says, “we’re probably doing something right.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, September 2006.

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