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 Tom Hayden: Profile of a Professor


  • Adjunct lecturer in Politics at Occidental College
  • Former radical leader
  • Former Democratic State Senator
  • Teaches a course celebrating leftwing protest movements
  • Lectures that the United States seeks to establish an “empire” in the Middle East
  • Calls for an antiwar “strategy” to defeat the United States in Iraq


Tom Hayden is a former New Left activist and a current Adjunct Lecturer in Politics at the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, Los Angeles. Hayden has no scholarly publications, nor does he have any training beyond a B.A. that would qualify him for such a post – and especially for teaching (as he does) a course on international politics (see below); his writings are merely the venting of left-wing opinions, which describes his classes at Occidental.


A onetime leader of the 1960s-era radical group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Hayden has made his experiences as an activist the organizing theme of his course, “Politics and Protest.” The activist agenda underlying “Politics and Protest” is transparent in the course description and syllabus. Adopting the vocabulary and specific agendas of the political left, it explains that the course “will focus on such protest issues as human rights, fair trade, racial and gender justice, the environment, immigration, war and militarism, and poverty.”[1] A typical lecture is titled, “The Student Anti-Sweatshop Movement.” One text is assigned for the lecture: Featherstone, “Latin Sweatshops Pressed by U.S. Campus Power.” No text is provided which takes a critical look at the agendas of the activists or at the underlying economic assumptions of their movement.


Other required texts follow this pattern and are drawn overwhelmingly from leftwing authors, mainly Hayden himself (e.g, “It’s Empire Vs. Democracy”). The readings hail the Marxist guerrillas in Chiapas, and incite opposition to “globalization” and “American Empire.” The course even includes a special section on SDS, for which students are required to read a single article from The Nation magazine: “The Port Huron Statement at 40.” Co-authored by Hayden with Dick Flacks in 2002, it is an exercise in nostalgia in which the two authors of the SDS manifesto celebrate their own handiwork.[2] Students are provided with no critical views of SDS, its ideology, its tactics, or its spiral downwards into terrorism – although there are several academic studies available.


Another course taught by Hayden, “The Politics of Globalization,” displays the same preference for political advocacy over scholarship. A longtime activist in the radical wing of the environmental movement and as a legislator, Hayden views the course as a training ground for future activists. Although the course claims to address the “debates about free trade and fair trade,” what it in fact does is settle these debates in favor of Hayden’s hostility towards free-market capitalism. Toward this end, the course focuses on such fashionable environmentalist causes as “sustainable communities.” The course praises the “grassroots movements linking Americans and others around the world to address issues of economic justice, and issues of corporate social responsibility.”[3] The movements praised are anarchist, Marxist and other forms of radicalism.


Hayden has also leveraged his reputation as a student radical into regular speaking engagements on university campuses. Appearing at the University of Wisconsin in 2002, he delivered a lecture entitled “Saving Democracy from the Globalization and from the War on Terror.” Hayden took the occasion to air a conspiracy theory, claiming that the United States had no interest in putting an end to terrorism. Rather, he asserted, the U.S. government was only using the pretext of the war on terrorism to establish an empire in the Middle East, with plans to invade Syria and Iran in the offing.[4] In this connection, Hayden has claimed that the threat of terrorism is merely a propaganda invention of “conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration [who] are seeking to take advantage of America’s understandable fears to push a right-wing agenda that would not otherwise be palatable.”[5] Far from being focused on combating terrorism, according to Hayden, these conservatives simply seek to “justify the continuation of a growing military budget and an authoritarian emphasis on national security.”[6]


By 2004, Hayden was openly calling for the anti-war movement to sabotage the U.S.-led military campaign. “The strategy,” he explained, “must be to deny the U.S. occupation funding, political standing, sufficient troops, and alliances necessary to their strategy for dominance.”[7]  Beyond denying any further funding to American troops, Hayden insisted that “the movement will need to start opening another underground railroad to havens in Canada for those who refuse to serve.” Hayden also called for opposition to America’s “puppet regime” in Iraq and stressed the need to defeat the U.S. strategy of “Iraqization”—that is, devolving power to democratically elected Iraqi leaders.[8]  The tactic bore striking similarities to Hayden’s successful campaign during the Vietnam War to pressure Congress into suspending all aid to the anti-Communist regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia. In his autobiography, Reunion, Hayden momentarily regretted the consequences of that campaign which led to victory of Pol Pot and the Cambodian genocide (approximately two million people were killed), but evidently this remorse was short-lived.

[4] Chris Werner, “Activist Claims U.S. Trying to Create Empire,” Wisconsin Badger Herald, October 4, 2002

[5] Tom Hayden, “It’s Empire Versus Democracy,” AlterNet, September 10, 2002

[6] Ibid.

[7] Tom Hayden, “How to End the Iraq War,” AlterNet, November 23, 2004

[8] Ibid.

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