Using Classes for Advocacy OK at UCLA

UCLA’s “Academic Freedom Committee” has delivered an
important document that appears to give carte blanche to professors to
introduce unrelated political advocacy into their classrooms–in apparent
violation of Regents’ policy.

The case involved David Delgado Shorter, a UCLA professor in the “Department of
World Arts and Cultures/Dance.”(His dissertation was entitled,
“SantamLiniamDivisoriam/Holy Dividing Lines: Yoeme Indian Place Making and
Religious Identity.”) Shorter’s website, which indicates that he received a
Ph.D. in the “history of consciousness,” asserts that he specializes in
“ethnographic representation of Yoeme religiosity.” He adds that his favorite
course to teach is “Aliens, Psychics, and Ghosts.”

In the winter 2012 semester, Delgado taught a course
called “Tribal Worldviews”; the course homepage contained a link called “Boycotting Israel.”
The course resources page, meanwhile,
featured links to the Goldstone Report, to a site on “US Academic and Cultural
Boycott of Israel,” and (with two different links!) to an “Open Letter to Bono
Re: Palestinian Rights.” While the Goldstone Report, as vile as it was, at
least is an official document, it’s hard to see the course-related relevance of
(two!) links to an open letter to Bono. And the links to boycott-Israel sites
would seem to constitute a clear violation of California regents policies that
prohibit professors from misusing their courses to engage in “political
advocacy.”

To reiterate: these links appeared on a course webpage
for “Tribal Worldviews,” taught by a professor whose academic specialty is a
Native American tribe from Arizona.

As word of Shorter’s course spread, the AMCHA Initiative (a
California group dedicated to protecting the interests of Jewish students on
campus) brought the issue to the attention of the chair of UCLA’s Academic
Senate, Andrew Leuchter. After looking into the issue, Leuchter e-mailed AMCHA to report
that “at my request, Professor Shorter’s department chair counseled him that
posting of such materials is not appropriate. Professor Shorter’s chair assures
me that he understands his serious error in judgment and has said that he will
not make this mistake again.” According to Inside Higher Ed, even representatives of the normally
defend-the-status-quo AAUP were basically sympathetic to Leuchter’s response.

Seeking greater clarity, more than two dozen current and
retired University of California professors penned a letter to the system-wide Academic
Senate. They termed their issue “not with Professor Shorter, but with the
general question of whether faculty, under a mantle of academic freedom, can
use their classrooms and classroom resources to promote a personal political
agenda, such as the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of
Israel.” The professors urged the Academic Senate to “issue a statement that
addresses the question: Does academic
freedom protect faculty who use their classroom, or class resources, to advance
a personal political agenda?”

Their answer–yes (at least, according
to the UCLA Committee on Academic Freedom). In an extraordinary document, Professor
David Teplow, chair of UCLA’s committee, informed Shorter that the committee
had no problem with his including the Boycott-Israel links on his class
website.
The committee members added that they found no evidence
the items violated a UCLA Academic Personnel Manual rule requiring “the right
to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction.”

To reiterate: these links appeared on a course webpage
for “Tribal Worldviews,” taught by a professor whose academic specialty is a
Native American tribe from Arizona.

Incredibly, the committee’s letter then chastised Leuchter (the Academic Senate chair) for having the audacity to even look into the
matter, given that the initial concerns were expressed by an “outside group.”
In magisterial terms, the Teplow committee proclaimed that “faculty members
should be
free of such scrutiny [emphasis added] and should not have to
answer to interest groups outside the university.”

UCLA is a public university, supported in part by tax
dollars paid to people “outside the university.”

Oddly, Teplow’s response referred by an open letter
signed by 19 “individuals associated with a number of different American
universities”–but didn’t mention the letter, sent to the UC system’s academic
freedom committee, signed by 33 current or retired California-system
professors. Acknowledging the existence of this document, of course, would have
contracted the Teplow committee’s desire to portray Delgado’s critics as
“outside the university.”

The Teplow Committee letter is an embarrassment.
California’s regents should repudiate it.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

One thought on “Using Classes for Advocacy OK at UCLA”

  1. “free of such scrutiny”
    Perhaps “free from such scrutiny” would have better served.
    One hesitates to wonder at the low esteem committees hold when it is evident that they disgorge such low-level product. It is difficult to hold any regard for those who can not employ the language properly in their shallow attempts at defending the missteps of their peers. Happily enough when flaws such as this are noted the reader is alerted to the probable presence of pseudo-logic, and can digest accordingly.
    Many thanks for being aware of, and publicizing such things.

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