University of California’s Politicization is Out of Control

KC Johnson drew our attention to an
extraordinary development at UCLA, where the faculty senate of a major campus
is now on record approving use of a class to promote an instructor’s personal
political agenda. The practice itself is not new, but to date objections have been
met either with obfuscation or outright denial.            

The sequence of
events that led here began on March 29, 2012, when two members of the UC
faculty, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of UCSC and Leila Beckwith of UCLA mentioned
Professor Shorter’s promoting the boycott of Israel on his official class
website to four UC officials: system President Mark Yudof, UCLA Chancellor Gene
Block, statewide faculty senate chair Robert Anderson and UCLA senate chair
Andrew Leuchter.

What happened
next was astonishing. Though similar queries had been brushed off, within 24
hours Leuchter promised a full investigation by senate and administrative leadership
and barely two weeks later he assured Benjamin and Beckwith that the case was
resolved.

Unfortunately
but unsurprisingly, Leuchter cut many corners to get this rapid result. He compressed
the investigation, consultations, and resolution of the case into a few days. As
an old senate hand, Leuchter knew that he should have handed the matter over to
his Academic Freedom committee, but he didn’t. And he ended the matter by
directly ordering Shorter’s department chair to chastise him, which Leuchter
had no right to do since he was only an elected faculty leader without
administrative appointment. He also publicly announced the disciplinary action
against Shorter, a prohibited action which violated Shorter’s right to the
privacy of his personnel file.

We need not
look far for what prompted UC officials to bury the Shorter case as quickly as
possible. On March 30, the California Association of Scholars (CAS) sent to the
UC Regents its report entitled “A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect
of Political Activism in the University of California.” The report cited copious
evidence to demonstrate UC’s politicization. Advance copies had been
circulating for two weeks, and reporters had already begun to phone UC
officials for comment.

University
spokesmen resorted to the argument that the report was merely anecdotal.
However, a lengthy, supportive account of the report in the Wall Street Journal
by Peter Berkowitz made that shopworn tactic look rather silly. More importantly,
any reader of the eighty page report itself could easily see that the talking
point was a flagrant lie. This context explains why Benjamin and Beckwith caused
a panic. They proved that CAS’s evidence could not be dismissed.

Leuchter failed
to consider the effect that his ill-considered action would have on Shorter and
his many allies on campus. Though he acted to protect the politicized status
quo from CAS scrutiny, Shorter saw only a restriction of his previously
unlimited freedom to politicize his classroom.

Accordingly, Shorter
and his allies struck back hard. He denied having ever conceding his error,
organized a letter of protest signed by many of his fellow professors, and
appealed to the campus Academic Freedom committee that Leuchter had improperly
bypassed. Dominated by Shorter’s ideological allies, the committee failed to
grasp that Leuchter was only trying to keep CAS at bay. It backed Shorter as a
matter of principle, and now Leuchter’s stratagem had backfired spectacularly.
He thought he had deprived CAS of the evidence of Shorter’s politicized class,
but he had actually provided CAS with the infinitely more important evidence
that Shorter’s politicizing was approved by a large and important segment of
the faculty–exactly what the CAS report had argued. He had shown that
pro-politicization sentiment was rampant among the UCLA faculty.

The university
administration aspires to protect the university, but its conception of “protection”
is extraordinarily shallow. It does not extend to defending the University’s core
value of pursuing integrity in teaching and research. Ultimately, this
administration aims to protect itself against individuals wishing to restore it.
This means avoiding the wrath of faculty radicals who bark at the mere mention
of quality control.

This episode confirms that neither the faculty
nor the administration can be trusted to protect the core values of the
University. That leaves only the Board of Regents, a body with the constitutional
duty to protect both its academic integrity and public reputation. What will it
do?

John Ellis

John Ellis

John Ellis is the Chairman of the Board of the California Association of Scholars and the author of "The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done."

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