Friday, January 20, 2006

UCLA and current woes

It's been all over the news lately, and now it's hit the blogosphere in a big way: a UCLA alumni group is offering to pay students $100 (per course, NOT per class hour) to tape, take detailed notes (especially, it seems, notes about the reactions of fellow students), and to turn those materials over to the alumni group. They even have a list up of the professors who concern them most.

Most of the reactions in the blogosphere I read take a comic approach, and some of them (Pharyngula, who wants in on the action until he realizes its NOT $100/class hour, but $100 for a whole term's worth of work; and Michael Berube, who does a great question/answer entry) are downright laugh and thought provoking. The responses there make for fun reading, too.

Part of me wants to jump in on the laughter. In some sense, getting on that list has to be an honor somewhat akin to making Nixon's blacklist or McCarthy's investigation. Those people have it made in the shade for liberal leaning credentials. I want to write a couple people I know at UCLA and ask them why they didn't make the list, how they missed the cut, because, seriously, why not?

But on closer inspection, I don't want to make light of this. First, as I read the "radical professors" blurbs, I realized that this group isn't after professors for things they said in classes, or indeed, for things they said in classes that were off-topic or inappropriate given the class subject. This group wants to track professors based on letters to the editor they've written, petitions they've signed, parties in lawsuits they've professionally represented. That is, this group wants to attack basic civil rights of freedom of association, freedom of speech, fair trials, representation. That's just wrong on so many levels.

And it's upsetting to think of the good people I know on that list who now have to put energy into dealing with this stupidity. They can't just ignore it because it's going to come back in questions from students, comments from colleagues, BS from administrators, and second looks from random people who have their name and face. No, they aren't likely to lose their jobs, thank goodness. But the level of just stupid harassment that's likely just irks me.

On top of that, I doubt that professors have nearly as much influence as this alumni and other right wing radicals sometimes tend to think.

Here are things I've tried to convince my students of, time and again:

* Do the reading. (Yes, I know, shocking, aren't I?)
* Come to class and bring your text with you, along with paper and a writing implement to take notes.
* Do your homework.
* Come to office hours, ask questions in class and out, take responsibility for your education.
* Focus on your studies.
* Join a student or community organization and contribute actively to your community.

Do you think I've had one iota of influence? All of us wildly leftist professors who want students to study and such, all the conservative, even right wing professors who want students to study and such? One iota? I only hope!!

Yes, some professors DO have a political agenda, and do talk about politics, and sometimes add inappropriate political content in classes where it doesn't belong.

I had more than one professor who openly commented that women shouldn't be allowed into medical or veterinary schools because women just get married and have kids and quit working, so educating women is a waste of resources, or asserted that women just shouldn't be allowed in some professions or allowed to hold some jobs. I heard many times that women shouldn't be paid on the same scale as men because women's husbands were the primary wage-earners.

And you know what? By the time I was in college, I didn't believe them. I knew that what they were saying was wrong. I also knew that I'd better hunker down and keep my mouth shut, and just do whatever work was required. The conservative professors of the 50s and 60s didn't make the students of those decades into conservatives, and liberal professors aren't going to turn our students into wild radicals.

My students tend, by and large, to be more conservative than I am. Straight professors who talk about their spouses or kids, especially male professors who talk about their stay at home wives, don't get a second look from these students. That speech doesn't count as political for my students.

But a gay professor who mentions a partner or is seen at a local restaurant touching the hand of that partner across a candle-lit table? a straight, married female professor who doesn't wear a wedding ring? For some of our students, those are political statements; some students are shocked and outraged by such "radical" behavior.

Along with the sexist remarks from some professors, I heard lots of challenging ideas in college, ideas which made me rethink my assumptions from positions both left and right of where I'd learned those assumptions. Those challenges helped me become a better thinker, helped me get an education.

So, from me, a heartfelt thank you to all the educators who have challenged me (and still do) to rethink my assumptions, to support my positions with good arguments and logic, to understand different points of view.

And a heartfelt thank you and condolences to the UCLA professors now being harassed by that alumni group.

And another thank you to all the educators out there who get up in the morning and try to help their students get a real education.

And to all the students out there who come to learn, and I know it's most of you, thank you for getting an education, for thinking critically, for approaching questions with an open mind and a generous spirit. I'm looking forward to seeing you in my classes on Monday, and every class for the rest of my career, however long it may be. It's a privilege to know and work with you.


  1. Off topic completely but

  2. Oh, I so nearly wrote this post. It's been percolating in my mind for a while, but you say it much better than I would!

  3. Well, as a recent UCLA PhD from one of the most notoriously radical departments on campus, I suspect most of my former profs are pissed they DIDN'T make the list of dirty 30.

  4. Hadn't heard about this story till your blog. Frightening, and more so because no one at UCLA is stepping up to shut this down. Statements like "there is nothing we can do at this point" really concern me. If a student put up a web site proposing a project that just as clearly violated university policy, trust me they (and their lawyers) would be all over it.

    Enjoy your blog!

  5. This is really a lovely post, Bardiac. Thank you.