News — April 10, 2012 at 6:04 am

Study criticizes UC faculty for advocating political activism

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Photo by Gordon Huang

A recent study has drawn controversy over claims that the alleged leftist leanings of UC professors has undermined the quality of education. The study, conducted by the California Association of Scholars, argues that UC professors’ advocacy of political activism leads to the politicizing of issues and the indoctrination of students. “Faculty teach what to think rather than how to think: that is, they demand correct attitudes and beliefs of students more than they require independent reading and thought,” stated the study, which was written specifically for the UC regents.

UC officials have responded critically to the study and have insisted that the University of California promotes the highest levels of intellectual discussion. “UC’s scholarly success nationally and internationally would not be possible if our faculty were doctrinaire and not subject to having their work forged in the marketplace of ideas,” remarked UC Provost Lawrence Pitts in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. The study concludes with eight suggestions for the UC regents to consider including a public acknowledgement of deficiencies and a reinvigoration of efforts to uphold university prohibitions against the advancement of specific political beliefs.
The study primarily focuses on humanities and social science courses, where the threat of politicization is deemed to be the highest.

The mentioned consequences of this trend include a decline in course workload, the increased use of political topics in writing courses and the reliance on textbooks with one-sided political arguments—which the authors blame for the creation of graduates who are underprepared for the workplace due to deficiencies in writing and analytical skills. “If graduates cannot even write short declarative sentences competently, that is not surprising when writing courses neglect writing and focus instead on radical politics,” stated the study. The method used by the study to gauge the political influence in each campus was based on an examination of department mission statements, course descriptions and student feedback.

UC Riverside’s Labor Studies Program and Sociology 169 (Modern Sociological Theory) were specifically identified as examples of violations of the UC regents’ 2005 policy on course content, which holds the regents responsible for ensuring that “the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.” The Labor Studies Program was highlighted due to its mission statement that openly mentioned the exploration of “alternative models for organizing for social justice.” UC Riverside Professor of Women’s Studies Piya Chatterjee, who is also a faculty member in the Labor Studies Program, defended the program by stating that it exposes students to the realities of working class communities and provides them with the analytical tools necessary to evaluate labor history.

“The fact that classrooms are ‘politicized’ (aka through community-based work) through internships (with unions, for example) cannot be equated to a ‘narrowing’ of the scholarly inquiry and debate….Especially at UCR, given our population of student-workers and workers, these programs of scholarship and community-engagement are more vital and more urgent than ever,” stated Chatterjee in an interview Highlander. The theme of exposing students to real-world conditions was also voiced by John Gust, a UC Riverside graduate student in anthropology and unit chair of the teaching assistant union, who argued that the study’s authors are intolerable of an education which exposes the wrongdoing of past hegemonies who benefited from such things as capitalism and racism.

The study has also been criticized due to the partisan backgrounds of the study’s authors. UC Riverside Ethnic Studies Chair Dylan Rodriguez noted that leadership of the National Association of Scholars (the parent group of the California Association of Scholars) is filled with openly right-wing individuals; among them is the association’s chairman who received an award from the American Conservative Union Foundation, and the association’s director of communications who published a work on becoming an “edu-con” (conservative educator) in an anthology named “Proud to be Right.”

“The National Association of Scholars boldly appoints itself as a defender of academic objectivity, rigor, and seriousness, and purports to oppose ‘political’ teaching and thinking in the classroom. However, its very existence as a right-wing academic interest group demonstrates that every fiber of the university is entirely political, and suggests that their most recent report is just another salvo in an ongoing—perhaps perpetual—ideological war,” stated Rodriguez in an interview with the Highlander.

A particularly controversial portion of the study pertains to a criticism of professors’ promotion of action over analysis. “While academic teaching and research aim for intellectual depth, political action must tend toward simplification…political activism tends toward brief slogans (‘stop the war!’), while academic thought is likely to produce much more hedged and uncertain statements that weigh pros and cons, neither of which can be wished away,” stated the study. The statement stands in stark contrast to the actions of thousands of California students who have engaged in organized protests against budget cuts. The study’s opposition to politicization at the UC also contrasts with recent political-based decisions made by top UC officials; UC President Mark Yudof recently announced his support of Governor Brown’s tax initiative and Speaker Perez’s Middle Class Scholarship proposal.

  • perspective2

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and Provost Breslauer pick the pockets of Californian students and their parents clean. Birgeneau’s tuition/fee increases rank Cal. # 1 most expensive (on all-in-cost) public university. UC Berkeley is more expensive than Harvard, Yale. Birgeneau’s decisions are an insult to taxpayers who help support the University of California system and to students confronting soaring costs.

    Robert J Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) has forgotten he is a public servant, steward of the public money, not overseer of his own fiefdom. Pays ex-politician $300,000 for several lectures; Doubles instate tuition/fees; Recruits (using California tax $) foreign & out of state affluent $50,600 tuition students who displace Cal. qualified instate applicants; Spends $7,000,000 + (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same at 0 cost) for OE consultants to remove inefficiencies created by his leadership then stonewalls consultants from examining Chancellor, Provost offices: When procuring OE consultants failed to receive alternative proposals: Tuition to Return on Investment drops below top 10.

    In tough economic times, unpleasant decisions must be made. Clean sweep: Birgeneau resigned; fire Provost George Breslauer.
    Email opinion to marsha.kelman@ucop.edu . (The author has 35 years’ consulting, has taught at Cal. where he observed the culture & ways of senior management & was not fired)

  • Ashley Thorne

    I am Ashley Thorne, the unnamed director of communications who wrote the chapter “How I Became an Edu-Con.” Although I and some others at the NAS are hold conservative views personally, our organization has no political allegiance. Many of our members hold liberal and moderate views. As NAS President Peter Wood has written: “Both the Left and the Right produce their share of intellectual obtuseness. The NAS is not a partner with either. We are not a political organization, but a body of scholars who hope to sustain a vision of the university as a fundamentally good institution that deserves to be sustained.”

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