Thursday, January 19, 2006

UCLA Anti-Radicals Hitting Some Snags

I have a lot of sympathy for the UCLA alumni who are trying to ferret out inappropriate bias in the professoriat, but this overview by Cathy Young points out some substantial weaknesses in the approach being taken. Glenn Reynolds notes that the alumni group is hurting its own credibility by trying to be two different things.

These criticisms have to be taken seriously. What isn't serious, however, is the notion that these students and former students are engaging in "McCarthyism" - a smear that has come to mean "doing something that makes a leftist look bad". Why is it “McCarthyist” to tape lectures and make notes? The crime of McCarthy was that he made unsupported allegations about people, and the allegations he made were so severe (”you are a traitor against America and an agent of a totalitarian evil”) that even without any evidence, they damaged people’s reputations, in some cases irreparably. (As more than one paleocon has noted, McCarthy should be reviled by the right because he partially discredited the noble enterprise of rooting out actual communist infiltrators.)

Whereas, the alumni group appears to be accurately transcribing what these professors have to say in their classrooms. What’s wrong with that? Are they teaching something that has to be kept secret? Professor Jones is free to say whatever he wants. I’m free to tell my friends in the press that he said that the Jews must be eliminated, or that the chains of capitalism are forged from the blood of the workers, or that Knight Rider was damn fine television. And since he-said-she-said is rather unsatisfactory as an argumentative tactic, I’m free - or ought to be - to tape-record it so I can prove that Professor Jones has a thing about teh Joos.

Quite aside from the repellency of equating such defensive behavior with the despicable tactics of the Senator from Wisconsin, it’s a transparent attempt to shut down a democratic attempt to level a power imbalance. Students and former students feel that the people in power over them did or are abusing that power, and they want to rectify it by bringing the wrongdoing into the light. What could possibly be wrong with that?

The hypocrisy of some leftists is revealed here. Speak truth to power - as long as the power in question doesn’t, you know, belong to US.

Could such recording/transcription be abused - by cherry-picking and selective editing, for example? Sure. The answer to bad speech is more speech - liberalism 101. What’s stopping a professor who fears being targeted in such a fashion from tape-recording hisher own complete lecture so that they can demonstrate the lack of context when the student comes forward with the transcript saying something career-ending? Nothing - other than the self-entitlement of the professoriat that they should be above such petty concerns.

This whole kerfuffle reminds me of my own college days, 17 million years ago, when a totally unqualified but, alas, tenured professor of communications started doing computer science lectures - with disastrous pedagogical results. The majors student committee, of whom I was a sycophant/wannabe, was rebuffed by the close-the-ranks department when we complained, and decided to start attending his 101 lectures on an observational basis. We didn’t bring tape recorders - we just took notes and catalogued errors, while being perfectly civil and posing no challenge to his authority. We did this twice, as I recall, before receiving a verbal promise (which was kept) from the department chair that he would not teach 101-level students anymore without oversight.

Sunlight is a disinfectant. The motives of people who demand darkness are automatically suspect.

1 comment:

mythago said...

Whereas, the alumni group appears to be accurately transcribing what these professors have to say in their classrooms. What’s wrong with that?

What's wrong is that the group in question is offering $100 to students who do this taping. That smacks a lot more of what one commentator accurately referred to as 'Eastern Bloc tactics' than reporting badly-behaving professors. Two conservative board members resigned over this. It's one thing to say "if your professor is harassing you or oppressing dissent, tape his/her lectures and let's make that public."

And as Cathy points out, this sort of thing really has to be done on a nonpartisan basis, or it smacks of intimidation rather than a genuine concern for free speech.

In law school, there were two Constitutional Law professors, one a 60s-type, National Lawyers Guild member, the other a conservative who was faculty adviser to the school's Federalist Society group. Each taught both Con Law I and Con Law II. It was accepted practice among students of ALL leanings to take one section from each professor, to get their different perspectives. It should also be noted that while they were ideologically polar opposites, neither suppressed dissent in their class and both had a great deal of respect for one another.

But I suppose partisan groups would find their open political leanings sinister and oppressive.