Criticisms of UCLA Professors:

There's been much written in the last day or so about, a site that criticizes supposedly extreme left-wing UCLA professors, and that "is offering students payments of up to $100 per class to provide information" — especially audiotapes — "on instructors who are 'abusive, one-sided or off-topic' in advocating political ideologies." My colleague Stephen Bainbridge has more.

I've checked out the site, and find many of the criticisms to be quite shallow and unpersuasive. (I should note that I've informally responded to some questions by the site's author in the past, but I doubt that I'd do so in the future, given the pretty low quality of the materials.) I also do think the offering of money to students is a bit unsavory, though I'm not positive how bad it is; much information-gathering, after all, is done by people who get paid, and sometimes get paid in rough correlation to the stuff they unearth. My colleague Jerry Kang points out that tape recording for money might violate a specific California statutory provision; it's an interesting question whether applying the law to tape recordings in this context (which is also far from the context that seems to have animated the enactment of the law) would be an unconstitutional burden on information gathering.

Nonetheless, I do think we need to put all this in perspective. My colleagues and I are public servants. We have a certain degree of influence over public affairs, both through our public commentary and through our teaching. Others disagree with us, and think we're doing a public disservice rather than a public service. They're entitled to criticize us, and to monitor our public performance of our duties to see whether that performance is, in their view, lacking. I try to imagine what I would think if someone from the Left set up a site to criticize Prof. Bainbridge, me, and my (rather few) conservative colleagues, and to solicit concrete evidence of our supposed misdeeds; I would like to think that I would recognize that this was their right, both legally and ethically.

Now it's true that this may have a "chilling effect" in the sense of deterring some people from saying controversial things, in class or outside it. But all criticism has such an effect; much criticism is intended to have such an effect. It's even good when criticism has such a deterrent effect, for instance when it deters us from saying foolish or unsound things. If you criticize my posts, my articles, or my lectures, and I recognize that your criticism is apt — that my lectures were too partisan, or that my arguments were unsound — then I may well change what I say. That's criticism performing its proper function.

And if I think your criticism is unsound, my duty is to remain undeterred. It's not always an easy duty to fulfill. But look: Most of my colleagues have tenure. Even our untenured colleagues have the protection of being reviewed by their peers, and peers who are generally unlikely to much sympathize with what the site says. We're in a much better position than other public servants, who routinely have to deal with criticism. If we're not robust enough to resist unsound criticisms — if we're deterred from saying certain things even when we think they should be said — what's the point of all the employment protections we have?

If people are criticizing us unfairly, we should fault them for that. (Stephen Bainbridge does so, for instance.) But labeling this (as one professor quoted here did) "a reactionary form of McCarthyism" strikes me as no more sound or effective than the pejoratives that sometimes uses itself. As Prof. Bainbridge points out, "If you can't tell the difference between the abuse of position by a United States Senator backed by the coercive power of the state and the exercise of free speech by a bunch of disgruntled alumni, well...."

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge writes more about the power of technology, and closes with this:

Getting feedback from the proletariat is always unsettling for authority figures . . . . The initial and, perhaps natural, reaction is to decry it as McCarthyism and a danger and so on.

Upon mature reflection, however, we have to realize that the world has changed. Those over whom we have authority now have at their disposal technology that gives them a very loud megaphone. Very public criticism has become the lot of all authority figures, including those within the ivory tower.

Much of that criticism will be unfair, uninformed, or just plain dumb. Isn't it Sturgeon's Law that says 90% of everything is crap? But so what? As my friend and colleague Eugene Volokh notes [quote of the "if I think your criticism is unsound, my duty is to remain undeterred" paragraph omitted -EV].

Precisely. And so I say to my colleagues: Welcome to the 21st Century. It's going to be a very bumpy ride.

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  2. Criticisms of UCLA Professors:
Commenterlein (mail):
The UCLAProfs webpage is incredibly weak. Virtually all the criticisms of the professors refers to their political activities outside the classroom, and there seems to be little factual evidence of any leftwing bias in their teaching.

I guess someone could set up a webpage complaining about our host's conservative opinions displayed on this blog, but I have a hard time seeing the point. As long as the teaching is done well and presents all sides fairly, why would we expect unversity faculty to be apolitical?
1.18.2006 7:34pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Commenterlein is quite right.
1.18.2006 7:35pm
MarkW (mail):
This site claims to prove that "these professors are actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic."

But in the half-dozen or so faculty "profiles" that I had time to review just now, I found only one comment that was even related to the conduct of the faculty member in the classroom--a vaguely worded attack on the teaching practices of Adolfo Bermeo, who isn't even at UCLA anymore. Everything else is simply diatribes against the faculty members for their personal views, not their professional conduct.
1.18.2006 7:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
MarkW: To be precise, the site says that "As a large number of the profiles also demonstrate, these professors are actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic" (emphasis omitted). I haven't checked all the profiles, so I can't speak to the large number claim; but at least the site does not assert (unless it does so elsewhere) that each listed professor injects irrelevant political commentary into class.
1.18.2006 7:39pm
Splunge (mail):
Wouldn't it be nice if the poor quality of the criticism vitiated it?
1.18.2006 7:45pm
Tony (mail):
I worry about rabble-rousing. No matter how unsound the criticisms, no matter how profound the lies, it is still possible to rally a mob to commit an injustice. That can be dangerous, fortunately in this case to your careers rather than your necks. And it can all be done without any single person being "guilty" of intimidation in the legal sense.

Doesn't that worry you? In a country that can be turned against the French literally overnight, how hard would it be to demonize a few professors?
1.18.2006 7:54pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Uh, what exactly happened to the French? Pogroms at boulangeries? Mass firings of French professors?

Let's keep the rhetoric in perspective. "Mobs" are dangerous precisely because they have the power to commit violence (even if they represent a small minority of the population). A "mob" can't fire a professor; at most a bunch of agitated members of the public could try to influence the UCLA administration or faculty to try to engage in such firing -- not very likely, I think, given the many protections that faculty members have, and given the fact that the administration or faculty is likely to be quite unsympathetic to the Bruin Alumni Association's political position.

It thus seems to me quite unlikely that, for all its weaknesses will jeopardize anyone's career. And analogies to mobs, which can cause huge damage in a few moments of anger, with no need for cooperation from university administrations or faculties, strike me as quite unsound here.
1.18.2006 7:59pm
Nobody Special:
"We're in a much better position than other public servants, who routinely have to deal with criticism."

And that's really the problem, isn't it?

Tenure needs to be abolished as the anachronism and destructive influence it is.
1.18.2006 8:19pm
Nobody Special:
Also, I'm going to point out that Jerry Kang, while publishing a lot of crackpot articles (his most recent in the Harvard Law Review, for example, advocates subliminal government brainwashing of individuals for policy ends), was a damn fine civil procedure professor.
1.18.2006 8:20pm
I just read some of the profiles for History and the Ethnic studies profs (close to my field), and the site is ridiculous. First rule seems to be to include "radical" in as many sentences as possible as if repitition will make it true. Here, I'll write a blurb in style:

Professor X takes his radical views to new radical heights. Two years ago he signed an extreme left wing anti-war petition with his real name!! Then last year he signed a radical leftist letter asking the United States to abide by the Geneva Conventions!

Professor X holds a faculty postion--and so too does wild-eyed radical Ward Churchill. Churchill used his extreme leftist university job to say that the people in the World Trade Center deserved to die. And Churchill and Professor X have the same profession!!!

From all of the above, it is clear that Professor X manipulates his classroom based on his radical views.

Professor X teaches a course on the History of Hispanic Immigrants, a very radical subject. His class seems obsessed with exploring Hispanic experiences, which clearly discriminates by downplaying the experience of famous white individuals! Not only that, but he assigned leftist books that dealt with both ethnicity *and* poverty! Both of them? As if one of those topics wasn't radical enough?
1.18.2006 8:48pm
Nobody Special:

Possibilities for it's written like that:

1) We could, of course, blame the radical professors at UCLA who are too busy being radical and teaching radical thoughts to provide proper instruction, not in radicalism, but in writing.

2) It's Southern California, dude. Everything is radical.

3) Campus activists, of all political stripes (conservative, liberal, student newspaper editorialist, leftist, LaRouchite, cultist, angry ethnicity, etc.) are not, as a general matter, the more intellectually hefty representatives of their position.
1.18.2006 8:56pm
Nobody Special:
Possibilities for why it's written like that.
1.18.2006 9:00pm
Chris Lawrence (mail) (www):
Turned against the French "virtually overnight"? Except for the 1770s through 1820ish, Americans haven't exactly been fans of France historically. The French and Indian War, anyone?
1.18.2006 9:05pm
Nobody Special:
Chris- I wouldn't even spot the French that whole period. Remember the "undeclared war" with France in the waning years of the 18th century?
1.18.2006 9:08pm
therut (mail):
I find it funny that Professors are worrying about mobs when alot of them were part of the mobs in the 1960's that literally took over the campus and kicked out the college dean. I also find it funny that these professors are worried about being called things they are not, offends their intelligence and makes them worry about their jobs. Just embrace them as the counter-counter culture movement.( like the anit-anti-communist professors) They are just breaking over to the other side. Plus it is obvious they are free market thinkers. The guy is paying for someones labor instead of some professors giving a better grade or requiring attendence or giving extra credit if you sit through a speech by someone with the views of an Anglea Davis.
1.18.2006 10:39pm
I would not paint with such a broad brush, therut. I'm a professor and I wasn't even born yet when the 1960s ended.
1.18.2006 11:09pm
Mac (mail):
Nobody special. We could hope that only radicals write like that. We would be wrong. My husband is an upper level manager in Federal law enforcement. He is currently tearing his hair out over new employees inability to write a report. They are all recent graduates. Their reports form the basis for the revocation of licenses, criminal prosecutions, fines, etc. These same reports may end up in a court of law. They are unintelligable. I think we should consider firing all professors and finding some who can teach their students to think logically and to write coherently.
1.18.2006 11:35pm
Mac (mail):
My daughter recently took and on-line Anatomy course. I read her professor's e-mails, course description, etc. He had no writing skills. His grammer, spelling, punctuation and sentance structure were abominable. Perhaps, the question should be, can professors write in a coherent, logical manner? If you can't wite, you can't teach it to others.
1.18.2006 11:58pm
Argle (mail) (www):
His grammer, spelling, punctuation and sentance structure were abominable.

You're just doing that on purpose, aren't you?

By the way, Mac -- if you want to know why graduates have terrible writing skills, look a little further back along the pipeline than college. Many of my students are unable to construct paragraphs (or even proper sentences) by the time they arrive in my classroom to read and write about Hume, Smith or Marx. Instructors in upper-division undergraduate courses shouldn't have to run a remedial writing seminar.
1.19.2006 12:23am
Smithy (mail):
I find it funny that Professors are worrying about mobs when alot of them were part of the mobs in the 1960's

So true. These professors need to understand that they are going to be held accountable, the same as everyone else. Tenure will not protect them from the consequences of stabbing their nation in the back while we are at war. Nobody likes to be held accountable and these guys have gotten a free ride for years. When I was in college, I had one professor who required that we read some of the works of Karl Marx. It is things like that that have got to end.

In a pre-911 world, the left-wing academic propaganda was an acceptable if distasteful reality. Now, it's a "luxury" we can no longer afford.
1.19.2006 1:03am
MarkW (mail):
When I was in college, I had one professor who required that we read some of the works of Karl Marx. It is things like that that have got to end.

Whether or not that was objectionable would depend on the context, which you have not provided. In some types of course--say, a European intellectual history course--it would be perfectly appropriate to require students to read some Marx.
1.19.2006 2:03am
Mac (mail):

You are absolutely correct. We moved frequently. My son was the recipient of so many "new" theories of writing, he never learned anything. The one I loved the best was when he was in a gifted program and they did not want to "stifle his creativity". Well, they didn't. He can't spell and his punctuation is atrocious. Or, I should say, he has the most creative spelling and punctuation you can imagine. His speaking, thank God, is superb. He won many awards for public speaking and he has excellent grammar. But, that is due to what you hear at home. His sister was a reader. A book a day will do wonders for your English skills. She was reading Grishom at 11. It is a lot of work to learn to speak and write well. It's not fun. I wonder why these kids are in college if they can't write? My son is aware that he has problems, and since joining the Marine Corps (No I don't know why, but I am proud of him when I am not scared to death) and continuing his college, he has made great effort to improve. Marrying a French woman with a Master's Degree who worked for a book publisher and writes far better English than himself, didn't hurt! I don't know what Professors are to do. Many of them have rather poor skills themselves. I don't know. Lowering standards has not helped. It must be very frustraing for you. But, it is awful. At some point, we must get back to basics. I don't know how a lot of these kids can even get through Hume or Marx. Hell, I don't know how they get through a comic book! I don't know how you function. It must be so frustrating. I'd flunk them all. Hmm. Which is why I am no longer teaching myself. I did flunk almost all of them and got fired! Well, it was at one of those private, for profit colleges and they got their certification yanked about 2 weeks later. They graduated too many dummies who couldn't pass even their entry level board exam. A 90% failure rate for entry level when you are allegedly teaching an advaned registry program is seriously frowned upon in health care. Imagine that?
1.19.2006 2:21am
Mac (mail):
I might add that I had serious ethical problems taking a truly exorbitant amount of money from them knowing they would never pass even their entry level boards. I had an even greater ethical problem knowing that licensing in some states would permit them to work indefinitely on their student licenses and put patients at serious risk. At times, health care is like sausage, you are better off if you don't know how it is made.
1.19.2006 2:37am
Noah Klein (mail):

"When I was in college, I had one professor who required that we read some of the works of Karl Marx."

You have to be kidding me. Are you that insecure in your beliefs that you could not read a new book to test the validity of what is presented there? When I was in college, I had to read Marx too. In fact, I had to read it in two different classes. I also had to read Kissinger and Nixon. In the class, I read Marx, I also had to read Hume, Locke, Smith, Hobbes and many other thinkers. Are you saying that your professor had you only read Marx? Or are you just rejecting the idea that Marx should be part of education? If you are, then how are we going to teach our children that communistic ideas are ridiculous? I'm sorry you had to read a book you didn't agree with, but that's how you learn to define what you believe. Where did you go to school? If your going to take history or philosophy or political science, guess what your going to have to read books from across the spectrum.

1.19.2006 3:59am
Splunge (mail):
...are you just rejecting the idea that Marx should be part of education?

Off-topic, but...I would say just that, yes. The problem with Marxism is not merely that it leads to widespread poverty, death, and dishonesty, but that like the free lunch, perpetual motion, and programs to lose weight without eating less, it is so exceedingly seductive an idea that it springs eternally, like crabgrass, in each new generation. You might as well teach youngsters about the dangers of drug abuse by having them sample a little crack. There is a point to making some tempting but evil ideas anathema, so that each generation need not repeat the painful learning experiences of their parents. I think it's perfectly OK that the proposition that one man can own another is now so far outside the mainstream that no one seriously studies the question, and even to propose to do so is frowned upon. May it happen to Marxism.

If you are, then how are we going to teach our children that communistic ideas are ridiculous?

How about: in the same general way we teach them that driving while drunk is dangerous without having them actually do it? Why do they need to drink the original poison? Won't a watered-down, properly put into context version vaccinate them? Would you have them read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf without guidance to get them vaccinated against national socialism?
1.19.2006 5:52am
Diversity Hire:
UCSD's Thurgood Marshall College calls its writing program "Dimensions of Culture". I used to enjoy eavesdropping on the program's seminars held in the courtyard under my office. The hysterical raves, angry rants, and generally unscholarly tone of these proceedings made for some splendid lunches and—gasp!—quick smokes. In the lead-up to the 2004 Presidential election I witnessed hours of attempted indoctrincation, recruiting, and campaigning in an unscholarly, but deadly serious atmosphere. I didn't catch much instruction in composition.

But I don't think the students' education suffered much. The students are savvy and manipulative, they're instrumental in their approach to education and they basically control the content of their education (why else are iPods appearing as required educational technology at leading universities?). What is ostensibly a course in writing skills and critical thinking is actually a course in critical thinking about verbal rhetoric; good students are able to sift through the material and present the appropriate product: excellent training for the young bourgeois at the hands of unreconstructed and post-deconstructed Marxist wannabes.

The best students know all of this: I interviewed one young Marshall college student for an internship position and she mercilessly mocked her "Eigenvectors of Oppression" instructor's apocalyptic world view, the silly assignments, and the praise she received for writing about the suffering of her people (I don't believe she mentioned that her people are Orange County donut-empire Republicans). I surfed with another student who got a one week extension (and a long, heartfelt hug) from his instructor because of the trauma they experienced at the hands of incompetent exit-polling—of course he was hitting Blacks' when he should have been writing, but whatever.

They're not learning to write, but they don't need a website to clue them in. They're learning something I wish I'd been taught at their age.
1.19.2006 6:11am
Diversity Hire:
When I was in college, I had one professor who required that we read some of the works of Karl Marx.

Me, too. And when we'd finished as best we could, she said "Since you suffered through that we're going to do something fun: read some Kierkegaard."

If you are, then how are we going to teach our children that communistic ideas are ridiculous?

Show them their Marxist TA's pay stubs? Is there any need to teach the ridiculous to a student wearing his Che Guevara t-shirt, laying in the La Jolla sunshine listening to The Communist Manifesto on his iPod? One shouldn't lose sight of the finger or the moon.
1.19.2006 6:36am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
Regardless of the merit of Karl Marx's work and thoughts, can we honestly not say that his work &thinking had a tremendous influence on the history of the 20th century? In that capacity I see no reason why his work shouldn't be read/studied in class where the subject matter is appropriate, if only to illustrate the gap between Marx's thoughts, predicitions &prescriptions &reality. If my ultra-libertarian "tyranny of public sidewalks" Macroeconomics professor can discuss Marx in such a way; trusting student's ability to appraise the merit of Marx's philosophy on it's own record &the rate at which it's been reduced to the dustbin of history, I see no reason why others can't as well.
1.19.2006 9:57am
Smithy (mail):
Dustin, regardless of how influential Marx was, the fact reamains: he was wrong. He was wrong about capitalism and he was wrong about communism. Why should we read the works of someone who was wrong and who helped spawn one of the most hateful ideologies the world has ever seen? Do we read the ancient thinkers who thought that the sun rotated around the earth? We don't, and we shouldn't read Marx either. And any professor who forces his students to read Marx should be fired on the spot.
1.19.2006 10:15am
Nobody Special:

Do we read the ancient thinkers who thought that the sun rotated around the earth?

Actually, we do, just not in science classes. They're in the philosophy and classics departments where they belong, and where they fit into the curriculum.

That's why it is so important to see where the Marx required reading is.
1.19.2006 10:18am
Houston Lawyer:
I find the outraged screeching by the professorariat to be highly amusing. They appear to be the subject of a sophomoric attack on their teaching ethics. They need to grow a spine.

If you don't want your words to come back and bite you, you can keep them to yourself.
1.19.2006 10:21am
Smithy (mail):
Well said, Houston lawyer. These lazy left-wing frauds will be convicted by their own words.
1.19.2006 10:35am
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):

Do we read the ancient thinkers who thought that the sun rotated around the earth?

Yes, we do.
1.19.2006 10:45am
dk35 (mail):

From your comment to Houston Lawyer's comment, I take it you also agree with him that the attacks on the Professors are sophomoric.
1.19.2006 10:56am
CJColucci (mail):
Some scary folks out there. What draws them here?
1.19.2006 12:48pm
cdunc (mail):
Smithy: "Do we read the ancient thinkers who thought that the sun rotated around the earth? We don't, and we shouldn't read Marx either. And any professor who forces his students to read Marx should be fired on the spot."

Smithy here provides an inadvertent argument for tenure: It is needed to protect free debate and inquiry in the classroom from the likes of people like him.
1.19.2006 1:30pm
Chris Lawrence (mail) (www):
Well, for the record, I don't make my students read Marx. Or Plato. Or Locke.

But then again, I'm an empirical political scientist, and leave the normative theorizing, and classes on the same, to others. I do make my introductory course students read some of Charles Beard (as well as a pretty thorough dismantling of Beard's arguments).

And, if I were to teach a class in modern political philosophy (something I'm pretty much underqualified to do, mind you, but that didn't stop me from teaching Con Law!), I would teach Marx. And a lot of other folks, including Hayek.
1.19.2006 7:12pm
I disagree with Mr. Volokh about the harmless nature of paying students to tape professors. Yesterday was the first time that a student has asked to tape my class. I decided not to allow it after reading about this controversy. I am in my second year of teaching, without the protections of tenure. Comments taken out of context can ruin my career, and when the payment of money is involved, there is greater incentive to manufacture the desired commentary. I find that it is the students, on both sides of the ideological divide, who make extreme comments, and mostly I welcome such comments, as long as they are respectful to fellow students. Criticism of my teaching is welcome as long as it is in a forum in which I can respond. No one wants to be slandered.
1.20.2006 9:33pm