By Charlotte Allen
Are the 234,000 students enrolled in the massive University of California system receiving an education or a re-education?
It's the latter--or something fairly close--according to "A Crisis of Competence," a report just released by the California Association of Scholars (CAS), the Golden State affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. The devastating 87-page report addressed to UC's Board of Regents, concludes that leftist political indoctrination represents a significant portion of the curriculum at the nine UC campuses that admit undergraduates. Here are some major points:
-- UC-Santa Cruz offers no fewer than five introductory courses devoted exclusively to the thinking of Karl Marx. You can take a basic course on Marx in the politics, sociology, community studies, legal studies, or history of consciousness departments--or if, you wish, take all five courses simultaneously in all five departments, several of which also offer advanced courses on Marx's works. "Adolescent Marxist nostalgia still evidently reigns on campus and impedes a return to reality--but where are the adults who might be pointing out that it is time to grow up and move on to thinkers who have been able to withstand the test of time and to remain more relevant to modern life?" the report asks.
-- The Sociology 1 course at UC-Santa Barbara, which is supposed to introduce beginning students to "[B]asic concepts and issues in the study of human society," actually consisted of "10 weeks of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization rhetoric," according to a student who took the course. "We were shown several theories on globalization that portrayed Western civilization as almost demonic, heartless, and ruthless beasts that enslave the world for financial gain," the student wrote on the now-defunct website No Indoctrination.
-- Numerous instructors in the required freshman writing course at UC-San Diego have used their class time, when they are supposed to be teaching the basics of researching and effectively arguing a college-level term paper, to "go off-topic and make disparaging remarks about contemporary American society, the evils of our 'imperialism,' and Western 'fascism,'" as a student in one of the writing classes reported. Another student enrolled in another writing class at UC-San Diego said that "the only time the TA taught us anything about writing was when many of the students complained."
-- The women's studies program at UCLA unabashedly states in the university course catalogue that its goal isn't merely to promote knowledge and understanding about women's roles in society but to give students "the conceptual tools for social change."
-- Even the theoretically apolitical hard sciences at UC aren't exempt from activist proselytizing by the professors who teach them. A student enrolled in a computer-science class at UC-Berkeley titled "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs/ Machine Structures" devoted ten minutes of every lecture to denouncing then President George W. Bush and California's then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "[T]he day after Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor, he was particularly bitter about things, and made a remark to the effect of, 'Aren't you embarrassed to tell your friends you live in California. We elected a NAZI actor,'" the student wrote.
No Need to Think, Just Agree with Your Professor
The CAS report argues that such highly politicized courses have betrayed the traditional function of a college campus as a "rigorous marketplace of ideas" by turning it to "a sanctuary for a narrow ideological spectrum of political and social ideas." That sort of one-sidedness is disturbing enough. But the report makes a further argument: that the plethora of ideologically focused courses at UC, coupled with a nationwide trend toward grade inflation and the decreasing number of hours that undergraduates these days put into studying, has crowded out the demanding, carefully focused courses of study that used to hone college students' reasoning abilities and prepare them intellectually for the challenges of the real world. "When individual faculty members and sometimes even whole departments decide that their aim is to advance social justice as they understand it rather than to teach the subject that they were hired to teach with all the analytical skill that they can muster, the quality of teaching and research is compromised," the report argues.
The report's authors believe that the increasing politicization of curricula at UC and other U.S. universities has led to the devaluation of college degrees both in themselves and as preparation for entry into the workforce, and also a growing lack of public confidence in higher education that has made taxpayers increasingly unwilling to pay for it. "When a national poll [a Zogby poll in 2007] finds that 58 percent of the public believes that the political bias of professors is a serious problem, public distrust of the academy has evidently become substantial," the report states. There is also evidence that American universities, whose reputation for academic excellence used to attract so many students from abroad that the higher education of foreign students was said to be the United States's ninth-largest export, are no longer the magnets they once were, as foreigners look elsewhere for alternatives to dumbed-down curricula here.
Reasons are many for the shift in many UC courses and departments from honest, unbiased teaching that requires students to examine issues from multiple perspectives to out-and-out political advocacy without any effort to cover differing points of view. One of them is the increasing one-sided ideological tilt (to the left) in the political views of the faculty in many UC departments. For example, in 2004 Daniel Klein, an economics professor at George Mason University, and researcher Andrew Western published a study of the voter registrations of faculty at UC-Berkeley. They found that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans was 4 to one in Berkeley's professional schools, 10 to one in the hard sciences, 17 to one in the humanities, and 21 to one in the social sciences. As the report notes, "left faculty now outnumber right faculty by huge margins in every department, but the margins become virtually exclusionary as politics become more relevant to the work of the department." Progressive and radical professors tend to favor the like-minded in hiring new faculty and to try to block the hiring of young academics with different political views, the report notes.
Why Not End Preferential Hiring of Radicals?
Furthermore, the report contends that UC department heads and administrators seem increasingly reluctant to discipline faculty members who devote class time to ideological proselytizing, ensure that campus-sponsored conferences and symposia on hot-button issues fairly present a range of views, or prevent radicals from disrupting on-campus speeches and other forms of free expression by those with whom they do not agree. Among the many examples the report cites: a 2010 event sponsored by UC-Berkeley's College of Letters and Sciences whose "sole purpose was the blatantly political one of promoting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions; a rancorous shout-down of pro-Israel commentator Daniel Pipes when he tried to speak on the UC-Irvine campus in 2007; and the theft of the entire press run of a issue of the conservative student newspaper at Berkeley because the issue contained an article criticizing the campus Chicano-separatist group MEChA.
The CAS, whose board members include current and former professors at an array of UC campuses, including UC-Berkeley, UCLA, UC-Santa-Cruz, and UC-San Diego, insists that it is not demanding that the UC system balance out its leftist faculty via an affirmative action program for politically conservative academics as some critics of leftist trends in academia have urged. "[W]hat is envisaged is simply an end to preferential hiring of radical activists," the report states. "If we do indeed need a program of remedial hiring, it would consist in a search for people of a genuinely academic temperament....The return to a functioning marketplace of ideas will mean only that the focus is again on the merits of ideas, political and other, not on agendas."
Whether or not the UC system's twenty-six regents and regent-designates will pay much attention to the CAS report, much less consider it at their upcoming meeting on May 15-17, remains to be seen. The regents are a mixed bag politically. Many are appointees of California's former ultra-liberal Democratic Gov. Gray Davis who were reappointed to their twelve-year terms by Schwarzenegger. California's current Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, and other top California officials, most of them Democrats as well, also sit on the Board of Regents ex officio. Still, the CAS has made an impressive case that the massive University of California system is not only plagued by leftist politicization, but that such politicization represents a serious threat to its future integrity and quality. CAS president John M. Ellis, a retired professor of German at UC-Santa Cruz and author of the influential 1997 book "Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities," hopes that the report will push the regents, at the very least, to hold a hearing on its contents. "It's now virtually impossible for the regents to ignore it," he said in a phone interview.