The California Association of Scholars (CAS) has issued an extensive report taking the Golden State’s university system to task for extensive bias and not-so-apparent academic achievement. “Analytical knowledge is more complicated than political rallying cries,” the CAS notes. “The latter are the language of the political street, not of the academy.”
In 87 pages, the CAS makes clear that it found that California universities traffic in the former at the expense of the latter. “We should note that politicization exists mainly in the humanities and social sciences, and only minimally in the natural and applied sciences,” the CAS claims.” However, this caveat is less encouraging than it may sound.”
“The areas affected are precisely those that figure prominently in general education and in what might be called education for citizenship.” The CAS looked at party registration of faculty, mission statements of departments and course catalogues, reading lists and on-campus events.
Thus, the CAS found, for example, that in “UC Santa Cruz’s American history courses in the fall of 2008, there were six upper division courses. 106B concerned Asian American History, 110D was on the Civil War, 115A was about U.S. Labor History, 121A was about African American History, 123A about U.S. Immigration History, 190 concerned Power and Culture in the U.S., “from a variety of race, class, and gender perspectives.”
“The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has issued a new report about California universities based upon false evidence, distorted anecdotes, random online postings, and a series of terrible arguments that are fundamentally contrary to academic freedom and the idea of the university as a place for the free debate of ideas,” John K. Wilson of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) alleges. “What the NAS calls for is a kind of a new McCarthyism, where Regents and administrators ban the use of funds for events deemed ‘political,’ force the hiring of unqualified conservative professors, and silence professors as ‘political’ if they criticize the government in class or stray from the preferred conservative ideology of the NAS.”
Wilson scores the CAS for misreading course data—confusing requirements with options—and poll results. Even so, Wilson never addresses the finding of a think tank at UCLA, hardly a right-wing hive, which the CAS report quotes, that found “that more faculty now believe that they should teach their students to be agents of social change than believe that it is important to teach them the classics of Western civilization.”
Moreover, Wilson ignores, also quoted by the CAS, “the frank admission by Cary Nelson, the AAUP’s present leader, that political criteria in hiring ‘are clearly fair when deciding whether or not to hire a faculty member in the first place. You have a right not to hire someone whose views you consider reprehensible.’”
For its part, the CAS critiques the AAUP for shifting its definition of academic freedom. “While the present AAUP leadership knows that it cannot disown the great statements of 1915 and 1940 without causing widespread alarm, it has offered a series of arguments designed to undermine their provisions and make them largely unenforceable and irrelevant,” the CAS contends. “The 1970 gloss made the point that controversy is everywhere in academic work because it always deals with the latest advances in knowledge.”
“Therefore, excluding irrelevance does not exclude controversy.”
The CAS goes on to quote the AAUP itself upon revision of these guidelines. “At root, complaints about the persistent interjection of ‘irrelevant’ material concern the interjection of ‘controversial’ material,’” the AAUP argues. The AAUP also makes the argument that “The danger in the use of the persistent intrusion standard lies precisely in the tendency to focus on and seek to constrain controversial subject matter [...which] stifles the free discussion necessary for academic freedom.”
“The earlier prejudice against ‘controversy’ was rescinded, and a new standard—the AAUP standard today—was created that only rejects ‘the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject,’” Wilson states.
Nevertheless, the AAUP’s own explanations, as quoted by the CAS, offer little consolation that such a standard might not be a code for the introduction of biases. “In some contexts, the meaning of “irrelevance” is clear…[but] might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up Moby Dick, a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville’s novel?” the AAUP asks.
In the words of a famous guy, “Yes we can.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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