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Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Marcos Malo
Date: January 22, 2006 11:39PM
[www.latimes.com]

[My commentary follows the article. MM]

Witch hunt at UCLA
By Saree Makdisi, Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA.

'UCLA STUDENTS: Do you have a professor who just can't stop talking about President Bush, about the war in Iraq, about the Republican Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn't matter whether this is a past class, or your class from this coming winter quarter. If you help expose the professor, we'll pay you for your work."

This grotesque offer appeared last week on a new website taking aim at members of the UCLA faculty. The site, created by the Bruin Alumni Assn., a group founded by 2003 UCLA graduate Andrew Jones, offers differing bounties for class notes, handouts and illicit recordings of lectures ($100 for all three).

A glance at the profiles of the "targeted professors," however, reveals that they have been singled out, in most cases, not for what goes on in their courses, but for the positions they have taken outside the classroom — and outside the university.

I earned my own inaccurate and defamatory "profile," for example, not for what I have said in my classes on English poets such as Wordsworth and Blake — my academic specialty, which the website pointedly avoids mentioning — but rather for what I have written in newspapers about Middle Eastern politics.

My colleagues and I are being targeted for speaking out on the kinds of urgent social matters and universal principles that it has always — in every society and every age — been the task of intellectuals to address.

The website assumes that any professor who speaks out in a public forum must at the same time be indulging in ideological abuse of his or her students — proselytizing them, indoctrinating them. And it's actually not just any professor; it's only the supposedly "liberal" ones, since "conservative" faculty are not targeted on the website.

Naturally, a professor who speaks out in public expects to receive criticism in public. Criticism is one thing; a farrago of misquotations, misrepresentations and utter falsehoods, dragging in one's family and stretching back to one's high school days, is something else entirely. This is no way to assess someone's classroom conduct.

Ultimately, of course, this has nothing to do with me or my colleagues, or our teaching. A method for assessing how professors treat their students is already built into how universities work. Every course at UCLA gives students the opportunity to anonymously evaluate their professors, and those evaluations are used in hiring, promotion and tenure decisions; abusive professors don't get very far in their careers.

So the point of the website is not really to produce genuine "evaluations" of classroom dynamics — a cause that would hardly be well-served by a tiny group of politically motivated zealots accountable to no one and trying to use the cash nexus to break the sacrosanct bond between teacher and student. The point, rather, is to silence voices that go against the zealots' right-wing orthodoxy, and to subject the classroom to outside political surveillance, not simply by vigilante groups like this one, but ultimately by the state itself.

Jones, who created the website, is a former leader of UCLA's campus Republican organization. He explicitly aligns himself with the "student academic freedom movement" begun by conservative activist David Horowitz (although Horowitz last week criticized Jones, whom he said he'd once fired for pressuring students to file false reports about their professors).

The two distinguishing features of the academic freedom movement are the total absence of any significant student involvement and its use of Orwellian language — in which slogans such as "academic freedom" actually mean their opposite.

One member of the website's advisory board is state Sen. Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), who has introduced a bill creating a "student bill of rights" — written not by students but by their paternalistic "friends" who assume they aren't up to the task of thinking critically for themselves.

Morrow's bill, which failed to pass last year but will be reconsidered this year, would wreak havoc. It could impose unprecedented state monitoring of classrooms and compel professors to teach discredited materials. It asserts, for example, that "curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences shall respect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas, and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints."

The intention is presumably to force "liberal" faculty to teach "conservative" materials, as though a university education functions according to the same degraded logic as the Bill O'Reilly show. But the bill could also force a professor teaching the Holocaust to teach the views of Holocaust deniers ("dissenting sources").

Such subtleties don't keep the conservative crusaders up at night. Irrespective of the damage their campaign inflicts, members of the hard right — who currently control all three branches of government and yet seem irrationally convinced of their own disempowerment — are seeking to impose their worldview on our university system through crude intimidation and "big government" intervention that reactionaries normally grumble about when it's taking care of the poor, the ill or the elderly.

Their success would almost certainly guarantee that what gets taught would be determined not according to scholarly criteria but according to political pressure. I'd hate to be mistaken for a "conservative," but the barbarians really are at the gates.

-----------------------------
It's hard to choose what I find most troubling about the "New Right", but certainly among the things I have problems with is the wish of some in the GOP to silence all dissent. I find this troubling not just as a conservative and as a Republican, but as an American. This is not the American way of doing things. This is the Nazi or Soviet method. Unfortunately it also appears to be the Republican method now. If the Republican party represented a powerless minority whose voice could not be heard, they might have a point in wanting their P.O.V represented. However, the Republican party represents a very powerful minority that controls all three branches of government, and which has very loud voices in the media.

I think that some in the GOP have become mad with power to the point of a pathological condition. They wish to crush dissent because they are trying to engineer a thousand year rule by the GOP. These are the people who rose to power in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, let us pray to God that they do not remain in power in the United States.

As a Republican and as an American who loves his country, I urge all of you to vote against Republican candidates in the 2006 elections. Vote Democrat when tactically necessary, to prevent a Republican from gaining power. In races where the Democrat is assured victory, vote green or libertarian if your conscience so dictates. We must send a message to the GOP in the hopes that the sane and the uncorrupt can regain control of the party before it is too late.



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I think….
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4a.m.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: spearmint
Date: January 22, 2006 11:58PM
My colleagues and I are being targeted for speaking out on the kinds of urgent social matters and universal principles that it has always — in every society and every age — been the task of intellectuals to address.

When I need an arrogant beyond belief professor of English and comparative literature to lecture me on urgent social matters and universal principles I'll give this guy a call. What courses should I have taken to learn this information?

How do you become an intellectual? You decide you are!
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Marcos Malo
Date: January 23, 2006 12:08AM
So, because you don't think this person has a right to consider themselves an intellectual, it's alright for right wing thugs to silence them?

If you had been reading for comprehension you'd know that politics don't enter into Saree Makdisi's course lectures. It's Saree Makdisi's extracurricular activities that have caused the right wing thugs to go after him/her.

Are you so blind that you do not see what direction this country is heading? Do you not get that right wing thugs are now offering bounties on people that they consider dissidents? What kind of America do you want to live in, 'mint?



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I think….
there….
4a.m.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: MacMagus
Date: January 23, 2006 12:24AM
How do you interpret "noblesse oblige?"

Is it an insulting slander or a description of a person with strong morals?
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: spearmint
Date: January 23, 2006 12:34AM
What does calling yourself an intellectual and being "silenced by thugs" have to do with each other? Being a college professor certainly does not make you an intellectual. Makes it sound you can take enough classes and become one. I believe it is a worthless term except when used to poke fun at the self appointed.

I still want to know what in the courses in pursuit of his English Phd he took gives him the right to address me or anyone on urgent social matters. It would just be his opinion. If he never addressed the urgent social issues and universal principles in his classes you are right it is a witch hunt. However the quote I mentioned makes me feel he thinks that is his mission and should be canned if he has.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: RgrF
Date: January 23, 2006 01:23AM
Now if a left leaning group were to make such an offer for students at Bob Jones University to rat out the faculty who preach conservative ideals, are pro war or support Bush, that would be OK with you would it Minty?
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Marcos Malo
Date: January 23, 2006 01:32AM
"I believe it is a worthless term except when used to poke fun at the self appointed."

If you knew enough about the history of the Soviet Union, you'd find the parallels chilling. Hopefully. But I'm not sure, exactly. Are you one of those that seeks to subvert a word's meaning? Are you a member of the Orwellian pack? I hold you in higher regard, but perhaps I've overestimated you. Do you consider the word "liberal" to be an insult?



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I think….
there….
4a.m.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Pops
Date: January 23, 2006 05:14AM
a) if this guy's political discussions occur outside his class instruction, he is 100% ok by me

b) if this guy's political discussions occur during his class instruction, he is 0% ok by me

Despite what is reported, I'd bet a few bucks that he's somewhere in the middle.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: RgrF
Date: January 23, 2006 05:32AM
Pops Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> a) if this guy's political discussions occur
> outside his class instruction, he is 100% ok by
> me
>
> b) if this guy's political discussions occur
> during his class instruction, he is 0% ok by me
>
> Despite what is reported, I'd bet a few bucks that
> he's somewhere in the middle.

Maybe I misunderstood the original post. I thought the issue was turning students into informers (regardless of political affiliation) and thus chilling dissent.

When did it become about the professor. It's about trying to stifle dissent, isn't it?

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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Pops
Date: January 23, 2006 09:13AM
RgrF Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Maybe I misunderstood the original post. I thought the issue was turning students into informers
> (regardless of political affiliation) and thus chilling dissent.
>
> When did it become about the professor. It's about trying to stifle dissent, isn't it?
>
Well, maybe I'm unclear. It seems to me to be about an effort to silence a particular class of people - college professors by suggesting that anything they say, anywhere should be construed as "indulging in ideological abuse of his or her students".

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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Refurbvirgin
Date: January 23, 2006 09:23AM
RgrF Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Now if a left leaning group were to make such an
> offer for students at Bob Jones University to rat
> out the faculty who preach conservative ideals,
> are pro war or support Bush, that would be OK with
> you would it Minty?
>
BJU is a private school as I recall, not a recipient of your tax dollars, so their partisan expressions are not as proscribed. If I'm paying for someone to teach me a skill, such as use of language, I don't expect or want their personal opinions on subjects outside their area they've contracted to instruct me inside the classroom. It would be as inappropriate to charge me for sitting through their political opinions in a class I'd paid to better my language skills as it would be for them to regale me with their opposition to abortion.

If I disagree with the instructor and voice my opinion I might rationally fear for my grade. Best to just stick to the subject the students are paying to learn. Instructors hold the future of their students in their grade books and that is a state of potential intimidation that inhibits free debate. If the instructor wants to participate in political activities, such as anti-war rallies, outside the classroom that is certainly their right, and if his students are interested in his opinions they can seek them there.

I would not want to be subjected to the pro-war opinions of an tax dollar subsidized instructor in a class that I'd paid hard-earned money to purchase, and I would be inhibited from expressing disagreement for fear my grade would reflect his dislike for my contrary opinion. If I'm a BJU student I expect the so-called Christian perspective to permeate all aspects of my education, however.




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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: cbelt3
Date: January 23, 2006 11:37AM
Nothing new here, but it's still sad. Campus politics and Prof vs. Prof academia politics are some of the nastiest battles around. It's just that they are usually couched in such sequepedanlianistic obfuscatory terms that the normal human being is not aware of it.

I find the usual leftist leaning liberal arts departments to be quite typical, entertaining, and useful. I would not want to silence them. I can findly recall having wonderful arguments with my Political Science profs. Fortunately, they were intelligent enough and principled enough to grade me on the merit of the argument, and not some ideological basis of 'right and wrong'. So I was lucky. Or I would have gotten straight F's in my minor.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: bernadette
Date: January 23, 2006 12:37PM
What did you say cbelt3?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 01/23/2006 12:40PM by bernadette.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Kiva
Date: January 23, 2006 02:22PM
mint:

"How do you become an intellectual? You decide you are!"..

I respectfully disagree....if you have an IQ of 88...you can 'decide' all you want winking smiley

Though I still think it was a pretty over-the-top arrogant statement..

BTW, I'm pretty sure it's illegal in CA to make a tape recording of somebody without their knowledge. However, tape recording lectures in college is commonplace.

kiva
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: Gutenberg
Date: January 23, 2006 04:04PM
I taught college for a couple of years. Students can turn the baby freshman history of theater class into a political discussion. I think part of the reason is that after years of dinner table discussion on the events and politics of the day, they pack their trunks, get on the train, and wake up at State U. to realize that they run the dinner table now. Honestly, there is no such thing as a non sequitur in a college class.
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: spearmint
Date: January 23, 2006 05:32PM
Ah those BS sessions till 3am when you could not get a Hearts game going or some senior to go get beer. College life rules. I guess now the drill includes serious internet including downloading music. Not as much fun as determing the fate of the World.




Da Good Life
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Re: Witch Hunt at UCLA
Posted by: SteveO
Date: January 24, 2006 03:49PM
Kudos to you, Marcus Malo, for having the balls to stand up to the jackals who are overtaking the GOP.
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