Saturday, January 21, 2006

Time for a rant...

There's been a bit of news about the Bruin Alumni Association at UCLA offering a bounty for the most radical professors at UCLA.

I have a message for them.

Grow the hell up.

I've been to their site, here , and gone through six of the profiles. I must admit, I'm skimming, looking for substance... but so far, skimming six profiles, I've found one report of one complaint by one student about grading practices.

It could well be that I've picked the worst examples. Who knows? The fact of the matter is, the site is listing the "radical" ideas, actions, writings, and petition signings of professors. It's supposed to tell us that there are wild-eyed professors teaching crazy things at UCLA. Let's just assume that's correct. I have a one word response: good.

What on earth do these people think is the purpose of a university? To dictate ideas and have them blandly accepted by unthinking students? No! It's to teach students to think, to reason, to grow, and to take an intellectual stand and learn to defend it with rigor. The presense of people with wild, perhaps even dangerous, ideas, is a blessing for that purpose. If you go to a university and don't have the guts to stake out a position and defend it, then don't blame the university for your own failing. If you want to be spoon-fed feel-good conservativism, turn on Rush Limbaugh; he's an entertainer, not a thinker; it's his job to preach to the choir. If you go to a college or university, you have a right to expect some wild, radical ideas to knock you out of your comfort zone. If there are more liberal professors in academia, it's liberals who have more right to be upset than conservatives.

Now, if you want to impress me with worries about academic freedom and possible grading or resarch bias, show me some. Show me a professor who downgrades a student for coming to a conclusion the professor dislikes, or who engages in unfair debate tactics in class, and I'll agree that's unacceptable.

Show me a professor teaching a class in a one-sided manner who doesn't allow opposing viewpoints, and I'll agree that's unacceptable.

In fact, I'll even worry just a bit if you show me a radical professor who is teaching a gateway class, a class that's a core prerequisite. Such classes should help students start to recognize their own potential, rather than scare them off. Nevertheless, I'll only worry, and that, just a bit, until you show me real bias. I'll grant that some students can be intimidated, but timidity is the bane of a good scholar.

Those are things that can make me concerned.

But complaints that there are radical professors? Please. That's whining.

I grant you, there are many claims of bias out there... I'm sure many students think they've put together solid arguments and been downgraded for not agreeing with the professor. Some of those complaints might well be valid. At the same time, I've seen what conservatives consider to be political debate for the past several years. Richard Clarke can't be trusted, though he was trusted to coordinate the 9/11 response as the attacks occurred. The war is going to be fast, and cheap. We had solid evidence of WMDs in Iraq. Joseph Wilson is a liar.

None of this small sampling of issues can be supported with academic rigor... and while I hate to paint the Bruin Alumni Association as being guilty by association, a page full of reports about how radical the professors are suggest that they're falling prey to the same lack of careful thought we see on the national stage.

If they want to claim there's a serious problem, and real bias, they need to point to the problems, and demonstrate the bias. They can't just whine that a bunch of professors have liberal political views. They have to show that it has a real effect on education.

Otherwise, all they'll demonstrate is a lack of understanding about the very nature of the academic environment... a funny thing for graduates who wish to make changes to the university.

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