Tomorrow night, I’ll be on Fox News’ “Heartland with John Kasich,” at 5 pm and 8 pm (both times PST).
You might very well ask, why in the world is Fox interested in me? Over the last few days, the media has decided that its resources are best focused on a right-wing UCLA group called the “Bruin Alumni Association,” which has targeted several UCLA professors for “radical bias” in the classroom. One of the so-called “Dirty Thirty” is yours truly.
Andrew Jones, a UCLA grad and the founder of the BAA, certainly knows how to attract media attention: page 1 of the Los Angeles Times California section, a lead editorial in that newspaper today, an NPR story yesterday morning, CNN headlines, and now (of course) Fox.
BAA certainly has a right to say what it wants, and professors should not be immune from criticism. But this isn’t criticism; it’s a smear job in the service of right-wing politics.
On my profile, for example, the major criticism is that I have given money to Democratic candidates, and that I have signed several petitions opposing Bush’s judicial nominees. My friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge, one of a dwindling number of principled conservatives, notes that there isn’t a single shred of evidence that I have imported my political beliefs into classroom instruction. The same goes for all of my law school colleagues.
This isn’t McCarthyism; it’s Rovism. Essentially, the BAA says that something is radical or unbalanced if they disagree with the BAA. It’s a very small scale repeat of the constant Republican attempts to paint Al Gore as a lunatic because he points out that the Bush Administration is breaking the law.
Three more points are in order:
1. BAA plays fast and loose with the facts to serve its agenda, a practice that should be unsurprising given that it includes well-known academic charlatan John Lott on its advisory board. In a “report” several months ago, it accused my colleague Cheryl Harris of indoctrinating her students by feeding them only left-wing material — conveniently neglecting to mention that Harris also assigns Dinesh D’Souza’s “The End of Racism” as well as articles by David Horowitz and Clarence Thomas.
2. BAA isn’t just one nutcase’s personal website: the organization has an advisory board of very heavy political hitters, including a state senator, the former chairman of the California Republican Party, the current leader of the California Club for Growth, the chairman of the right-wing California Republican Assembly, and Linda Chavez, Bush’s original nominee for Labor Secretary. Their plan is to enact David Horowitz’ “Academic Bill of Rights”, which in and of itself is innocuous enough, but no law is worth its salt if it isn’t enforced. So how do they plan to enforce it? Could I be sued if Andrew Jones thinks I’m not being fair and balanced? Could a massive state bureaucracy investigate me for violating the act? The BAA website is an opening salvo in the attempt to delegitimize contrary viewpoints and then bring them under close state scrutiny and harassment. Again, they have a right to criticize, but no one should be fooled as to their agenda: they are precisely what they claim to be arguing against.
3. The entire notion of classroom “balance,” while important, is a lot less significant than it’s cracked up to be. Students aren’t fools, and they won’t tolerate being indoctrinated: the BAA evinces profound contempt for students by insisting that they are being brainwashed (unless, of course, they protest these professors, in which case they are free thinkers). In any event, the job of a university teacher isn’t to just parrot “on the one hand, on the other hand,” but rather establish a classroom environment in which students are free to express their opinions without fear of reprisal or ridicule, and other students feel the responsibility to listen. Many of my best teachers did this while at the same time expressing their viewpoints vehemently.
In short, the BAA criticism is inaccurate, misleading, incoherent, dangerous, and ignorant about the nature of education. Other than that, it’s terrific.
And by the way, just the other night, I signed another petition, to have the University divest from the genocidal regime in Sudan. So there.