Blogs > Cliopatria > Toward a New Purity in Academic Culture

Jan 18, 2006 10:40 am


Toward a New Purity in Academic Culture



Seeking to expose the rising red menace on a campus infested with an"increasingly radical faculty," the website UCLA Profs offers students a payment of $100 for"Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class." Better yet, they'll even wire their stoolies prior to the informant's face-to-face with the perp:"If the class in question is ongoing or upcoming, UCLAProfs.com will provide (if needed) all necessary taping equipment and materials."

But UCLA Profs doesn't just surveil the classroom; they also helpfully compile lists of professors who have signed"radical petitions" such as this statement decrying illegal torture and this statement asking the British government to undertake an honest assessment of the number of Iraqis killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sad, sad days. Horowitzians continually argue that the American left is nostalgic for the late 1960s. What's increasingly clear, however, is that the Horowitzians are nostalgic for the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Or maybe the mid1930s.

ADDED LATER:

Quoted without comment from a January 18 Los Angeles Timesstory on the group and its founder, Andrew Jones:
He said he plans to show what he considers biased material to professors and administrators and seek to have teachers present more balanced lectures or possibly face reprimand...

Jones said he has lined up one student who, for $100 a class session, has agreed to provide tapes, detailed lecture notes and materials with what the group considers inappropriate opinion. He would not name the student or the professor whose class will be monitored.


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Christopher Newman - 1/18/2006

Yes, Mr. Luker, that is clear to me, and after reading your and Chris's responses, I admit that my original comment treated this group too lightly. I think we can agree that it's the purpose of the "surveillance," and not the "surveillance" itself, which is troubling.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/18/2006

Mr. Newman, Isn't it clear to you that _paying_ students to tape classroom discussions for the purpose of entrapping their teachers (when it is perfectly clear that _punishment_ is what the funding source desires) perverts the classroom experience, creating suspicion where it needs not be? What reward is offered the instructor if the tape is of a brilliant learning experience?


Chris Bray - 1/18/2006

And let me answer this question: "Should the professors at a state-funded public university expect that their lectures and class materials are merely private affairs between themselves and their students, and that administrators, taxpayers, and uppity, fascist alumni have no business butting in?"

Certainly not. I can only speak as a teaching assistant, but I have welcomed parents into my discussion sections. I would welcome David Horowitz to my discussion sections, if he would agree not to bogart the discussion. I don't know any professors who forbid visitors to their classroom. At UCLA, where 500 students attend a single lecture, I don't know how that kind of exclusion would work.

The point isn't to erect a wall of privacy; the point is to preserve a climate in which people can speak honestly about their views without being punished. And yes, that means students shouldn't be punished for offending their professors, either, and some professors have a problem with that concept.

So let me ask this question: If a radical leftist alumni organization at Cal State Fresno began monitoring and taping Victor Davis Hanson's lectures, in an attempt to attack and embarass him publicly and generate complaints to the admnistration, would you approve?

Or if UCLA Students for Socialist Action began monitoring and taping Eugene Volokh's lectures, would you object?


Chris Bray - 1/18/2006

I think there should be a corollary to Godwin's Law -- I'll settle for "Bray's Law" -- about an argument being over when someone cites Godwin's Law the instant they see a reference to the history of German National Socialisism. I would bet money that someone, somewhere has sent a history website a message citing Godwin's Law after reading a bio page on Hitler himself. Moving on...

The lecture notes and taping are undertaken explicitly to catch professors doing something, and to use their words against them. Look at the UCLA profs page: They are outraged that professors say things that they don't agree with, and they want to catch people speaking against the current political leadership of the nation. Insert comparison to the National Socialist regime, which very explicitly set about to punish unbelievers in the university and bring the professoriate into line. Note that I didn't say Horowitzians were like Nazis -- they're far less powerful, far less important, far more ridiculous -- but rather that they were nostalgic for the power the Nazis had, nostalgic for the days when dissenting professors could be brought forcefully into line.

But let me make an offer: I will drop my objections to the UCLA Profs offer if David Horowitz and UCLA Profs founder Andrew Jones allow me to pay people they know to tape their discussions at work and bring me the tapes.


Christopher Newman - 1/18/2006

Yes, some of that stuff is silly, but I think you're equally silly to invoke the Nazis in response. Do you really think this group is scary enough to require you to violate Godwin's law?

And I'm not sure what, exactly, *is* wrong with this: "Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class."

I find it kind of rich for the professoriate, many of whom decry the "secrecy" of the Bush administration, to object to openness and transparency in their own professions. Sure, some of those who will be "surveilling" you will have an agenda, but that's the case for politicians as well.

I was struck by your use of the word "surveil," with its connotations of secrecy and invasion of privacy. Should the professors at a state-funded public university expect that their lectures and class materials are merely private affairs between themselves and their students, and that administrators, taxpayers, and uppity, fascist alumni have no business butting in? Why?

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