A Crisis of Competence

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of numerous books, including "Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America," now available from ISI Books. Read Daniel's blog at www.flynnfiles.com.


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A new report charges that widespread politicization at the University of California has degraded instruction and scholarship at its nine undergraduate campuses. “Political purposes are so radically different from academic ones that the former will always corrupt the latter,” the study holds. Litmus test hiring, ideologically-laden course syllabi, classroom soap-boxing, and censorship of alternative voices are among the findings of A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California. The California Association of Scholars produced the report for the consideration of the regents of the state’s top-tier universities.

“When individual faculty members and sometimes even whole departments decide that their aim is to advance social justice as they understand it rather than to teach the subject that they were hired to teach with all the analytical skill that they can muster, the quality of teaching and research is compromised,” the report maintains. “This is an inevitable result because, as we shall show, these two aims are incompatible with each other, so that the one must undermine the other.”

The study cites vast Democrat-Republican disparities among faculty to buttress its main allegation. At Berkeley, for instance, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 31-1 in history, 29-1 in English, and 17-0 in sociology. Such lopsided ratios held up in the social sciences and humanities at other University of California campuses. “When we find large concentrations of activists, it is impossible to ignore the fact that this is in itself a sign of activism at work,” the California Association of Scholars contends. “Part of activism is swelling the ranks of activists.”

A skewed faculty results in a skewed curriculum. At UCLA, 58 percent the faculty want their students “to become agents of social change.” UC-Riverside’s Labor Studies Program calls for “alternative models for organizing for social justice” as a purpose of the academic field. The syllabus for UC-Santa Cruz’s “The Politics of the War on Terrorism” asks: “How did Bush and Cheney build the fiction that Al Qaeda was a participant in the 9/11 attacks?” Five departments at that school offer introductory courses on Karl Marx. The report notes, “No other political thinker has a course devoted exclusively to his thought.”

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  • clarespark

    I was awarded the Ph.D. in history from UCLA in 1993. I had been in the program for eleven years and was attentive to the Department of English as well as the Department of History. Everything Daniel Flynn says is true. The narrative that was laid down for the future teachers of history is described here: http://clarespark.com/2012/03/31/nell-painters-hi…. It was left-wing social democratic heaven for professors. Leninists also did very well there. All this can be explained as an attempt to co-opt the cultural nationalists who brought murder to the UCLA campus in the late 1960s.

  • Charmides

    Hello readers and fellow students,

    I am currently a third year English major at a UC in southern California, and was greatly surprised and not a little insulted by this article. I arrived at my university in September of 2009 and have seen many outrages inflicted upon the quality of education, however political activism on the part of professors is not one of them.

    My three years as a UC student have seen…

    -The state reduce its funding and increase student tuition, such that for the first time in the history of the Univeristy of California system students are paying more for their education than the state. http://budget.universityofcalifornia.edu/files/20

    -Peaceful protests violently curtailed by police at the behest of University of California Chancellor Linda Katehi, who "wrote a letter to the university the school had no option but to ask the police to assist in the removal of the protesters." – http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/occupy-wal

    -Increased class sizes combined with reduced total number of classes per student.

    -A grim future: "Student tuition could reach $22,000 a year for in-state residents as the University of California system faces a projected $2.4 billion budget deficit by 2015." – http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2011/10/student-

    All of this information, combined with a complete lack of any experience I've ever heard of in which teachers use class time to promote political causes induces me to think this report is a diversionary tactic aimed at blaming hard working professors (whose pay keeps dropping) for the administration's failings. This report is an insult to me as a student and as a citizen of the state of California. Perhaps if the Regents cared enough to listen to students then there would not be protests such as this http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/03/stu

    Professors are teaching Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Jefferson, to students who make their own inferences as to the state of the political system in the United States. I cannot see this kind of education as politically biased. The only thing it promotes is a healthy critical mind, the cornerstone of our democratic government. If anyone wants to punish teachers for that, then we have a larger problem in US higher education; the fear that it will produce minds capable of thinking for themselves.

    • intrcptr2

      You're an English major, and you're studying Locke and Machiavelli? intriguing…

      Could you snap me off a copy of a few syllabi, or maybe some reading lists, so that I can "make their own inferences as to the state of the political system" at [your] UC in southern California?

      I do apologize for questioning this post, by a 20-year old student, but this sounds a bit too pat. The problem is of course that the fish do not realize they are breathing water.

      • Charmides

        I'd certainly be willing to send you a reading list so that you might educate yourself along the same lines of thought we as students have the great privilege of exploring.

        Of course I sound simple. I'm a student with no editorial experience. It is your cynicism towards my unrefined views that disturbs me. Rather than asking questions aimed to undermine, why not explore the events occurring across the state in higher education in order to help myself and others understand how to improve the quality of our universities? Because you addressed none of the points I raised, only the tone I used. Do not ad hominem at me.

        Maybe I'm a fish in water,
        But you swimming in a big pile of…. well, it ain't roses.

        • intrcptr2

          Look, if you are going to chat, at least proofread.

          And where is my syllabus already?
          I never called you simple, and editorial skills won't fix that, if you are indeed so. You are claiming extremely refined views, I am rather arguing that they are not; this is not an ad hominem, by the by. I did not address any of your points because I attacked your position, not one thing you mentioned here points to "improving higher education".

          My closing metaphor should have been obvious to a student of literature, perhaps your missing it proves the point of the OP.
          eg
          You do not recognize the depths of your own indoctrination in the leftist slant of the UC-system because you have been raised in it. Thus, now, as a college junior, everything on campus seems normal simply because you have never heard or experienced anything else.

          And if you are going to demand that I refrain from ad hominems (One cannot "ad hominem at me"), then you might refrain from them yourself. thanks

          • Charmides

            This last post seems a bit mixed up, so let us go through some basic concepts together.

            Pat: 2. Esp. of words: prompt, well-rehearsed or memorized. Hence: (with negative connotation) glib, facile, unconsidered. rare before 20th cent. (now the dominant sense).
            AS IN
            1930 W. Empson Seven Types of Ambiguity i. 27 Of course, these pat little theories are ridiculously simple.
            "pat, adv.1 and adj.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 6 April 2012 &lt ;http://www.oed.com.proxy.library.ucsb.edu:2048/view/Entry/138666?rskey=tAZDrQ&result=8&isAdvanced=false>.
            —> You called me 'pat', which the OED recognizes as synonymous with 'simple'.

            Perhaps you should use a dictionary before attempting to patronize English students. Make sure its the OED so you don't get yourself twisted again. Let me demonstrate another case where you are wrong.

            Ad Hominem
            orig. Logic and Philos.
            A. adv.
            Thesaurus »
            Categories »

            By attempting to disprove an argument or proposition by attacking the beliefs or character of the person proposing it (cf. argumentum ad hominem at argument n. 3c). Subsequently also in extended use: with respect to a particular person or group, rather than the matter in hand. Opposed to ad rem.

            AS IN

            1862 M. Evans Biogr. Sketches Pioneer Preacher Indiana 324 He employs no grievous words that stir up strife‥. His pen addresses itself ad rem, and not ad hominem.
            2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Nexis) 9 July b6 In politics‥and in the media the ad hominem argument and personal attack has become the first and last refuge‥for many angry but misguided critics.
            "ad hominem, adv. and adj.". OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 6 April 2012 &lt ;http://www.oed.com.proxy.library.ucsb.edu:2048/view/Entry/2346?redirectedFrom=ad%20hominem>.

            Example given:

            Prof. Smith says to Prof. White, "You are much too hard on your students," and Prof. White replies, "But certainly you are not the one to say so. Just last week I heard several of your students complaining." http://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/person.html

            Or, if I may suggest another example: "I do apologize for questioning this post, by a 20-year old student, but this sounds a bit too pat." —–> You attack me for being a 20 year old student.

            Or perhaps "You do not recognize the depths of your own indoctrination in the leftist slant of the UC-system because you have been raised in it. Thus, now, as a college junior, everything on campus seems normal simply because you have never heard or experienced anything else."
            Inferring ——-> You are a university student indoctrinated in in the leftist slat, THEREFOR your comments are of no worth.

            Your metaphor did not go unrecognized. I admit that I may be living in a bubble, may be "a fish in water" so to speak. I simply suggest that there are worse things to be swimming in than what a supposed "leftist slant of the UC-system".

            As for my use of the phrase 'Do not ad hominem at me', must I point out (this is getting boring) that something English students love to do is be creative. Using 'ad hominem' as a verb sounds funny, and I like the way it points out how you are doing violence upon me when you use arguments ad hominem.

            Next time you feel like attacking someone you think is not as smart as you, you might want to look twice. I can take you to school all day long, but it's tiresome. And here at UCSB we pay a lot of money for our education. Lucky for you I'm giving out free samples.

            However, I must agree with you that none of the things I mentioned improves higher education. That is because all the things I point out take away from a good university education. The point of my argument was that this article is attempting to draw attention away from those issues which actually are reducing the quality of higher education, and redirect that attention to a ridiculous and false attack on the only people really worth defending, and those are the under appreciated professors and teachers.

          • intrcptr2

            Yes, you are correct in the definition of "pat". However, you have once again exposed the UC college sytem for the failure it is by remembering, falsely, that I called you 'pat'. Go back and read my comment, I was referring to your post, not you.
            FAIL 1

            ad hominem is NOT a verb, so it is quite impossible to DO IT at someone. And it is not "english students" who like to coin phrases or craft neologisms (Or, in UGspeak, "be creative"), but rather students of English, which appear not to be a good example of (A bit hard to get bored by doinng something once, like pointing out; where was that again, just how "creative" you are).
            Fali 2

            This next one I need to quote in full, for the full effect of your failure to show;
            "Or perhaps "You do not recognize the depths of your own indoctrination in the leftist slant of the UC-system because you have been raised in it. Thus, now, as a college junior, everything on campus seems normal simply because you have never heard or experienced anything else."
            INFERRING ——-> You are a university student indoctrinated in in the leftist slat, THEREFOR your comments are of no worth."
            When I make a charge like this, I am implying the conclusion of the argument, not inferring it. The listener/hearer of words does the inferring.
            Your won arguemtns themselves imply their won worthlessness, not my recognition of their emptyness.
            FAIL 3

            And yet again, where is my syllabus, which you promised to provide for us out here to judge the efficacy of your fellow Californians tax dollars?

            Keep this up if you really wish to feel insulted; I've not even gotten warmed up to the idea of telling you what I really think of your, what, 75 earned credits. All you do is continue to prove the OP's point.

    • Annie Rhys-Davis

      And this person's comment proves the point.

    • cynic

      If the education costs the student more, perhaps they will try to choose less tendentious and useless courses.

      • intrcptr2

        Don't count on it…

  • Schlomotion

    I think there is a crisis of competence at Greater Media, Inc. All WTKK does is shill for Israel and the Boston Police Department, trying to get those leftists even more handouts for their Union. They kill Rock and Roll by playing "More Than A Feeling" 200,000 times a day, and their speakers graduated from places like Oral Roberts University. If ever there was an attempt to put an Irish face on Deep Southern Christian Zionist garbage, that station is it. Why are media companies now charged with the task of engulfing and destroying the University system? Is it a massive ploy to eliminate college radio? What makes radio jocks authorities on pedagogy?

  • moravecglobal

    Despite eligibility University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and Provost Breslauer shed thousands of instate applicants. Qualified instate applicants to public Cal. are replaced by a $50,600 payment from born abroad affluent foreign and affluent out of state students. And, Birgeneau subsidizes affluent foreign and affluent out of state tuition in the guise of diversity while he doubles instate tuition/fees.

    Cal. is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau/Breslauer accept $50,600 foreign students and displaces qualified instate Californians (When depreciation of tax funded assets are included (as they should be), out of state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 and does NOT subsidize instate tuition). Going to Cal. is now more expensive than Harvard, Yale.

    With the recommendation of UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer allowed campus police to use excessive force – rammed baton jabs – on students protesting Birgeneau‘s doubling of instate tuition. Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  • moravecglobal

    I love University of California having been a student & lecturer. Like so many I am disappointed by Provost George Breslauer’s and Chancellor Birgeneau’s failure to arrest escalating costs/tuition. Birgeneau/Breslauer doubled instate tuition. On an all-in cost UC Berkeley (UCB) is the most expensive public university; more expensive than Harvard, Yale. The tuition increases have forced students to take on more debt to finance their education. In 2010, two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans, and those loans averaged $25,250
    UC Berkeley ranked # 2 in faculty earning potential. Paying more is not a better university. Birgeneau/Breslauer dismissed: increasing the number of classes per faculty; eliminating courses with too few students; refraining from exorbitant salaries, bonuses; doubling the time between sabbaticals; freezing all vacant positions; freezing pay, benefits & reforming pensions, health costs. Birgeneau believes fiscal efficiency is not healthy for Cal. Exodus of faculty, chancellors, and administrators: who can afford them?
    An American Enterprise Institute study found that UCB can operate well on much leaner budgets. Californians agree it is far from the ideal situation.

  • j. Lantolf

    A quick check of course offerings in History at UC Berkeley in 2010 and 2011 academic years shows the following courses: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present; Modern Europe; US History from settlement to the Civil War; US History from the Civil War to the Present; Origins of Western Civilization. No courses in Western Civilization? Do some fact-checking please !

  • moravecglobal

    University of California instate tuition must increase says Chancellor and Provost. University of California Berkeley (UCB) Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau is outspoken on why elite public universities should charge more. With Birgeneau’s leadership UCB is more expensive (on an all-in-cost) than private Harvard and Yale. Cal. is the most expensive public higher education in our country. World ranking of prestigious universities has Harvard #1, Cal # 5.

    Birgeneau would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar asked for. The Chancellor’s ‘charge more’ instate tuition skyrocketed fees by an average 14% per year from 2006 to 2011-12 academic year. If Birgeneau had allowed fees to rise at the same rate of inflation over the past 10 years they would still be in reach of most middle income students with the help of affordable student loans. Increasing Cal’s funding is not the solution.

  • pickpocketcal

    UC Berkely is to maximize access to the widest number of residence at a reasonable cost. Birgeneau Breslauer ‘charge Californians higher tuition’ denies middle income families the transformative value of Cal.

    The California dream: keep it alive and well. Fire hapless Provost George W Breslauer. Clueless Chancellor Birgeneau resigned. Cal. leadership must accept responsibility for failing Californians.

    Opinions? UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu Calif. State Senators, Assembly members.