A Crisis of Competence

Academics outline politics masquerading as education at the Univ. of California.

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.”

More frightening than what’s included in an undergraduate’s education is what’s excluded. “At UC Davis, a history major can avoid American history entirely,” A Crisis of Competence points out. “There is not a single history department on any of the campuses that requires a survey course in Western civilization of its history majors. And most shocking of all, on almost all campuses (the exceptions being UCLA and UC Davis) Western civilization courses are simply not offered at all.” Outside speakers, a minuscule attempt at providing more balance, are occasionally shouted-down or censored. The study points to eight speakers—including this writer—“seriously disrupted or stopped outright” in delivering their message at the Berkeley campus, home of the free speech movement of the 1960s. Repeated acts of censorship, the study holds, demonstrate official indifference to the free flow of ideas.

Making over staid lecture halls into lively political rallies has predictably sent students into the world ill equipped for the responsibilities of citizenship and the workplace. With a growing debate asking, “Is college worth it?,” it has also harmed the reputation of higher education. Most acutely, and perhaps appropriately, the humanities and social sciences feel the adverse impact. Students simply have gravitated away from fields heavy on politics but light on learning. Given the liberal arts tradition being antithetical to the ideological classroom, the pinch felt by co-opted fields in the liberal arts comes as bittersweet to the partisans of the liberal arts critical of classroom partisanship.

The 81-page publication concludes that the best chance of reform comes by trustees enforcing existing rules, such as those prohibiting politicizing captive audiences of students. “When even five minutes of class time is used to promote an instructor’s political beliefs, public property has essentially been converted to a private use,” the California Association of Scholars maintains. The group likens politics hijacking tax-funded class time to an employee heisting a school computer. The time, like the property, isn’t theirs. They are paid to teach not to preach. Given the widespread conception among faculty of college as an instrument of social transformation rather than education, the authors admit that fundamental change will not come easy. “Those who have slowly built themselves a protective refuge from the marketplace of ideas will not give it up easily.”

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