A right-wing alumni group at UCLA recently came up with a tactic that even Joe McCarthy and HUAC never tried: paying students to rat on their professors. The Bruin Alumni Association offered students up to $100 for tapes of lectures that show how “radicals” on the faculty are “actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom.” The group has posted a list of thirty professors–the Dirty Thirty–on its website as its first targets.
Other groups have sought to monitor American campuses for evidence of professors’ political bias, but they used “volunteers” rather than offering to pay students–most notably the David Project’s campaign against Columbia’s Middle East Studies program [see Scott Sherman, “The Mideast Comes to Columbia,” April 4, 2005] and the Middle East Forum’s so-called Campus Watch. David Horowitz and his Students for Academic Freedom have been running a national campaign to get state legislatures to pass laws to correct “liberal bias” among the faculty. In the name of advancing intellectual diversity, Horowitz and his allies seek to impose external political control over central educational functions like curriculums, hiring and firing, and teaching methods. It’s hard to imagine a more profound threat to academic freedom and the independence of American universities. Horowitz & Co. had such a bill introduced in the California legislature last year, but it died in committee. Their big problem: They lack concrete evidence that professors are abusing their authority in classrooms and discriminating against conservative and Christian students. That’s where the Bruin Alumni Association comes in.
But what is the Bruin Alumni Association? It appears to be a single person: Andrew Jones, a 2003 UCLA grad who headed the campus Bruin Republicans. He made news for running an affirmative action bake sale, in which he charged white male students more for cookies than minorities and women. Jones worked for Horowitz, but according to the New York Times, Horowitz says he fired him because Jones pressured students to “file false reports that they had been physically attacked by leftists.” (Neither Jones nor Horowitz replied to e-mailed questions.)
Jones’s website features lengthy reports on each of the thirty professors he’s targeted, but they contain virtually nothing about misconduct in the classroom. The charges against the faculty include supporting affirmative action (Ellen DuBois), organizing a memorial meeting for Edward Said (Sondra Hale), opposing the confirmation of John Roberts as Chief Justice (Christine Littleton), supporting gay rights (Eric Avila) and arguing that Bush stole the 2000 election in Florida (Doug Kellner). As Russell Jacoby noted in these pages [“The New PC: Crybaby Conservatives,” April 4, 2005], “Once an unreliable professor meant an anarchist or communist; now it includes Democrats.”
A search of all thirty professor profiles turns up only one report claiming to document classroom misconduct: Avila, according to Jones, told a Chicano studies class in 2003 that an antiwar protest was being held on campus, and he “expected to see everyone there.” But Avila told me, “That report is false. However, in 1998 or 1999 I had a course assignment for students to observe a demonstration and bring their observations back to the classroom for discussion. In that context I probably said I expected to see the students at the demonstration. But I haven’t repeated that assignment since 1999.”
Many faculty on the list are angry. Law professor Gary Blasi suggests with pointed sarcasm that he and the rest of the Dirty Thirty should ask the Bruin Alumni Association to provide “specific guidance as to things we are forbidden to say in classrooms, or things that are mandatory to discuss that we may have overlooked.” There’s no sign that any of the listed faculty members are backing down–on the contrary. Robert Brenner teaches a course on Karl Marx’s Capital but was not listed. “It’s humiliating,” he told me. “I didn’t even make the top thirty.” Jacoby did make the Dirty Thirty but was disappointed to be second from last. “I’ve inquired discreetly,” he says, “as to how one can move up on the list.”
Andrew Jones has gotten his fifteen minutes of fame, with appearances on Fox News and MSNBC. But mostly he has taken a beating. At least four members of his advisory board have quit, all prominent conservatives. One, Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom, a well-known opponent of affirmative action, said it was “vigilantism” to pay students to turn in information on professors. And the Los Angeles Times devoted an editorial to criticizing Jones for attacking academic freedom.
The initial UCLA response came from a university lawyer who warned that students who sold audiotapes of lectures could be violating professors’ intellectual property rights. That forced Jones to withdraw his offer of payment. But that’s not really the problem. UCLA chancellor Albert Carnesale did the right thing when he declared in an official statement about Jones that “the UCLA community…finds his methods reprehensible, even as we support every critic’s right freely to express his or her views.” The chancellor said, “We sympathize with and support our faculty colleagues who have been targeted in this way, and we share their anger and frustration.”