“McCarthyism” and “witch hunt” are the reactions of several University of California of Los Angeles professors to the actions of the Bruin Alumni Association, a conservative alumni group, in its attempts to expose professors it deems too liberal.
The newly founded alumni group is offering to pay up to $100 to any student who provides lecture tapes or notes that will help to corroborate the group’s claims. The alumni group claims to be exposing radicals from both ends of the political spectrum. But its current “Dirty Thirty” list – the professors the group considers to be the most radical, ranked on a scale of zero to five “Power Fists” – includes only liberal professors, and the group’s advisory board is entirely composed of conservative professors and other conservative individuals. These actions may not be as severe or extreme as the McCarthy hearings or the infamous Salem witch trials. The group’s actions, however, are highly inappropriate and undermine UCLA professors’ abilities both to teach and to exercise their right to free speech.
If professors in this country have reason to believe that there are “moles” in their classes monitoring them for alleged bias, there is no doubt that professors will start restricting their own speech in classes. Kicking free speech out of the lecture hall will inevitably diminish teaching quality at any university. Students of all political viewpoints will be left with a stripped-down education that sidesteps any material that might be considered controversial.
Certainly, the lecture hall is no place for political indoctrination. But to eliminate bias from the classroom will be an equally undesirable extreme. Professors who carry strong ideological beliefs, whether liberal or conservative, should not be censored because some students disagree with their views.
Students are not sheep, but the concern that they will be unable to think for themselves depends upon the assumption they are. Maintaining the classroom as an open forum for ideas will challenge students to question, revise and strengthen their own beliefs.
It will be a disastrous trend if political views were eradicated from university classes in order to protect students of any political persuasion from other points of view. And yet, it seems in its quest to ban “radicalism” from classrooms, this alumni group is only working to sanitize lectures of anything potentially challenging or offensive to a student’s ideological beliefs. An education insulated from opposing viewpoints may be comfortable in the short term, but is ultimately incomplete.