Thursday, January 19, 2006
Mister Answer Man: Special UCLA edition!
Dear Mister Answer Man: Have you seen the latest news from the campus wars? It seems that—as Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed puts it—“a conservative group is offering students at the University of California at Los Angeles money to tape lectures and turn over materials distributed by professors.” What do you think of this? —R. Cohn, Long Island
Mister Answer Man replies: Actually, Ms. Cohn, dozens of people have written to me in the past few days about this, and I’ve had the chance to look over the website of UCLAProfs.com, which describes itself as “exposing UCLA’s radical professors.” Here’s their pitch, for those of you who don’t want to visit the site itself:
Do you have a professor who just can’t stop talking about President Bush, about Howard Dean, about the war in Iraq, about MoveOn.org, about the Republican Party, about the Democratic Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn’t matter whether this is a past class, or your ongoing class this winter quarter.
If you can help UCLAProfs.com collect information about abusive, one-sided, or off-topic classroom behavior, we’ll pay you for your work.
To see if we need information on the professors you’ve already taken, or will be taking this winter quarter, call 310-210-6735, or email bruinalumni (AT) bruinalumni.com today, and you could be paid tomorrow.
The following are materials we need for past or ongoing classes, along with rates of compensation.
* Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class: $100
(Note: lecture notes must make particular note of audience reactions, comments, and other details that will properly contextualize the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments. If the class in question is ongoing or upcoming, UCLAProfs.com will provide (if needed) all necessary taping equipment and materials.)
* Full, detailed lecture notes and all professor- distributed materials, for one class: $50
(Advisory: without tape recordings, detailed note-taking is crucial. Particular care must be taken in transcribing the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments as closely as possible to direct quotes.)
* Advisory and all professor-distributed materials: $10
Even if you didn’t take detailed notes or attend class regularly, you can still help UCLAProfs.com by alerting us to a problem professor not already in our database or target list (below). This is a particularly attractive option for students wanting to report past classes in which their notes and attendance did not match UCLAProfs.com’s high record-keeping standards. Simply provide us the name, your notes from the class (or substitute your current recollections), and any other materials you still retain, and we’ll pay you $10 for the tip.
To answer your question, Ms. Cohn, I condemn this enterprise wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It’s going about the task all wrong.
Dear Mister Answer Man: Come again? What do you mean, “going about the task all wrong”? Would you care to explain yourself? —C. Coughlin, Detroit
Mister Answer Man replies: Well, Ms. Coughlin, for one thing, look at the pay scale. Fifty bucks for full, detailed lecture notes and all professor- distributed materials for one class, including notes on “audience reactions, comments, and other details that will properly contextualize the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments”? A hundred bucks for all of that plus full tape recordings of every class session? It’s downright exploitative, is what it is. In-state tuition at UCLA is about $6500; nonresident tuition is over $24,000. That means students taking, say, ten classes per year are paying either $650 or $2400 per course. And this Andrew Jones fellow wants to pay students only $50 for all that information? UCLA is on the quarter system, with ten-week instruction periods. So students are being asked to provide detailed lecture notes for twenty or thirty class meetings—or somewhere around two dollars an hour for all their hard work.
I find this reprehensible. If I were a student at UCLA who wanted to rat out liberal, progressive, and “radical” professors, I’d demand at least a living wage. Not that I would form a union or anything. That would be marching down the road to serfdom. But I’d definitely hold out for a better offer.
Also, I think the pay grades should be scaled to the kind of professor you’re going after. Many of the professors listed on UCLAProfs.com so far seem to be involved in ethnic studies and women’s studies, and I think they’re worth only about $300 or so, myself. If a student can bag bigger game, like a Howard Dean supporter in the department of political science, for example, I think Jones and his friends should put up at least $1000. And if an enterprising student manages to out a scientist who criticizes the Bush Administration over stem-cell research, climate change, Intelligent Design, or energy policy, I would think a full quarter’s tuition remission is in order.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I have to say I think you’re missing the point. This is a straightforward attempt to intimidate professors, and it constitutes an attack on academic freedom as well as (via the taping) a possible infringement of the intellectual property rights of faculty members. Moreover, if you read a couple of UCLAProfs.com webpages devoted to individual faculty members, you’ll find that these professors aren’t being charged with inappropriate behavior in the classroom; instead, they’re being charged with thoughtcrimes like writing for The Nation and signing petitions that call on “our members of Congress [to] assume their Constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq.” This is wingnuttery of the first water. I thought I could count on you! Where’s the outrage? —J. Dewey, New York
Mister Answer Man replies: Whoa, hold on there, Chicken Little! Next we’ll be hearing hysterical remarks about “McCarthyism” from the likes of you! Listen, Ms. Dewey, maybe you haven’t heard, but everything changed on 9/11. If you’re trying to tell me that college professors can go on about Howard Dean, or bring irrelevant remarks about the Democratic and Republican parties into their American history, sociology, and political science classes, you’re clearly stuck in the 9/10 mindset. We are at war with people who hate our freedoms, Ms. Dewey. It only makes sense that if we rid ourselves of some of those annoying freedoms, then those people will like us and stop fighting us.
Dear Mister Answer Man: So you’re not worried about how this information is being gathered? What about the ten-dollar option for students who “didn’t take detailed notes or attend class regularly”? Isn’t that an open invitation to all manner of mischief and nonsense? —J. Spicoli, Ridgemont
Mister Answer Man replies: You may have a point, Ms. Spicoli. I asked my wife, Mrs. Answer Man—oops! I mean “Ms.” (don’t want to get the little lady all riled up!)—about this, and she suggested that Andrew Jones might have more success with those students if he offered them a drinking game instead. You know, whenever your professor mentions Howard Dean, MoveOn.org, Iraq . . . it’s shots time! No “detailed notetaking” involved. It’s a win-win.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I still don’t know. This whole thing sounds creepy and Horowitzian to me. I mean, spying on professors is cool and all, but I just think money taints the system. —J. Abramoff, Silver Springs
Mister Answer Man replies: That just shows you how little you know about the real world of money and influence, Ms. Abramoff. As a matter of fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub required) asked David Horowitz about UCLAProfs.com, and here’s what they learned:
The Bruin Alumni Association has no connection to Students for Academic Freedom, a national watchdog group, started by David Horowitz, that helps college students document professors who introduce their politics in the classroom.
Mr. Horowitz said that while he objects to professors’ injecting their politics into their teaching, Mr. Jones’s approach of “baiting people” is wrong. Furthermore, he said, Mr. Jones used to work for him but he had to fire the UCLA activist after receiving complaints that Mr. Jones pressured students to file false reports about leftists. Mr. Horowitz accused Mr. Jones of stealing his donor list and has contacted his lawyer.
What Horowitz fails to understand, clearly enough, is that pressuring students to file false reports about leftists is what it’s all about. See my answer to Ms. Dewey, above. And surely Horowitz doesn’t have to be so possessive about that donor list! Goodness gracious, let’s have a little honor among false-report-filers, shall we?