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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
From Murphy Hall
Dance in the Time of AIDS
Off the Wall
East Meets Westwood
Too Liberal?
Stemming the Nuclear Tide
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Acting Local to Think Global
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Winter 2004
Too Liberal?
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“The possibility of dissent is so narrow that the definition of liberalism itself has also become considerably more narrow. It’s illustrative of a strong anti-intellec-tual streak in this country that one of the worst things that Bush could say about Kerry is that he’s a liberal senator.”
—Vinay Lal

Intellectual diversity has been a fundamental guiding principle of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the nation's leading faculty group that safeguards the rights of its members. Last March, it responded to advertisements in campus newspapers by Students for Academic Freedom, a conservative group that called on students to identify liberal professors who misuse the podium. In a statement, the AAUP said that it has "long maintained that instructors should avoid the persistent intrusion of matter, controversial or not, that has no bearing on the subject of instruction."

UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale has also spoken on this issue. "While it may, at times, be useful for an instructor to disclose a political position, such as in a debate or to make clear what his or her personal biases may be, the classroom is not an appropriate place to proselytize about personal political viewpoints," says Carnesale. The classroom, however, "will always be a good place to examine the bases for both conservative and liberal political thought and policies." UCLA, the chancellor says, prides itself on its role — one that is essential to all public universities as a venue for the free exchange of ideas representing the full spectrum of political, societal and cultural thought. To that end, he notes that UCLA has hosted speakers ranging from filmmaker Michael Moore on the left to former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett on the right.

In its statement on misuse of the podium, the AAUP went on to say that Students for Academic Freedom acted "beyond a concern for poor pedagogy." The group's mission, specified in its own ads, was "to rule out of bounds any reference to the war in Iraq in a course whose Œsubject' is not the war in Iraq, or statements about George W. Bush in a course that is not about Œcontemporary American presidents,' " the AAUP said, concluding: "Controversy is often at the heart of instruction; good teaching is often served by referring to contemporary controversies, even if only to stimulate student interest and debate."

Conservative objections to liberal bias have often been linked to politics, and the latest instances appear to be no exception. "This is a very well-orchestrated propaganda effort very similar to the one against the news media to put academia on the defensive and to make us hesitate to continue teaching the way we like to teach," says Alexander Astin, the Allan M. Cartter Professor of Higher Education and founding director of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. "It's a standard right-wing tactic to criticize academia because academia criticizes government."

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