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August 28, 2005

University of California: No Freedom of Inquiry Needed Here

Leila Beckwith, professor emeritus of pediatrics at UCLA, had an interesting OpEd in today's edition decrying the erosion of academic freedom in the (state financed and managed) University of California system. She described the following series of events, which I had never heard of and, frankly, find to be outrageous:

From 1934 to 2003, UC regulations defined academic freedom this way: "The function of the university is to seek and transmit knowledge and to train students in the processes whereby truth is to be made known. To convert, or make converts, is alien and hostile to this dispassionate duty. Where it becomes necessary, in performing this function of a university, to consider political, social or sectarian movements, they are dissected and examined, not taught, and the conclusion left, with no tipping of the scales, to the logic of the facts."

. . .  Yet, in 2002, the University of California, in an egregious act of irresponsibility, backed away from these rules after a UC Berkeley graduate student taught a remedial reading and writing course titled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." By all accounts, including the instructor's, the course was strongly committed to the Palestinian perspective in the conflict with Israel and taught without any obligation to present alternative views or inconvenient facts. The original course description went so far as to encourage conservative thinkers to seek other classes.

Though the school rewrote that description, then-President Richard Atkinson also began the process of gutting its academic freedom rules, and, by 2003, the university had eliminated the statements quoted above from its regulations and removed any obligation for professors and instructors to aspire to maintain political neutrality in their courses or even inform students that other viewpoints exist.

Evidently there is legislation pending that would restore the previous status quo and confirm that UCal's mission is to open minds to reasoned inquiry, not enforce political indoctrination. Let's hope that it succeeds.

August 28, 2005 at 04:58 PM | Permalink


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