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1.18.2006

My Homer is not a Communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a Communist, but he is NOT a porn star 

Lately there's been a lot of talk about the Bruin Alumni Association (an organization of UCLA alumni and friends, not officially affiliated with the University) and their ongoing quest to publicly identify all these leftist crackpot profs who are brainwashing wave after wave of naive undergrads using California taxpayers' money.

For a number of reasons, this figurative witch-hunt is pretty lame and likely to be ineffective or counterproductive. As Eugene Volokh and Stephen Bainbridge have said, digging up internet petitions isn't particularly persuasive evidence that these profs are crackpots (though some of them very might well be) and that they're trying to warp all these young minds. I guess they're also soliciting students to record particularly noxious material in lectures, which is really, really low (not to mention a violation of University policy, as I understand it). Mostly, I think that claiming that students are able to be brainwashed in this manner is really condescending to the students themselves.

Someday they might find out about my Pet Sounds vs. Mall-Wart problem and conclude that I'm a pinko anti-capitalist who believes in a centrally planned economy. The problem is a simple Markov process problem I wrote for a linear algebra class. I actually wrote it while at Harvard, but a copy of it is probably sitting in my UCLA public_html directory somewhere. It's about a hypothetical situation where a small music store competes for customers with a large chain store that just moved into town. Also, I thought it was a mildly clever dig at a certain company's expense.

UPDATE: Looks like three members of the BAA Board have resigned amid the stink about the BAA attempting to buy inflammatory lecture material and republish it. (The headline shouldn't say "Three UCLA Board Members Resign"; that's misleading, as the BAA has no affiliation with the University.)

I was initially surprised to see that Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom was on the board, but apparently he used to be a professor at UCLA. I read his book "America In Black And White" a while ago, where he argues (not always convincingly, but soundly and with lots of data) at affirmative action and other forms of racial preferences are counterproductive in closing the black-white achievement gap. The BAA campaign to "expose" radical professors is certainly unworthy of having Professor Thernstrom's name attached to it.

I'm also planning on presenting a problem about pollution in Lake Erie in my differential equations lecture tomorrow.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me be perfectly clear that I think it is appropriate for instructors at a public university to be scrutinized, but the BAA is in many cases using flimsy evidence and inappropriate methods. The obligation an instructor has to a class is to present the material that is advertised in the course catalog, and to award grades based on merit. A professor's outside political activities are not prima facie evidence of wrongdoing in either respect. Delivering political opinions in the course of a lecture is not wrong either, so long as it is somehow relevant to the course matter. Presenting an entire course from a particular ideological point of view is not necessarily wrong either, as long as it is advertised as such -- one needn't profess sincere belief in Marxist ideals in order to benefit from a course devoted to studying sociological phenomena from a Marxist perspective. What is wrong is pushing aside the advertised course material in order to use the lecture hall as a personal soapbox, and assigning ideologically biased grades if the method of grading is not advertised as such, but I see little evidence of such wrongdoing on the BAA website.

Comments:

comrade, you are going down.
 


It's hard to avoid going on a rant against the BAA, but I guess that an entire group of Alumni really missed the whole university concept. Not that the Arts and Humanties faculty of Harvard did much better...
 


The vote of no confidence in Larry Summers was troubling because it conflated the "women are physiologically less likely to possess exceptional talent in math/science than men" with a whole bunch of other issues on which the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had some legitimate gripes (tenure decisions, planning for the Allston campus, management style and personal dealings with faculty).
 


There is some commentary on www.slashdot.org on Saturday night concerning the BAA. I can't say that the commentary is particuarly enlightening, but there were a lot of posts.
 


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