posted at 6:31 pm on May 29, 2017 by John Sexton
A couple dozen students marched to the office of UCLA interim dean Laura Gómez to demand the school retain popular communications professor Keith Fink who is an outspoken conservative. From the Los Angeles Daily News:
About 25 students and supporters, carrying signs saying “Free speech is under attack” and “Keep your agenda out of our classroom,” gathered Friday on campus before bringing a list of demands to Laura Gómez, interim dean of UCLA College Division of Social Sciences which oversees the Communication Studies department, who wasn’t in her office when they delivered their list. Among the demands: that Fink be allowed to keep teaching and that the school implement curriculums “that increase intellectual tolerance” on campus.
Mick Mathis, a senior at UCLA, said pressure on Fink is about curtailing free speech.
“This is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, and it’s not a marketplace of ideas if they’re trying to get rid of somebody with a contradictory viewpoint,” Mathis said.
The backstory here is that Professor Fink teaches courses on free speech and entertainment law which have become popular with students. Earlier this year, Fink complained on Fox News (see the video below) after a new department chair cut the number of students he was allowed to have enrolled in his classes citing a need to maintain “reasonable class sizes.” Fink thought the changes likely had more to do with the fact that the new dean of his department was a progressive who didn’t care for his outlook. From the College Fix:
“Ever since this leadership change, the school has targeted Professor Fink and his classes in many ways, including by: (1) restricting his ability to enroll students at his discretion (a restriction not imposed on any other CommStudies professors), (2) reducing the size of his classes and moving them to smaller classrooms despite overwhelming student demand, (3) dishonoring ‘Permission to Enroll’ forms issued by him and failing to help students whose PTEs had been dishonored,” Andrew Litt, Professor Fink’s TA, stated in an email to The College Fix.
Additionally, Austin Kaidi, a UCLA alumnus who took Fink’s classes and also served as his TA, told The Fix: “For the past five years, Professor Fink has been able to educate large numbers of students without any problems. However one quarter after the Communication Studies appoints a chairwoman with incredibly left-leaning ideals, Professor Fink, the only outspoken conservative in the department, is singled out, his PTE’s are revoked, and his future classes are limited.”
Department Chair Kerri Johnson claims she was unaware of Fink’s political views and told the College Fix in February, “I am responsible for overseeing workload equity for my faculty, lecturers, and TAs and ensuring a productive learning environment for our students. One important aspect of this responsibility is to maintain reasonable class sizes across the major which entails an assessment of student to faculty and student to TA ratios.” That would be more convincing if there was evidence lots of students were unhappy with the class or had complained about how Fink’s classes were being run, but he scores very highly on rate my professors, a website that allows students to give ratings to their professors with a numerical score and also leave comments about their teaching.
What prompted last week’s small protest and the list of demands was the announcement recently that Fink would undergo his “excellence review” this year. This is usually a fairly routine process all lecturers go through after a certain number of quarters teaching, but Fink’s criticism of the school have turned it into a behind the scenes battle.
The process includes a review of one of the professor’s classes by another professor from within the same department. However, the professor under review is allowed to submit a list of professors he believes may have some bias against him. Those professors are then excluded from conducting the review. But not in Fink’s case. He listed professor Greg Bryant as a professor who might be biased against him but Professor Bryant was chosen to review his class anyway. Bryant’s review was indeed critical of Fink (though not without praise). Bryant suggested in his review that Fink may have created “a potentially unwelcome environment for students to speak” after he challenged a couple of students in his class. The Daily Wire actually contacted those two students who disagreed and praised Fink’s teaching style:
“He just asked me a question and he challenged me like he always does but I didn’t feel victimized at all,” said Gael Adrien Mbama, a fourth year International Development Studies student and Daily Bruin columnist.
Adrien Mbama also pointed out that Fink constantly challenges his students in class so they can think on their feet. He is taking one of Fink’s classes for the third time this quarter.
The second student was Mathis, who told The Daily Wire that he “felt more welcome than any other class I’ve ever taken.”
“Usually on the campus you would hear hyper-left ideas, but he invites other ideas into the classroom that you wouldn’t able to hear in any other class,” Mathis said. “His class is a really good area where you can foster your mind and liberate your mind and begin to understand a new way of thinking.”
Mathis also disputed the notion that Fink promulgates his personal views in class.
“He starts out on day one saying, ‘I’m not going to tell you how to think. You’re not even going to know what I think. I’m just going to tell you both sides of the debate,’” Mathis said.
Fink told the Daily Wire, “The way the system is, this is the easiest way for them to get rid of me.” A group of nine professors eventually voted on Fink’s excellence review. The vote was three in favor, three against and three abstaining. That tie leaves the decision in the hands of interim dean Laura Gómez.