Very quietly, the University of California’s faculty has for almost half a year been considering putting at risk the institution’s tax exempt status and its longstanding impeccable credentials as an impartial source of reliable information.
This is not the first time UC has seriously contemplated a harebrained move — and sometimes those moves actually get made. Only last year, for one example, UC decided it would no longer require prospective freshmen to take standardized exams like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or those of the American College Testing Program (ACT).
Instead, UC admissions now rely primarily on high school grades, meaning all high schools are considered equal, even though every parent in California knows there are vast differences in quality of curriculum and instruction.
Amazingly, the faculty that votes on these sometimes fashionable and politically correct moves is loaded with folks holding Ph.D. degrees from the world’s top universities, with a fair sprinkling of Nobel Prize laureates among them.
This group’s latest senseless proposal, kept mostly quiet until a UC Santa Cruz professor let the cat out of the bag early this month, would allow academic departments to take official stances on political issues of all kinds.
This proposal originated last fall in a letter from the head of UC’s Committee on Academic Freedom to the system-wide Academic Senate’s top official.
“Departments should not be precluded from issuing or endorsing statements,” said the letter from UC Berkeley law professor Ty Alper to fellow Berkeley professor Robert Horwitz. The letter admitted “such statements are sometimes ill-advised and have the potential to chill or intimidate minority views.” But it said that’s OK, so long as minority views are explicitly included as addenda and the names of those voting for the official statement are revealed.
Of course, those very actions do chill minority views and would influence hiring of new faculty, who in UC’s confidential processes could easily be weeded out because of political views.
Officially sanctioning such statements on issues from elections to international affairs to scientific beliefs would essentially make UC departments political institutions.
That could quickly cost the university its tax exempt status, which now gives alumni and other donors large and small tax writeoffs for every penny they contribute.
It’s not as if individual faculty members don’t already have complete freedom to express any idea or thought they like. That’s how, for just one example, former UC professor Linus Pauling became known as “the father of Vitamin C” and also won a Nobel Peace Prize for his activism in favor of nuclear disarmament.
Similar policies of complete individual license at the California State University system (which would surely imitate any actual UC action on the current proposal) allowed Ku Klux Klan ally Kevin McDonald, long blasted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others as a “racist” and an “anti-Semite,” to remain a psychology professor at Long Beach State until he retired.
They allow some departments at San Francisco State to be almost completely politicized, too, even if those departments don’t officially adopt the ideas preached by some of their more vocal faculty members.
It’s not as if departments don’t already go rogue sometimes, with stances on Israel’s policies, climate change and other issues. Departments may call these positions official, but under a UC policy in effect since 1970, they’re not.
The policy states that “The name, insignia, seal or address of the university or any of its offices or units shall not be used for or in connection with political purposes or activity.” The policy also bans political campaigning on campuses.
That’s the way it should and must be, if UC is to be sure of maintaining both its tax status and its reputation for impartial intellectual honesty.
If anything, the current effort by Alper’s faculty committee ought to serve as a warning to UC’s Board of Regents to be more vigilant in enforcing its longstanding and upstanding policy.
Otherwise, why pretend the university or its departments are impartial observers or analysts of anything at all, from vaccines to political candidates?
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].