UC repudiates allegations of political polarization

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UC President Mark Yudof has dismissed criticism that the UC system is a dangerously politicized institution, according to letter correspondence between his office and the California Association of Scholars released last week.

Yudof described the university as being in “fundamental disagreement” with the claims launched in a report published last April by the California Association of Scholars, an organization that aims to combat liberal bias on college campuses. The report, titled “A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California,” condemned the UC system for what it found to be left-leaning political polarization in its curriculum and staff.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of deny, deny, deny about the problems,” said co-author of the report and professor emeritus Charles Geshekter of the California State University, Chico.

One of the main problems the report alleges is a lack of political diversity among UC staff, particularly in the social sciences and the humanities.

The report also criticizes certain course descriptions for being too politically charged, citing one modern U.S. history course that mentions “slave labor and violent land acquisition” as an example of agenda-setting.

Geshekter and the report’s other co-author, professor emeritus of UC Santa Cruz John Ellis, said such rhetoric violates UC Board of Regents policy that “the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.”

The University of California Academic Senate released a response to the report in July discrediting the use of anecdotal evidence. Senate chair professor Robert Powell defended the UC system’s commitment to political fairness, citing its politically blind hiring policy and a 2008 survey in which 83 percent of UC students said they felt respected regardless of their political beliefs. The senate called attempts to influence course content “a serious threat to academic freedom.”

“I don’t think it’s true that we’re indoctrinating students,” said Martha Olney, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley. “I think what we’re all about here is teaching people how to think.”

Powell additionally questioned the intentions of the publishers of the report.

“If there’s a political agenda anywhere, it’s with (the California Association of Scholars),” he said.

Peter Wood, president of the organization’s parent, the National Association of Scholars, asserted that the report is nonpartisan. Wood further said that the goal of the organization is to advocate for quality higher education, which in part means questioning whether the UC system is a politically neutral space.

Despite being disregarded by the UC administration, the California Association of Scholars said it will continue to urge the regents to discuss issues of politicization at the next regents meeting in March.

Shirin Ghaffrey covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected].