SANTA ANA, Calif. A cash-for-tapes plan by a UCLA alumni group hoping to find professors who demonstrate “extreme views” in the classroom triggered the resignation of former congressman and lawyer James E. Rogan from the group’s advisory board and drew condemnation from a variety of political groups concerned that such monitoring could impact academic freedom.
But some said the larger issue, alleged liberal bias in academia remains.
“It exists. It’s all over the board. It’s in the curriculum. It’s in the establishment,” said Michael Davidson, former two-time chairman of California’s College Republicans student group and currently executive director of the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Generation Next political action committee.
The UCLA controversy sparked allegations of political “witch hunts” from some in academia who said they were concerned that targeting of academia following sustained campaigns against “liberal” media and “activist” judges might signal the opening of a new fault line in the culture wars.
“This is the equivalent of Orwell’s thought police,” said Orange County (Calif.) Democratic Party Chair Frank Barbaro.
Some critics responded that faculty at American universities were “disproportionately” liberal in ideology and vocal in expressing their views regardless of its relevance to the subject matter.
“You have a science professor or an English professor making statements like: `Bush is a Nazi.’ And you’re like: `What has this to do with chemistry?'” Davidson said.
Perceptions that academia is dominated by left-leaning faculty prompted the Bruin Alumni Association, a fledgling group staffed by one full-time employee, Andrew Jones, to mount a Web site, uclaprofs.com. It offers money to UCLA students for tape recordings of their professors who allegedly are “actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom.” Jones is the group’s president.
The Web site purports to expose the rhetoric of professors of all ideological stripes. But it has so far primarily identified faculty critical of the war in Iraq, policies towards the Palestinians, capitalism and President George Bush. Rogan, a former two-term Republican congressman for California, said he had little knowledge of the Bruin Alumni Association other than recommendations by friends on the advisory board.
“My impression of it was this was just a mentoring group for Republican groups on campus to help them get speakers and such. It seemed pretty innocuous,” Rogan said. “I allowed my name to be put on the advisory committee and then I never heard from (them) again.”
Rogan, an adjunct professor of law at Chapman University, said he withdrew his support after he found out the association planned to pay students $100 in return for tape recording the classes of allegedly “radical” professors.
“As a law school professor myself … if someone tape-records my lecture I allow it because I assume they’re using it for study purposes and not for some negative purpose,” Rogan said.
“I just didn’t have a good feeling about the whole thing.” Another board member, Ben Shapiro, said he was “happy” about the tape recording payment plan.
Shapiro, who wrote the 2004 book “Brainwashed” based on notes he took of UCLA professors he felt were inappropriately one-sided, said tape recording was “the next logical step.”
“What’s good about this is then it’s not a he-said, she-said kind of thing,” he said.
Earlier this year, FOX News commentator Sean Hannity urged students to tape record “left-wing propaganda” by professors for broadcast on the show.
And concerns about balanced viewpoints and faculty in California universities prompted last year’s “Academic Bill of Rights” sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bill Morrow.
The bill, which died in committee, instructed universities to maintain “a posture of organizational neutrality” in its hiring of staff, selection of curricula and grading of students.
University staff said such safeguards were already built into their academic policies.