A UCLA alumni group is gathering evidence of radical faculty members who misuse their classes as political platforms.
I am a UCLA graduate (undergrad and law school) and yes, there is radicalism among some of the professors, particularly in certain departments and professional schools.
The majority of the professors are politically neutral or at least fair-minded in their teaching approach, and generally stick to their course content. However, some of the professors are off-the-charts radical, liberal, socialist, collectivist and Marxist. That alone would not be a problem (the professors are entitled to believe whatever they want), but they force the entire class to listen to and parrot back their extreme politics. It's not fair to students.
I had one professor who was so liberal that in writing down the name of the class on my notes one day I absent-mindedly wrote "Socialism" instead of the real course title, "Torts." Socialism is what we were actually discussing just about every day.
By the way, I took a course dealing with Marxism at UCLA. I had no problem with that professor or the course. When you sign up to study Marxism, it's certainly fair game to discuss it, teach it, and write about it. The course did convince me that the Marxist utopia isn't all it's cracked up to be (despite the professor's best eloquence about it), but that's beside the point.
The problem is professors who make courses having nothing to do with politics into venues for imposing their own political point of view on students.
In another course at UCLA having nothing to do with politics, I wrote an academically excellent, thoroughly researched paper, knowing that I was probably taking a position opposite to one held by a professor, but naively hoping that he would recognize the quality of my effort. Wrong. I received a mediocre grade. In yet another course, having learned from that experience, I deliberately adopted a liberal point of view in writing an extensive paper, simply parroting back what I knew the professor believed. Frankly, my paper was intellectually shallow. Nonetheless, I received an extremely high grade for the paper and the course.
Sure, I learned things from both experiences. The main thing I learned was how to "toe the line" -- how to say whatever the person holding the Power of the Grade wanted to hear. This is actually a useful skill for the real world. However, since the reason that I was taking these courses was not to learn how to conform to anything, however unreasonable, but rather to learn specific subject matter and to sharpen my academic skills of research and writing, I would say that I lost more than I gained from the experience.
This new attempt by UCLA alumni to identify professors who go overboard in injecting politics into their courses isn't a "witch hunt." It's an attempt to gather evidence and to rein in the professors who have gone way off the deep end in how they teach their classes. To grumble that the alumni group should not be willing to pay students for notes or tape recordings documenting the abuse is to focus on a detail about methodology in the hopes of distracting from the need for the overall effort. If the notes and tapes are handed over without payment, will that make the critics happy? (Answer: No.)
What the critics of this new effort and the fans of academic freedom need to think about is what they would consider a reasonable response if a university had a large number of its professors using their courses to promote fascism, as opposed to socialism. At some point, it would be reasonable to say, "Enough is enough. Teach what we are paying you to teach."
When you are taking a course, you are literally a captive audience. When you are taking a subjectively graded course, a piece of your academic and professional future is taken captive too. It is put in the hands of the professor, at least to the degree that the course affects your overall grade point average. This has great potential for abuse.
Some of this is unavoidable. We all have human biases, professors included. But if nobody ever takes professors to task for going overboard, this kind of thing will continue unchecked and will sometimes run rampant. It's all well and good to have academic freedom for professors, but students deserve academic freedom too. In fact, they need it more.
Update 1/19/06: Obviously I'm not the only one who has had these experiences. According to a study published in the UCLA Daily Bruin on December 9, 2004, 46% of students attending some of the the nation's top colleges and universities, including but not limited to UCLA, believe that some professors use the classroom to present their personal political views. Nearly one third reported that they had to agree with the political views of some professors to get a good grade. According to the article, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni will be recommending reforms to curb perceived faculty abuse, including adding a question to teacher evaluation forms asking about a professor's bias.
Here's the link to the UCLA Bruin Alumni Association website, UCLA Profs.com. I have nothing to do with the Bruin Alumni Association or the website, and I can't personally confirm the accuracy of the content, if only because the sheer volume of material is staggering. Again, this problem is not limited to UCLA. It should also be kept in context. The majority of professors are fair-minded in how they approach their classrooms. It is only the minority abusing their position who badly need to be reined in.