Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a lengthy report on the curious case of Keith Fink, a part-time lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA refused to renew his contract, writing in a letter that his teaching did not “meet the standard of excellence.” Fink cried foul, arguing that his free-speech classes were popular with students and that he was really fired for his pointed criticisms of the university and his stalwart defense of free speech on campus.
And, in fact, he was popular. As the Chronicle notes, “Student evaluations of the free-speech course Mr. Fink taught this year . . . mostly paint a picture of Mr. Fink as an engaging teacher and his course as stimulating and interesting.” His faculty evaluators, however, believed that there was “more to it than what the students think.” They took issue with his Socratic method of teaching (common in law schools), believed that he pushed his own point of view too much, and raised concerns about the “climate” in the classroom.
As I read the story, I had an immediate sense of déjà vu. I’ve litigated cases like this before, I’ve evaluated cases like this before, and I’m familiar with the extraordinary double standards that define how academic freedom works in modern higher education. Perhaps UCLA is right. Perhaps it has even-handedly applied its alleged “incredibly high” standards and has fired popular left-wing lecturers in part because they’ve pushed their views too much on their students. Perhaps it routinely fires even popular teachers for poor teaching performance. In other words, perhaps it’s different from the vast majority of colleges and universities — schools that have consciously and unconsciously created entire systems of anti-conservative discrimination.
by David French