It is a rare conservative UCLA student who would willingly take a class in which the professor's second job is executive director of the Southern California ACLU. But I did just that and my reason was a simple one: I needed the class credit. "Can Law Change Society?" fulfilled the requirement for my American politics concentration in the political science major, and it was the only one still open. In the end, I endured the ten weeks, and observed just how political the already heavily politicized (and uniformly left-wing) courses in UCLA's curriculum could be.
It was clear by the end of the first lecture that our professor, Ramona Ripston, was there not to teach, but to recruit us for her causes. Like too many UCLA professors, Ripston could never be bothered to treat with respect both sides of a debate or allow students to make up their own minds. This was either a function of her disrespect for the intelligence of her students, or an unintentional acknowledgement that many liberal arguments can't withstand scrutiny. Instead of presenting a spectrum of opinion or soliciting student inputs, she ruthlessly controlled the class debate, using the power of her position to dismiss any opposition that might surface.
Ripston expected students to agree with her position on the day's topic and they almost always obliged. Abortion? Great! Proposition 209 (Ward Connerly's anti-racial preferences initiative): Bad! Dissent was rare. When someone did disagree, another student could be counted on to adopt a hurt expression, and whine, "As a member of (insert aggrieved minority group here), I feel hurt by your remarks. I can't believe that you're allowed to say those things out loud." To which Ripston would cry encouragingly "Did everyone hear that?" (No doubt this encouraged such responses.) Strong counter-arguments to her personal views - and the lesson for the day was always about her personal views - would receive only a curt nod and a quick return to the prevailing liberal dittoism.
The best example of the group-think Ripston pushed in class was a venomous anecdote she told about Chief Justice William Rehnquist. She informed her students of exactly one thing about the most important judge in America - that in 1952, as a young law clerk for Justice Robert Jackson, he drafted a memo on Brown v. Board of Education holding that Plessy v. Ferguson is "right and should be affirmed." This issue was brought up by the left and dismissed in both his 1971 confirmation hearings and those for his elevation to Chief Justice in 1986. As a law clerk, Rehnquist was drafting the opinion based on Jackson's feelings, which did not represent his own. Yet half a century later, Ripston revived this false and discredited allegation and slander and presented it as fact. Ripston repeated the story in the class not once, but on three separate occasions. By the term's end, members of the class could repeat back the tale from memory, to her glowing approval.
Some students later criticized her approach in their course evaluations - one noting that "She always says she is very open and liberal but she turns out to be the most close-minded professor I know, which affects the grading a lot!" Most students have unfortunately stopped thinking critically, or at least letting on that they think critically. They found out years ago that a "go along, get along" philosophy, not analytical engagement, is the key to UCLA success.
An integral part of Ripston's indoctrination involved importing guest lecturers from her ACLU office. It was an attempt to provide a facade of intellectual variety - but in the end, one song sung by different voices is still the same tune. Her first guest was her husband - technically her fifth - Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Stephen Reinhardt, identified by the Weekly Standard as "one of the most overturned judges in history." His was the second vote in the recent decision which found the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. Not coincidentally, Reinhardt's biggest foe in the Supreme Court turned out to be Chief Justice Rehnquist - the man his wife relished bashing. In his presentation, Reinhardt first analogized the Florida court case Bush v. Gore to Plessy v. Ferguson. He subsequently implied that due to the Rehnquist Court, we live in a police state with no right to resist arrest or search of our possessions.
Reinhardt then provided unintended comedy for a few of us with his contention that the reputation of rampant liberalism in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was a myth. Self-reflection is clearly not the strong suit of liberals like Reinhardt whom even the Los Angeles Times referred to as "the most liberal judge on the circuit." Like his wife, Reinhardt showed no inclination to present a second side to any question. In his mind, the 2000 presidential election was illegitimately settled by thuggish Republicans who instigated a riot at the Miami-Dade vote-counting in a desperate attempt to head off a certain victory by Gore. And the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case on a writ of certiorari? No Supreme Court scholar ever saw that coming - not a one.
Ripston then invited anti-death penalty activist (and former M*A*S*H* actor) Mike Farrell, but couldn't find an opponent for him (probably because of a dearth of death penalty supporters in the ACLU office). While Farrell made his presentation at the lectern, Ripston passed around a misleading petition for a death penalty moratorium, with students left to decide whether ignoring the petition would affect their grade.
Since nobody else seemed willing to challenge this charade, I broached the subject of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Not only did Farrell stand up for Mumia, but he misrepresented the facts of the case, calling the convicted killer a "journalist" merely "accused" of the crime. The first was at best a misrepresentation, the second blatantly false. When I challenged his claims, Farrell turned, well, feral. "So what's your problem?" he snarled. As I began answering his question, Ripston herself grabbed the microphone to shout hostile questions of her own. In addition to being intolerant, liberals like Ripston seem to be instinctive bullies.
My resolve seemed to affect her however, as though she realized she had stepped too far over the line. Ending our exchange abruptly, she announced that she was in no way endorsing the petition, but had only agreed to distribute it as a favor to a student.
True to the course's spirit, the guest lecturers were all equally partisan and intolerant. There was the presentation on gay/lesbian issues by a left-wing lawyer from Ripston's office actively involved in promoting one side of those issues. This lecturer was followed by another from Stephen Rohde, president of the Southern California ACLU. Dan Tokaji, also from Ripston's office, rounded out the quarter. Ripston's willingness to "reach out" for a diverse group of lecturers was literal - every guest was someone who had walked within arm's length of her desk at the ACLU.
Unfortunately, Ripston's disregard for presenting both sides of an issue is mirrored in many other courses at UCLA. The only question is whether the popularity of this teaching method is the result of intellectual laziness, or is a calculated attempt to manipulate impressionable students in behalf of a liberal agenda. (There are no conservatives to speak of on the UCLA faculty.)
If the guest lectures were bad, the class readings were no better. Racial preferences (always referred to as "affirmative action") and abortion were the issues comprising the first six weeks' reading, and on both the readings reflected the ACLU party line - there's a pressing need for more of both. Ripston put little emphasis on the negative aspects of either issue: the hours of daily busing to achieve "racial balance" of debatable value, or the moral implications of killing an unborn child.
The second half of the class was only marginally better. On racial profiling, she did offer students John Derbyshire's seven-page National Review article "In Defense of Racial Profiling," in a rare gesture of even-handedness. But the "balance" she provided was a 25-page ACLU special report on the subject, replete with graphs and statistical analyses. The reading was intended to produce a simple, manipulated conclusion for students: racial profiling is bad.
As a conservative at a liberal school, I am used to disagreeing with my professors. But this class crossed a line of partisanship that even a department employing only one Republican professor out of forty-seven had so far avoided. In an attempt to work through the system, I decided to make an appeal to department chair Michael Lofchie, to whom I complained about the blatant political agenda of the class.
Lofchie freely admitted that Ripston's class was one-sided, but refused to see that this might present a problem. He dismissed my concerns, remarking that "a professor in a classroom will say things to be provocative, to get students worked up." He further assured me, "We would never monitor a professor's point of view in the classroom." Obviously he doesn't have to, since all but one of his professors is from the left. The faculty search committee, which does the department's hiring, is evidently run by a group imbued with the Ripston educational philosophy - no dissenters allowed. In fact, Lofchie's only regret was that "we just don't have the budget for her." Budgetary issues, not gross abuse of student's academic freedom is the only reason that Ripston will not be returning for the 2002-2003 academic year.
Needless to say, the often abysmal quality of its undergraduate education is not something that UCLA likes to publicize. Instead, the fundraising solicitations, visitor brochures, and press releases by Chancellor Albert Carnesale continue to advertise UCLA's "intellectual rigor." On the other hand, if rigor means indoctrinating captive students in partisan political agendas, then UCLA's educational program is an unqualified success.