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UC-Santa Cruz and the Loss of Public Trust By: Leila Beckwith
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Universities, both public and private, exist for the benefit of society and do not exist in the absence of society’s largesse.[1] These facts form the basis of an important social contract: For its part, the university provides the public with education of its citizens and advances in knowledge, along with assuming responsibility that its scholars will carry out their mission with the utmost academic integrity.  In exchange, the public provides the university with many of the resources it needs to survive.

But what happens when a university does not uphold its side of the bargain: when its faculty does not adhere to standards of academic integrity; when professors knowingly limit the flow of knowledge because of their own ideological biases; when education becomes political indoctrination?  In these cases there is an abuse of public trust, which threatens to diminish the social contract so critical to the university’s existence.


Such an abuse of public trust unfortunately has occurred at the University of California and is illustrated in the following three examples from the University of California, Santa Cruz.


Let’s start with the Summer 2002 issue of “The Wave”[2], the official newsletter of the UCSC Department of Women’s Studies (recently renamed Feminist Studies).  What ought to have been a politically-neutral publication documenting the achievements of the department’s faculty and students was anything but politically neutral.  Rather, the newsletter contained several articles with an unabashedly anti-American/anti-Israel slant, which openly advocated political protest and activism.  Bettina Aptheker, then chair of Women’s Studies, set the political tone in her “Chair’s Message”.  She boasted about all the events that the department had initiated and co-sponsored in response to the tragedy of September 11, giving special praise to a talk by a lesbian/gay rights activist who called for “a progressive coalition to counter the right-wing offensive now governing US politics.”  Aptheker continued by noting that “all of the Women’s Studies core faculty and many of its affiliated faculty are members of Faculty Against War”, a group of 25 senior UCSC professors and lecturers committed to protest and activism against American military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Aptheker’s emphasis on political activism and protest were echoed throughout the publication, and could be found in articles such as: “10 Reasons Why Women Should Oppose the US ‘War on Terrorism.’” No article presented an alternative view.


Like all public universities, the University of California’s academic freedom privileges are governed by strict rules of professional conduct, [3] which proscribe the use of any university resources for political purposes or activities.[4] Political opinions can be expressed if they arise in the pursuit of scholarship, but not to advance a personal political agenda.  Thus, the university’s policy of academic freedom does not allow the Women’s Studies faculty to use a clearly designated university publication for political activism.  The political bias of “The Wave” is a clear violation of university policy, and an abuse of academic freedom. 


But more than that, the Women’s Studies publication reveals at least three distinct ways in which political bias corrupts academic integrity and leads to an erosion of public trust:


Political bias impedes the dissemination of important information and knowledge.  Consider, for example, an article featured in “The Wave” which reported on the UN World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001.  The author, Dr. Maylei Blackwell, offered effusive praise of the conference’s  “anti-racist activists” for their progress in several key areas, including “a growth in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against 54 years of Israeli occupation”.  At the same time, Blackwell was highly critical of the US delegates for walking out of the conference. However, an essential point of information which Ms. Blackwell conveniently neglected to mention was that the US delegates boycotted the conference because it had become what one scholar described as “the largest and best-publicized international anti-Semitic rally in history.”[5] Indeed, many of the same “anti-racist activists” with whom Blackwell was so enamored drafted a resolution which justified violence and terror against Israel, made speeches claiming that the Nazi Holocaust was nothing more than “a Jewish lie”[6], and threatened physical violence against Jews who attended the conference.[7] For Blackwell to report on the UN World Conference Against Racism, without making mention of the virulent anti-Semitism that wracked it, suggests that her political bias resulted in an insidious form of academic dishonesty.


Political bias compromises scholarship.  Included in the departmental newsletter is a piece by Bettina Aptheker about working as faculty advisor to an undergraduate who was writing her senior thesis on the plight of Palestinian women under Israeli occupation.  Aptheker described her student as “a particularly thorough scholar”, giving as evidence for this the fact that the student’s thesis began with “a historical background of the Palestinian people beginning with the Biblical Era.”  The notion that the Palestinians of today are descendants of a people living in biblical times is one which no serious historian would consider, and the fact that Aptheker called a student who would make such a claim “a thorough scholar” is testament to the corruption of all standards of scholarship in the department which Aptheker headed. Interestingly, Aptheker unwittingly exposed the source of this corruption when she noted that her student’s sympathy with Palestinian women “is evident in her detailed study of their history.”  In other words, the student’s and Aptheker’s identification with Palestinian women’s cause blinded them to historical fact.  Aptheker concluded the article by writing that her student’s “ commitment to a peace process” instilled in Aptheker herself an appreciation for activism and resistance to the Israeli occupation. Aptheker’s remarks about her student’s work reveal quite clearly the extent to which rigorous scholarship and logic take a back seat to political passion and activism in the UCSC Women’s Studies department.


Political bias can lead to discrimination against faculty or students who are not like-minded.  Consider for a moment Bettina Aptheker’s boast in her “Chair’s Message” that all of the Women’s Studies’ core faculty and many of its affiliated faculty are members of Faculty Against War.  Besides exposing the political bias of the department, it also suggests how this bias can stifle the healthy exchange of ideas which is the cornerstone of any university. Given Aptheker’s admission, how likely is it that a candidate for a faculty position in Women’s Studies, or a student in Women’s Studies would author a paper arguing that America’s military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq has considerably advanced the rights of women in those countries?  It’s not hard to see how the political bias of the Women’s Studies department can stifle a diversity of ideas and lead to discrimination against faculty and students who do not hold the same views.


It is clear that “The Wave” is an egregious example of political bias which leads, inexorably, to a loss of academic integrity.  But Women’s Studies is not the only department at UCSC guilty of such politically biased behavior.  The second example exposes just how widespread the intrusion of political bias into campus events is at UCSC.


In April 2006, Bettina Aptheker and her Faculty Against War colleagues organized an all-day “teach-in” against the war on terror, on the university campus, using university facilities.  The stated goal was not educational but clearly political, i.e.“to build an effective national anti-war movement”[8]. The event featured professors, students, politicians, local anti-war activists, comedians, an ex-US ambassador and the university Chancellor, who all stated similar messages deriding President Bush, the Republican Party and the American military.   Many of the presenters publicly commended the group of UCSC students who, two weeks prior to the teach-in, had forced US military recruiters off the campus, in violation of federal law---and who  had suffered no adverse consequences from either  the university administration or the campus or community police.  Shockingly, the unambiguously political event received major funding from the offices of the Chancellor, Executive Vice Chancellor, nine departments, five colleges and four research groups, as revealed in advertisements appearing in departmental newsletters, divisional emails and the official publication of the university. In other words, administration at the highest level, and faculty in many academic units used public funds, resources, and the university’s good name to support political activism and a singular political point of view, actions that the University rules absolutely prohibit.


It is reasonable to ask why, if political behavior under the auspices of the university is proscribed by university policy, it is allowed to continue.  The final example exposes the corruption of faculty self-governance that is supposed to address these issues.


In 2005-06, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew at UCSC, was appointed to serve as a non-Academic Senate faculty member on the Committee for Academic Freedom, then chaired by Bettina Aptheker.   Rossman-Benjamin, a political conservative, requested to serve on the Committee for Academic Freedom in order to promote intellectual diversity on campus.  She states that “Academic freedom was designed to protect scholars from ideological coercion, and yet the extreme political bias of the campus itself creates ideological coercion. Without the free exchange of ideas, there can be no academic freedom.  This is something which I mentioned at many of our committee meetings.”


In April 2006, Rossman-Benjamin attended the teach-in organized by Faculty Against War.  Dismayed by what she believed to be an egregious abuse of academic integrity, Rossman-Benjamin wrote a letter to the CAF chair Bettina Aptheker and the other members of the committee detailing the abuse and asking that they be discussed by the committee. “Among other things”, says Rossman-Benjamin, “I pointed out that it is unethical and arguably illegal for a public university to use institutional funds and resources for the promotion of a political agenda, and that the extensive departmental sponsorship of an unabashedly political event could not help but blur the distinction between bona fide scholarship and political indoctrination and lead to the tarnishing of UCSC’s reputation for academic integrity.”


Aptheker, who did not recuse herself from deciding about the matter even though she was a principal organizer of the teach-in, refused to put Rossman-Benjamin’s issue on the agenda of the CAF meeting. Moreover, a few days later, without ever mentioning Rossman-Benjamin’s letter, Aptheker wrote a very negative evaluation of Rossman-Benjamin’s performance on the CAF to the chair of the academic senate Committee on Committees,an action  that resulted in Rossman-Benjamin not being reappointed to the committee. “The idea that I was essentially kicked off the Committee for Academic Freedom for exercising my academic freedom is almost Orwellian,” says Rossman-Benjamin.  “It’s a sad indictment of how the university’s mechanism for self-governance has gone wildly out of control.”


Although the freedom of political expression of every faculty member is protected by the US Constitution, these three examples of misuse of university funding and interference with academic freedom  compellingly demonstrate that academic integrity is abused when individual political expression is allowed to become institutionalized bias.  Like many other universities, UCSC’s embrace of an extremely leftist political agenda strains the public trust enormously.  Unless there is a critical examination of the way in which the campus has become so highly politicized, as well as a sincere effort to address the situation through proper faculty self-governance and administrative accountability, this university, and those like it, are in danger of losing the public’s trust.


Leila Beckwith, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at UCLA.




[1] For example, exemptions from California and federal taxes as an educational institute, as contrasted to  a political organization.

[2] humwww.ucsc.edu/FMST/PDFs/Wave_2002.pdf

[3] University of California Faculty Code of Conduct  APM 010:


[4] University of California Faculty Code of Conduct APM 015: http://www.ucop.edu/acadadv/acadpers/apm/apm-015.pdf

[5] Hillel Halkin, “The Return of Anti-Semitism,” Commentary, February 2002.

[6] Arch Puddington, “The Wages of Durban” Commentary, November, 2001.

[7] Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Rise of Anti-Semitism (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004) pp.146 – 147.

[8] From “Quarry Manifesto”, the mission statement of the organizers of the teach-in, which was distributed at the event.


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