My professor, Mary Corey (History, UCLA), is always inspired and never dull, even in her darkest moments. Especially in her darkest moments.
When George W. Bush was reelected, Corey told our class that she was “in a decidedly bad mood,” but proceeded to give a colorful lecture anyway. She is filled with marvelous stories and spiked with a foul sense of humor.
She can talk for a whole hour and you would want her to continue.
But only if you are a liberal. If you are not, you find yourself decomposing in your seat or chewing through your own tongue.
You definitely don’t raise your hand, because the lecture comes to a complete halt. Corey has a hard time hearing (and listening), so she slowly trudges toward your seat and fixes that pair of flaming eyes on yours. You’ve managed to get her excited and the entire class annoyed. And now, you must confront her.
You can do it once. Maybe even twice. I did. But to call her out each time, you need some serious nerve—and a solid GPA.
Professor Corey has been a history professor at UCLA since 1996. Last quarter she taught a class in US history since 1960, which I took. The official course description was objective: “History of political, social, and diplomatic developments that have shaped the U.S. since 1960.” But I entertained no delusions when I signed up. Assigned books included the anti-Reagan The Seventies by Bruce Schulman, the anti-Vietnam War If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien, and the Marxist rapper Cornel West’s Race Matters.
I was prepared for her to be some former hippie who obscures the line between her academic freedom and mine. And I knew I was in for some Bush-bashing, but I’d learned to let it slide in its smaller doses. As a second-year history student, I thought I would give the course a shot despite my apprehensions.
What I found in Corey, however, was a woman completely untouched by objectivity, or the desire to achieve it. In her very first lecture, she said, “If you think I’m going to be neutral, I’m not going to be.” And in keeping with her testimony, Corey spent the next ten weeks giving a socialist rendition of history, with no regard for the many other sides of the account.
Her bottom-line version of recent American history was some cocktail of male hegemony, racism, class systems, and the vast right-wing Republican conspiracy. Early in the quarter, she went on a rant against capitalism and the market system, which she defined as “the weird faith that everything will work out fine.” “Capitalism isn’t a lie on purpose. It’s just a lie,” she lectured us, “It’s easy for us to look back and say these people [who believe in markets] are dorks.” And for the climax, “[Capitalists] are swine.… They’re bastard people.”
I guess one could say in her behalf her candor at least was admirable. Most people would be reluctant to drop all pretense of professionalism in advancing an overtly political agenda in an academic classroom. In this regard, on the other hand, Corey shines. She professes the most offensive opinions as if they were uncontestable facts. She does it over and over—in every lecture, in every sentence. Here’s a sampling of statements she made that I jotted down or recorded in class:
“The Vietnam War was a big mistake. And, frankly speaking, the good side won.”
“Redistribution of wealth and equaling the playing field must be accomplished.”
“It is true that the color line is a dominant force in America today.”
“There is a class system in the United States.”
“The majority of Americans opposed the war.”
“We live in a tremendously racist society.”
“I believe Hillary was right. There really was a right-wing conspiracy.”
On one occasion, Corey delighted the class with the recitation of the following poem: “Clinton lied / Monica cried / Bush lied / Men died.” Do her political prejudices affect her grading too? I certainly was convinced my exams were graded unfairly and I don’t seem to be the only one.
A student reviewer on Bruinwalk.com, which evaluates professors, writes of Corey, “The previous review [of Corey’s classroom performance] needs to be altered somewhat. They said that in order to do well, you should attend lectures and take notes. I would say that in order to do well, you should be a left-wing liberal. Conservatives need not apply. Very little tolerance for opposing viewpoints.”
Mary Corey might be fun to listen to and even to look at. But as a professor hired to teach all students and not just radicals, she is despicable. Her extreme leftwing bias is not subdued or contextualized or even labeled as opinion. It moves her every word and justifies her every story. There is no way of getting around it.
Corey is neither a scholar nor an academic who appreciates the splendor and complexity of history—of comparing sources and contrasting theories, of trying to understand the vast mosaic of the human narrative. She is an ideologue. And she doesn’t care. After all, she has the podium and a captive audience, and the grading power to intimidate.
“God forbid I’m one of those professors that pushes her views on her students,” she says sarcastically. And the student captives laugh.
Garin Hovannisian is the editor in chief of The Bruin Standard. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org