HAS EDUCATION AT USF BECOME TOO POLITICIZED?

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Pic of Professor Anthony D. FelsTony Fels is an associate professor of history.

Everybody knows that the University of San Francisco is a left-wing school. Many students choose to come here because of the school’s overt commitment to social justice, while others negotiate their way through radical lectures and course assignments as best they can. “Progressive” faculty drive the process forward by hiring like-minded colleagues. Administrators, who are themselves ex-faculty members, embrace the politicized mission of the school. To what degree parents and trustees, two other important stakeholders in the university, understand how left-leaning the school has become is a more open question. But at what point does the ideological commitment of a university undermine its primary goal of equipping its students with a solid, well-rounded education?  In my view, that point has been reached.

Within my own History Department, it is now possible for a student to become a history major with a United States history concentration and yet never take the standard, entry-level introductory course in U.S. history.  Two recent departmental decisions allow students to take African-American history or a course on the history of American social movements for equality – both suitable as upper-division electives – in place of the broad introductory survey. Very likely, the histories of Asian Americans, Latinos, and American women will soon join these two thematic courses as new substitutes for the comprehensive overview.

The History Department’s most frequently offered course on the modern history of China, entitled “The Rise of China,” begins with the death of Mao in 1976, conveniently allowing the subjects of the Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1965-76), together resulting in tens of millions of deaths at the hands of the Communist government, to go untaught. At UC Berkeley, the comparable course is entitled, “Twentieth-Century China.” The department also offers a course entitled, “Imperial San Francisco” (the comparable course at CCSF is “History of San Francisco”), and “Radical Labor History” (the comparable course at San Francisco State is “History of Labor in the U.S.”).

This past fall witnessed the launching of a new major at USF called Critical Diversity Studies. It is a thoroughly politicized major, for which the placement of the term “Critical” in its title indicates, as the major’s founding documents state, that it “is committed to interrogating and producing critical knowledge about power and inequality” and “seeks to explore and analyze how existing social, political, and economic conditions and relationships within and beyond U.S. borders shape local and global hierarchies, oppressions and activisms.” In plain language, the major focuses on what’s terrible about the American social system. But what if a student wishes to learn more about the success of ethnic integration in the United States as compared to Europe, or the reasons why America has attracted more immigrants than any other nation of comparable size? Would such a student be welcome? Probably not, just as faculty who would have disagreed with the left-wing agenda of this major were excluded from discussions of its formation right from the start.

In a particularly upsetting personnel decision, the Politics Department last year let go a nine-year veteran adjunct faculty member solely on the basis of an unsubstantiated charge of prejudice shown toward a Muslim student as part of his teaching. The professor denied the charge completely, but there was no due process. It would be as if a professor had accused a student of cheating, the student denied it, and without any hearing the student was expelled. In this case, even though the student in question declined to pursue the charge, nobody acted – not the department, the dean’s office, or the part-time faculty association – to make amends to the professor or see him rehired. One senses that USF was happy to see the professor go because his teaching on the subject of Muslim immigrants in Europe raised controversial questions for students to consider.

I have little doubt that the examples I am giving represent just the tip of an iceberg. It would take many more reports from concerned faculty and students before we know just how far USF has moved to the left. Academic freedom rightly protects faculty in organizing their courses, so restoring a wide range of viewpoints to USF’s curriculum will not happen quickly.  But I would make two suggestions to start the process going.

First, faculty should be required to separate political activism from classroom teaching. USF can best pursue its mission of social justice through its many extracurricular activities, allowing teaching to be guided by the traditional search for truth and a commitment to presenting students with the full range of perspectives that bear on any given subject matter. Second, in hiring new professors, department members and deans should actively seek candidates who can add diversity of thought to the campus. While aiming for objectivity in the classroom is essential to good teaching, complete objectivity can never be achieved by a single professor. That’s why a university faculty that reflects a wide range of ideological perspectives offers the most reliable way to serve the educational needs of students.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Fels has not published a single piece of scholarship since 1994. Whatever “ideology” USF harbors, please count it carrying uniquely unqualified people, like Fels, for entirely unfulfilled career, among them. The only publications which he can point to–see his vita–are three or four Foghorn editorials whining about the other minorities on campus.

    • While I’ve always respected Tony Fels right to express his concerns and opinions, in this case I must correct his statement regarding the actions of the part-timer faculty association/adjunct professor union. The adjunct professor whose name he appropriately does mention did not have an employment retention right. This would have only been available if he had previously been promoted to the status of Preferred Hiring Pool. As president of the USF Adjunct Faculty Association I consulted on various occasions with the part-time faculty member regarding his right to academic freedom and advised him appropriately regarding his rights and alternative legal courses of action that he had available. I also consulted with appropriate administrators to determine if he could be reviewed and retained. Unless a part-time professor is a member of the Preferred Hiring Pool he/she has not attained retention rights under our Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is no different than the employment status of full-time professors who have not yet attained tenure.

      The much larger question of Tony Fels focus is worthy of full and undeterred discussion regardless of what conclusions or opinions we each may have. What our students learn and how we help to prepare them for life in continuity with USF is the heart of our commitment to social and economic justice for all.

      Jake McGoldrick, President
      USF Adjunct Faculty Association
      AFT/CFT Local 4269, Part-time

      • Jake McGoldrick defends his actions on behalf of the unfairly fired adjunct Politics professor on strictly legal grounds. But this professor’s firing signified an ethical failing, not a legal failing, on USF’s part. The professor was accused by a student of a wrongdoing that he forcefully denied. When challenged to defend her accusation in an impartial proceeding, the accuser dropped the charge. But the department and administration proceeded as if the charge were true. No apology was made, and the professor was not rehired. Since the professor had never taken the step to become a member of the adjunct faculty Preferred Hiring Pool, it is true that he had no legal recourse. But one would hope that an adjunct faculty union would champion the ethical right of a successful, longstanding professor not to be cast aside based on unsubstantiated allegations and political prejudices.

    • Quick question, can you even take yourself seriously – because no one else certainly can. I do applaud you, however, because you have validated Prof. Fels’ article by responding in such a manner. Thank you for exemplifying the type of ludicrous behavior that continues to ruin the academic standard at USF. You are a narcissistic, self absorbed individual who apparently would rather rely on being given something of worth, rather than earning it, thus destroying that item’s worth entirely(an education, a degree, etc.). I highly doubt that you have any actual experience in the ‘real-world’ because if you had, you would understand that Mr. Fels is not attacking or whining about minorities…he is telling you the truth. Now, whether or not you have the maturity, or even the capacity to comprehend his reasoning is a totally different matter. You sincerely think that one should be able to receive a degree in American History when they can completely ignore the fundamental courses which provide general overview for how and why our nation has developed into the country you currently live in? You think we should cater to everyone so that we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings? That is simple minded as well as ignorant. When it comes to the fundamentals of history, regardless of civilization, one cannot possibly simply pick and choose what they want to learn. True education is one in which an individual opens themselves up to the horrors and sadness that has befallen our world, and forces themselves to entangle themselves in it. If one ignores the lessons of history, they will forever remain a child. Maybe one day you will understand the true honesty and depth of which Mr. Fels has so correctly pointed out. Our generation (I assume you are between the ages of 18-30) is the weakest in World history due to our absolute capitulation towards anything that offends anyone. We have become incredibly weak and too easily offended, and hopefully our future generations will learn from the incompetent fools like you who pull the minority or prejudiced card anytime you do not get what you wish for, or hear something that you don’t want to hear. Until then, please refrain from commenting about subjects that you obviously have zero understanding of because quite simply put, you are lowering the IQ of anyone who accidentally stumbles upon your senseless whining.

      To Mr. Fels, and all those faculty and staff who continue to exemplify the true soul and heart of what it means to profess education, and who continue to bestow your excellent knowledge and wisdom on younger generations – I am not alone in saying that I respect and admire you. Keep up the excellent work.

  2. Please, lets not engage in this cheap-shot. Lets not shoot the messenger but reflect on the issues that the author raises. I find much merit in his arguments
    also, regarding the scholarship of USF faculty — I can also say that only a very small number (about 1 to 2 percent) have published research in top-ranked scholarly outlets such as leading university presses and “A” ranked journals. That is why, despite all the new hiring etc., we continue to be ranked so low –because the vast majority of our faculty just publish 3rd rate stuff.
    So, before you denigrate Tony — look in the mirror and at your own research and publications –which most likely is 3rd rate

  3. “Anonymous” hides behind his anonymity, because he unethically attacks me personally instead of addressing the ideas in my editorial. Just to set the record straight, my USF c.v. shows four articles published since 1994 (1996, 1999, 2002, 2007). I also have a completed book manuscript on the Salem witch hunt currently under consideration at University of North Carolina Press. I am a slow researcher, for which I make no apology. I judge scholarship based on its quality, not its quantity, and urge others to do the same. In any case, my editorial concerns political bias in teaching and has nothing to do with faculty research.

  4. What a fantastic article by Dr. Fels. USF has slowly been sliding away from a true focus on academics to a biased interpretation of the world. There are two sides to a story and it is unjust to one view just one perspective. USF is turning to a self censoring institution which is sad to see as it has so much potential to provide to the academic analysis of topics. Pathetic to see this atrophy at a once esteemed institution.

  5. Professor,

    I was a former student of yours. I vividly remember your class on American history, and I wanted to thank you for the fine education I received from you.

    Furthermore, know that you have your supporters. You are making a brave fight against a movement that is an intellectual cul de sac. One can hardly speak out against this movement without being accused of racism, as if asking for an objective approach to America’s history of racial division and union is inherently racist.

    Your article will fall on many deaf ears, but hopefully it can reach some minds that are not too far gone.

  6. Will USF please publish the comments that I, along with many others, have posted in support of this article? Or are ad hominem attacks on an outstanding USF professor the only ones the moderator allows through? “Free speech and tolerance”… unless your view is not in agreement with the Cultural Marxist revolution flourishing in USF.

  7. While I cannot speak to the current hiring or retention practices of USF, as I graduated more than a decade ago, I support the plea to instill in the student body a well-rounded, diverse perspective on various areas of study and pursuit. What that means is that all sides of the issue at hand must be fairly and accurately presented by the faculty at USF, so as to ensure that a singularized agenda is not presented in the classroom. Our country currently is plagued by a divisive political construct that insists on black-and-white allegiances (and I am not using or limiting this verbiage in/to a racial context) where there often are none. What we need is dialogue. Open and unobstructed dialogue. Life, choices and thinking are nuanced and depend on the integration and balancing of multiple factors, and our education system should recognize that.

  8. Thank you Dr. Fels for bringing a bit of rationale and balance into this unaddressed issue. I have even reached out to the President of USF regarding my daughter’s education/indoctrination and the bias that is spewed by most teachers.

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