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.