A Faculty for Misstatement
We believe the liberation of Iraq was just and necessary. But last week, we told President Bush that we deplored the war.
Was it flagrantly inconsistent for us to make this statement, so contradictory to what we believe? You bet.
Why did we do it?
We were mugged.
We were mugged by about 200 of our faculty colleagues at UCLA. These colleagues condemn the liberation of Iraq and wanted to say so publicly. But they were not content to speak out in their own names, as they had every right to do. Instead, they insisted on speaking in our names -- and in the names of the more than 3,000 people on the UCLA faculty.
How did they do it? First, they circulated a petition to call a special meeting of the academic senate. Every UCLA faculty member with tenure or with prospects for tenure is a member of the senate, which represents the faculty in its dealing with the university administration. Because the academic senate does and should include people with widely divergent opinions on most public issues, it is of crucial importance that it confine itself to curriculum, academic standards, admissions and other matters within the mission of the university.
But apparently not everyone on the faculty sees it that way. According to the rules of the academic senate, 200 members can convene a special meeting by signing petitions. Two hundred members did so, and the meeting was held last week, at a time when many on the faculty were busy teaching or preparing for class.
By the time they voted, the 200-member quorum had apparently vanished, but they went ahead anyway: 180 for the resolution, seven against and nine abstaining.
The resolution they adopted puts the academic senate on record as saying “to our fellow citizens, to the president of the United States and to our senators and representatives” that we “deplore the administration’s doctrine of preventive war and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”
The academic senate includes us. A rump group of our colleagues put these words -- words that we find loathsome -- into our mouths.
When our colleagues did that, they trampled on principles of academic freedom, which protect the rights of students and faculty to hold and express their own opinions, subject only to the requirements of reasoned discourse and respect for the same rights in others. They trampled on the crucial norm of collegiality in a university. And they struck a possibly fatal blow at the UCLA tradition of shared governance between administration and faculty, which is supposed to be the sole purpose of the academic senate.
Unless the academic senate is prohibited from taking political positions unrelated to the university, mandatory membership in it should be ended. It is unconscionable that we or anyone else should be required, as a condition of teaching at UCLA, to be a member of an organization that speaks in our name and against our views on such controversial issues.
True, legislatures speak on political issues in the name of all of us, whether we agree or not. But legislatures are intended to be political. If we don’t like what legislators do, we can vote them out of office. Politicization of the academic senate is precisely what should be avoided.
The academic senate has made clear that it no longer represents the entire UCLA faculty. It therefore has no standing to participate in the system of shared governance. So either shared governance must be terminated or a new organization must be created that can represent the entire faculty.
We regret that it has come to this. But then, muggings bring about bad social consequences.