BIAS AT UCLA ????
Why Did a UCLA Instructor With a Popular Free-Speech Course Lose His Job?
By Sarah Brown JULY 01, 2017
According to communication-studies department leaders at the University of California at Los Angeles, the story of why Keith A. Fink lost his job isn’t an especially interesting one: He was a part-time lecturer, and his teaching wasn’t up to par.
But according to Mr. Fink, the tale is far more troubling. Mr. Fink, a conservative, says he was pushed out in large part because of his political beliefs and because one of the courses he taught — a popular class on campus free speech — dared to criticize UCLA’s own actions.
With campus free speech emerging as a hot-button national issue, Mr. Fink’s continuing struggle with his university has struck a chord. Campus Reform, the conservative news outlet, has championed him in a series of articles; Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who regularly rails against campus liberalism, has made him a guest.
On Tuesday, June 27, Mr. Fink received a letter from Laura E. Gómez, interim dean of the College Division of Social Sciences, informing him that he would no longer be employed at UCLA once his contract ended, on June 30. "After a thoughtful and comprehensive academic review, it has been determined that your teaching does not meet the standard of excellence," Ms. Gómez wrote. (She did not respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle.)
The letter marked the latest development in a monthslong saga pitting Mr. Fink against several administrators: Ms. Gómez; Kerri L. Johnson, chair of the communication-studies department; and Greg Bryant, the department’s vice chair.
Mr. Fink, a lawyer, had been an adjunct faculty member in communication studis at UCLA for a decade. In one of the courses he taught, "Sex, Politics, and Race: Free Speech on Campus," he often brought up UCLA-specific speech controversies — for instance, provocative posters that appeared on the campus. In doing so, he said, he critically analyzed how university leaders had responded to the incident. At times, he said, UCLA didn’t come out looking great.
"The fact that I use current events at UCLA as teaching examples to illustrate free-speech principles likely bothers the administration, often because their campuswide emails run afoul of the First Amendment and directly or indirectly trample on students’ free-speech rights," said Mr. Fink, who was out of the country and responded to questions by email.
He has drawn the ire of administrators in other ways, too, he said. According to Mr. Fink, his conservative political beliefs have always been at odds with those of most other people on the campus. And then there was his lawyerly campus activism: On occasion he has assisted UCLA students who faced campus disciplinary or legal proceedings.
Past department leaders had supported him and "thwarted off attempts by the school to undermine or fire me," Mr. Fink said.
In July 2016, Ms. Johnson became department chair. She said she couldn’t speak for her predecessors, but stressed that "in no way has Mr. Fink’s politics been part of any classroom decision or any academic-personnel decision."
"As a top research university in the United States," she said, "we value and celebrate a diversity of opinion."
A Contentious Review
The trouble began in January, when Mr. Fink was scheduled to teach his campus free-speech course, a popular class that frequently filled up a large lecture hall. (UCLA’s academic calendar is divided into four quarters, and January marked the start of the winter quarter.)
According to Mr. Fink, Ms. Johnson abruptly limited the size of his free-speech course, to 200 students. The previous cap had been 250, he said, and he would sign permission-to-enroll forms for students who wanted to join the class as long as there were sufficient seats available.
Ms. Johnson also told him his spring-term class had been moved into a smaller lecture hall, with only 170 seats, Mr. Fink said. She "offered no concrete explanation" for the changes, he said.
Ms. Johnson disputes all of that. She said the size of the free-speech class "was not changed from his prior enrollments." Mr. Fink had asked that his course be expanded, she said, but she had decided not to increase the size of any of the department’s courses until she could review them individually.
Given that he had only one teaching assistant, 200 students was already more than ideal, Ms. Johnson said, adding that she wasn’t involved in the decision to move his spring-quarter course to a different room.
In the meantime, starting during the winter term, Mr. Fink was subject to a review that all lecturers go through after they’ve taught for 18 quarters. Faculty members who pass the review — which involves an evaluation and a vote by their department’s tenure-stream faculty members, and a final decision by the college’s dean — are promoted to "continuing lecturer."
Mr. Fink had concerns about the process from the beginning. He said he had been asked to provide a list of people he believed should be excluded from the process because they couldn’t objectively evaluate his teaching. He named Ms. Gómez and Ms. Johnson, his own chair, because they had tried "to arbitrarily reduce my class size." He added that Ms. Johnson disliked him and his political views.
He also named Mr. Bryant, the vice chair, as well as several other administrators and "all faculty members" in eight departments and programs across the university, including the departments of African-American studies, Asian-American studies, and gender studies.
The list was advisory, not binding, Ms. Johnson said. Also, she said, she didn’t learn of Mr. Fink’s political affiliation until after she had decided not to increase the course size. Mr. Fink then wrote her an email saying he felt he was being targeted because of his conservative views. "I’ve never told him what my politics are," she said.
“He's never come to any meeting or any function that we've ever had. Nobody knows him.”
Mr. Bryant wasn’t sure why he ended up on the list because he had never met Mr. Fink before evaluating his class. "He’s never come to any meeting or any function that we’ve ever had," Mr. Bryant said. "Nobody knows him."
Mr. Bryant sat in on Mr. Fink’s campus free-speech course nevertheless and wrote an evaluation. "I didn’t want to write the letter," the professor said, "but a lot of people said no" to the task.
The evaluation "was riddled with lies and misrepresentations," according to Mr. Fink. He said Mr. Bryant had taken issue with his decision to single out particular students, saying that doing so created an unwelcoming learning environment.
Mr. Fink provided The Chronicle with declarations from two students in which they said they had developed close relationships with the faculty member and had no problem being identified — one as a member of the campus Republican club, the other as a reporter and columnist for the student newspaper.
But that’s not why the class was unwelcoming, Mr. Bryant said. "He makes students uncomfortable to talk because he’s pretty aggressive back to them" if he disagrees with their point of view, he said. And Mr. Fink’s use of the discussion-based Socratic method in a large lecture hall "doesn’t really work," Mr. Bryant said.
“He was pushing his own views harder than I think he should.”
Mr. Fink also criticized specific UCLA administrators by name, Mr. Bryant said, and "he was pushing his own views harder than I think he should."
"I believe Mr. Fink clearly has a right to express those views, especially in a class on the topic of free speech," he wrote in the evaluation, "but as a teaching technique, I feel like the more he belabors his points about UCLA in particular, the more he undermines his credibility and objectivity as an instructor."
Mr. Fink acknowledged that his provocative style might feel intimidating to some students. "But a university shouldn’t be a safe space," he said.
‘The Bar Is Incredibly High’
Student evaluations of the free-speech course Mr. Fink taught this year — provided by Andrew Litt, a recent UCLA School of Law graduate who served as Mr. Fink’s teaching assistant for two years and worked in his law firm — mostly paint a picture of Mr. Fink as an engaging teacher and his course as stimulating and interesting.
“This class was the best class I have taken at UCLA.”
"This class was the best class I have taken at UCLA," one student wrote. "While I did not agree with every views [sic] of Professor Fink, his lectures stimulated and provoked a wide range of thoughts and perspectives that I believe helped me to become a better student and citizen." A handful of comments were negative; one took issue with Mr. Fink’s "arrogance," and another said he "goes off-topic a lot" but added that "this is a very minor issue."
The department’s final report, provided by Mr. Litt, stated that the review "skewed toward a favorable view of Mr. Fink’s teaching effectiveness," but said faculty members had raised concerns "about the climate fostered within the classroom" and the rigor of his assessments.
“He's a good speaker, but that's not all it takes.”
"He’s a good speaker," Mr. Bryant said, "but that’s not all it takes."
Ultimately, the nine voting faculty members deadlocked: Three voted to promote him to continuing lecturer, three voted not to, and three abstained. Ms. Gómez, the interim dean, then declined to promote him.
"The bar is incredibly high," Ms. Johnson said of the review. There is another lecturer in the department who is well qualified to teach a course on campus free speech and may do so in the future, she added.
Mr. Litt didn’t believe the review process had been fair: "If you look at his record within the department, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to make credible arguments that he’s not excellent."
Mr. Fink said he may teach at another institution in the future, but in the meantime he is working with the university’s faculty union to file a grievance. He also plans to establish a nonprofit group that will provide free legal services to UCLA students and professors who feel their rights have been violated.
The spat illustrates what Mr. Fink describes as an intolerant culture at the university. "UCLA pays lip service to the notions of academic freedom and viewpoint diversity," he said, "but there’s an implied understanding among the school’s leaders that this really only applies if your views align with theirs."
That message has spread thanks to a steady stream of reports by Campus Reform, which has chronicled each step of the saga. A sample of the eight articles the website has published about Mr. Fink’s situation includes "UCLA still targeting conservative prof’s free speech course," "Conservative prof subject to ‘biased’ review committee," and now "UCLA fires Fink with little explanation."
UCLA’s administrators said the outrage is much ado about nothing. Mr. Fink’s case was "handled by the book," Mr. Bryant countered, and his views were not an issue. "My personal opinion about free speech is actually similar to his," he said.
"He just can’t believe that people would not think he’s an excellent teacher based on the reviews of students," Mr. Bryant added. "There’s more to it than what the students think."
Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life. Follow her on Twitter @Brown_e_Points, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conservative Professor OUT At UCLA
ByAARON BANDLER THE WIRE June 27, 2017
Conservaive professor Keith Fink has been officially let go from his position as part-time continuing lecturer for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Fink has been undergoing his Excellence Review process regarding whether his employment at UCLA will continue after his 18th quarter of teaching. On Tuesday, Dean of Social Sciences Laura Gomez sent Fink a brief letter informing him of her decision to let him go, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Wire:
I write to inform you that your appointment as a Continuing Lecturer, effective January 1, 2018, was not approved. after a thoughtful and comprehensive academic review, it has been determined that your teaching does not meet the standard of excellence. The effective end date of your last employment as a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies will be June 30, 2017.
Fink provided the following statement to The Daily Wire in an email:
Dean Gomez' letter to me is devoid of any reason or rationale. I articulated in a seven page letter numerous concerns about the procedure and substance of my Excellence Review to Dean Gomez all of which she ignored. In return, she responded a month later with a five sentence letter comprised mainly of pleasantries, lacking substance or accountability. Despite being biased she refused to recuse herself. Why does UCLA ask a teacher to list those who are biased if there is no recusal? Why isn't a teacher after ten years of teaching entitled to some explanation as to why he is no longer able to teach? I intend to ensure that the UCLA is held accountable to the fundamental principles of free speech, due process and fairness. To that end I am establishing a non-profit that will provide free legal services for UCLA students and teachers whose rights have been violated. I will always fight for principles that we hold dear as Americans and will continue to be the one person UCLA students can count on for help when needed. I have been offered many teaching opportunities and will continue to be a positive role model and inspiring teacher for young people.
The Daily Wire has reported on Gomez's bias against Fink and Fink's letter making his case to Gomez here and here.
Fink's teacher aide, Andrew Litt, excoriated Gomez in a text message to The Daily Wire.
"This was preordained," Litt seethed. "What a joke. No recusal. No analysis. As expected."
Litt also noted that no one in the review process had any expertise on the subject matter that Fink teaches – free speech and employment law – and that Fink had requested for Gomez to seek "the input of the campus' (arguably the nation's) preeminent First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh." But her letter suggests that "she solicited nothing."
Indeed, Fink's letter to Gomez is filled with substantive arguments explaining how he meets UCLA's standards of excellence, while Gomez's letter is substance-free. You can read Fink's full letter here.
As The Daily Wire has previously reported, Fink has been railroaded during his review process from the get-go, which ultimately resulted in a deadlocked panel vote on his future at UCLA, leaving the decision in the hands of Dean Gomez, who seems to have a bias against Fink.
Meanwhile, The Daily Wire has received some of Fink's student evaluations from this past spring quarter and the vast majority of them are overwhelmingly positive:
I'm a science major who normally has no interests in classes like these. When I say this was one of my favorite classes here at UCLA, with the most passionate professor I've ever had, who made me want to learn a new field, I am not exaggerating. Professor Fink cares for his students like no other, and you always feel secure and welcome asking a man of his stature for help. His class was organized, concise, and he was very well spoken. I cannot point out any direct weaknesses because I feel nothing was needing of improvement. His strengths are the remainder, and they speak for themselves.
If I could rate every single category of this survey as a 10 instead of a 9, I would have. Professor Fink has been, by far, my most interesting, intriguing, articulate, and well-spoken instructor I've had here at UCLA. His class has single-handedly compelled me to pursue a career in law and has increased my interest 10 fold. It's really a shame that he has been under attack by the department because this is the best (in all aspects) communications course I've taken. If I could take his courses every quarter, I most definitely would. And I really hope he is not removed from teaching because this class really forces students to critically think about events and situations before they assume their position. With the current political leanings of the campus, I think it'd be valuable for every and any student to take his classes. He challenges you and forces you to question your own beliefs. He creates more conscientious and empowered students who know their rights. All in all, an amazing course that everyone should have the opportunity to take.
In my 4 years at UCLA, I've had a great deal of excellent professors but the one that stands out the most among them is Professor Fink. I first took his Free Speech on Campus last quarter and this experience was so life changing that I HAD to enroll in his class this quarter. Professor Fink is one of the few Professors at UCLA that TRULY cares about his students and he makes an effort to help students in any way that he can. The classes are conducted as Socratic Seminars and this method makes the class very engaging and helps my learning and understanding of the court cases. There has been controversy surrounding this course as some may view Professor Fink as being too conservative, but the truth is that Fink remains mostly neutral throughout the discussions and always plays the devil advocates in order to encourage dialogue and discussion. His class made me understand the importance of colleges remaining a market place of ideas with free speech as one can only defend their opinion by understanding both sides. If Fink were to be fired for being deemed "not excellent," this would be robbing future bruins the opportunity to take one of the most rewarding classes at UCLA with one of the most excellent professors in the campus. Interesting class... I have learned so much..
It seems that the UCLA administration wanted Fink out and used his Excellence Review as an opportunity to do so. They have gotten their wish, but in the process the university has a lost a popular professor who had a profoundly positive impact on his students.
Gomez's full letter can be seen below:
ByAARON BANDLER May 22, 2017
Part-time UCLA lecturer Keith Fink, a conservative who teaches classes on free speech, will have his fate decided by a dean who is deemed by Fink as biased.
Fink is currently undergoing an Excellence Review, where at the 18th quarter mark of teaching at UCLA a panel of faculty members in the department reviews student and teacher evaluations of a candidate and then vote on whether that candidate meets their standard of "excellence." After the vote, they send a recommendation to the dean of their respective department, who typically follows through on their recommendation.
But a unique outcome occurred when the panel voted on Fink: the vote was deadlocked, three in favor of keeping him on board, three against and three abstaining. The Communication Department's letter to the dean of social sciences, Laura Gomez, does not give a recommendation either way about keeping Fink on as a part-time lecturer.
That leaves Gomez to make the decision herself, even though she was on Fink's list of faculty members that he felt were biased against him in evaluating his teaching abilities that he submitted to the department. The reason for this is because, according to Fink's teacher's aide Andrew Litt, who also works at Fink's law firm, the Dean of Social Sciences office – including Gomez herself – were copied on emails in which Fink called out Communications Department chair Kerri Johnson in her attempts to block students from taking Fink's class. The dean's office was also copied on an email exchange involving Johnson telling Fink that he couldn't solicit his own letters and the office didn't respond until Fink corrected her.
Gomez also donated $1,000 to Hillary for America in 2015, according to a search on the Federal Election Commission's website.
"In a nutshell, Laura Gomez is biased for the same reason Kerri Johnson is biased: they've been working on this together from the outset and that's why at that outset we identified both of them as biased," Litt said.
Gomez has yet to respond to The Daily Wire's request for comment.
The letter from the department to Gomez, which was sent to Fink, features the department attempting to spin against the overwhelmingly positive response to Fink's teaching. For instance, the letter notes that Fink's "department Instructor and Course Ratings are 8.17 and 8.14, respectively" which is described as "modestly" higher than the department's averages. But Litt pointed out that the highest rating for a candidate to get in each category is nine, which means that it's incredibly difficult to get a higher average than what Fink has earned.
Additionally, the letter reveals that the panel of faculty members tried to downplay the positive student evaluations of Fink by suggesting that was only because his class was an "easy A." Litt acknowledged that most students obtain grades in the A- or above range in Fink's class, but the same can be said for Johnson's classes.
The letter then goes into aspects of Fink's classes that troubled some of the faculty members, including the description of Fink's Socratic-style of teaching as "intimidating" and "humiliating (which was disputed by students in an earlier report by The Daily Wire), a curious case of apparent plagiarism in a student's recommendation letter for Fink, as well as instances of cheating, but the letter acknowledges that one of the faculty members on the panel said "that the mentions of cheating tended to occur early in Mr. Fink's course offerings and indicated that he had taken steps to address this."
Litt told The Daily Wire that the faculty member's quote suggests that cheating in Fink's classes "is not an issue anymore, so what's the problem?"
Other concerns outlined in the letter were that some students were unable to hear Fink's dialogue with students during classes and that his lectures could be disorganized. The former could easily be fixed – Litt suggested letting Fink use a microphone to give his lectures – and the latter, if true, didn't prevent Fink from receiving high marks in the "clarity" category on Bruinwalk.
Johnson concludes by stating, "While he is clearly popular among many students, many factors remained worrisome to several voting members of the faculty, thus resulting in a split vote." Without a recommendation given at the conclusion of the letter, the implication is that Gomez will ultimately be the decision-maker on Fink's fate at UCLA.
Fink will send Gomez a response to the department's letter by the end of the week.
The full letter can be seen below: