UCLA's radical professors of today... and of yesteryear

Friday the thirteenth made its entrance early this year… in January. Not that I subscribe to the mildest form of superstition, nor suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia. But on that day, my early email-call included a message, a SOS with an exclamation point, from a good friend at UCLA, Peter McLaren.

The email read: “Just received this, Ben… what a country…! [e-signed] Peter.” It did include an internet link sent to him; a web page launched by a group calling itself the Bruin Alumni Association – carrying a small print disclaimer from any affiliation to either the university or its alumni association.

The web site in question, UCLAprofs.com, was intended as an exposé of UCLA’s radical educators – radical left, to be sure – giving its authorship as “a project of the Bruin Alumni Association,” thus providing a hint of academic credence to what ends up being nothing more than a third-rate blogging effort by an obfuscated group of embryo neocons trying to earn their wings. [The BAA was founded a year ago by a 2003 political science graduate who chaired the Bruin Republicans during his student days – now dedicated to fight what he considers a “cancer of political radicalism” in his alma mater, while enterprisingly creating a job for himself.]

Front and center at the web site was the keynote article ranking “the worst of the worst” radical professors at UCLA: The Dirty Thirty. Actually, there were only twenty-eight educators ranked; No. 29 and No. 30 listed as TBA, which I interpreted to mean “to be acknowledged, added, announced or admonished later.” For these PR-oriented junior neocons, a title of The Dirty Twenty-Eight no doubt lacked marketing cachet, thus the reason to round up the number to thirty which, lucky them, nicely rhymed with dirty.

Debuting at the top of the chart, ranked No. 1, with a 5/5 Power Fists rating, and hailed as top indoctrinator (Paulo Freire-style) was Professor Peter McLaren. Not that Peter needed crowning; but they had to make him comrade-king of the Left… the Way Left. The list continued with Kent Wong et al filling the twenty-eighth slot with Russell Jacoby.

Within a few days the story had made the wires if for no other reason than the uproar created by the BBA as it requested spying-for-pay in the classroom (Bush-worthy type of behavior, for sure) to catch these professors in the act of proselytizing, metastasizing progressive ideas that these ultra-conservatives consider anathema to what America is and must always be.

Almost four months later, radicalism of the Left remains alive and well at the University of California, Los Angeles… even if its numbers don’t even stretch to 2% of the faculty, leaving 98% of the educators in that all-American favorite place of the “moderate middle.” Unfortunately, this assumed overwhelming majority is neither moderate, nor likely to stand in the political middle, since a great many of them come from the elite class, consciously or subconsciously influenced by both their upbringing and the dominant socio-economic culture of which they are a part. But, at least for now, there is a spirit of coexistence, of academic glasnost for the brotherhood of 98 plus 2.

Almost four decades ago, I was a student at the Graduate School of Business at UCLA. Radicalism remained for us outside the perimeter of our own self-interests. During my last quarter before graduation, there were two prominent progressive figures cut down, assassinated (Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy); yet little changed around us. Our school seemed divorced from other happenings in the campus and, pathetically, we remained apolitical to the times… and whatever radical winds might have been blowing.

Embarrassingly, I do not recall who the dirty-something might have been then. I do remember vividly, however, how professor after professor always fell short in accepting that business had any social responsibility to answer to. The free market (or even less than free) had to be venerated both as dogma and single commandment. Little wonder that predatory capitalism has today reached such intergalactic orbit, and globalization has been sanctified by both political parties. Definitely no radical-left professors in the business discipline back in 1968!

Not that there weren’t radical professors then, at UCLA. It’s just that we, MBA-types, were quarantined from them!

It is in McLaren’s postscript to his last book, “Capitalists and Conquerors – A Critical Pedagogy against Empire” that he clings to hope, and invites us to do the same, in a vision of those who in diversity find common ground in the ongoing struggle against what must be acknowledged as US imperialism; adding, “It is this spirit of communitas at work in the picket lines, in the demonstrations for peace, and in our social justice classrooms that will continue to provide the spiritual fuel for the challenge ahead.”

Yes… our social justice classrooms, whether at UCLA or anywhere else, where pro-people radicals, revolutionaries with cause, keep the torch of hope burning. We need these “dirty twenty-eight” radicals at Westwood, and many more all over this land to offer comfort and leadership; for the struggle will not be easy, not when our politically emaciated citizenry has been vaccinated against anything that carries the term “social,” not when our nation is suffering pandemic aristerophobia.

Radicalism that strives for social justice and truth should not be considered a cancer, but a noble human virtue. Thanks, Peter… and the virtuous rest at my alma mater.