Cracking the eggheads

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Jan 26, 2006 12:05 AM
There is currently a brouhaha brewing here in Los Angeles. On one side are the highly-educated academicians at UCLA, while on the other side are all the really smart people.

It seems that a young UCLA alum named Andrew Jones came up with the nifty notion of getting students to tape their professors’ lectures. He figured that was the one sure way to discover whether or not the pedants are really just a bunch of leftist windbags using their lecterns as soap boxes, indoctrinating rather than instructing.

Now you might think that the instructors would delight in the fact that their lectures would now be broadcast far and wide. As a writer, I know I appreciate it when a reader lets me know that he’s shared one of my essays with his friends and relatives. So, how is it that all these academics are screaming about censorship and a return to McCarthyism? Have they no idea how stupid they sound? It’s censorship when the government deprives you of free speech, not when your words are given wider dissemination. As for Joe McCarthy, he tried to get professors fired for their political beliefs; young Mr. Jones, who isn’t even a dog catcher, let alone a U.S. senator, hasn’t demanded that anyone be dismissed. He just thinks it would be a good idea if parents were aware of what’s in store for their kids before sending them off to spend four expensive years at my alma mater.

If there’s anything that professors, no matter what their political persuasion might be, should be riled up about, it’s the notion of publish-or-perish. The idea that these people should be cranking out books and articles in order to prove their worth in the marketplace is just plain cockeyed.

For one thing, with only a tiny number of exceptions, those who dwell in ivy- covered ivory towers don’t know how to write a coherent, jargon-free, sentence. For another, they are hired to teach. Writing and research may pad their income, but they have nothing to do with their teaching skills. All they do is deprive the professors of time they could better spend educating their students.

When you get right down to it, there is no more reason for academics to write than for insurance agents to yodel.

When I read some of the attacks leveled against Mr. Jones, calling him a Nazi for instance, and contending that any student bringing a tape recorder to class is nothing but a Benedict Arnold in a sweatshirt, I can’t help wondering in what parallel universe such people reside.

What you say to your lawyer, your spouse, your priest or your shrink, is privileged. But say something in a lecture hall filled with under-grads and expect it to be confidential only proves that you’re worse than a proselytizer, you’re a moron. Anything you say to wide-eyed 18-year-olds dependent on your good graces for a grade, you should certainly be willing to say to their parents.

In fact, dear professor, inasmuch as your salary comes to you courtesy of the poor, beleaguered California taxpayer, anything you say in a classroom is definitely our business.