The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) appears to be attempting to push out a conservative professor from his position at the university.
Keith Fink, a continuing lecturer who teaches classes on free speech and entertainment law, has already had students blocked from taking his classes by the Communications Department due to his resistance to the atmosphere of trigger warnings and safe spaces and insistence on providing students with the proper knowledge to stand up for their rights on campus, as The Daily Wire has previously reported. Now the department may be using Fink's upcoming Excellence Review as an excuse to relieve him of his duties.
Lecturers undergo the Excellence Review when they reach their 18th quarter of teaching at the university. The lecturer provides the department with a list of student names to be solicited for evaluation letters, a list of faculty members who the candidate feels are the most qualified to evaluate them, as well as a list of faculty members who the candidate believes are biased against them. The department sends a faculty member to evaluate the class; a panel of tenured and tenure-track faculty members eventually review the candidate's dossier and decide if the candidate meets the necessary excellence standards to continue teaching at the university. If the panel decides the candidate has not met those standards, the candidate is relieved of his or her duties.
Fink previously told The Daily Wire that excellence reviews are typically a breeze for professors to pass. But the Communications Department has made it anything but easy for Fink thus far in the process.
Emails show that Kerri Johnson, the Communications Department chair, who said she was not allowed to provide comment to The Daily Wire on the Excellence Review process, reprimanded Fink in an email for having someone in his law firm solicit letters from students.
But Fink noted in his response that the person in his law firm is Andrew Litt, his teacher's aide and a UCLA law student who is allowed to solicit letters for Fink, citing the specific policy that allows Litt to solicit letters as a student.
Lauren Na, the assistant dean for academic and staff personnel who was included in the email, responded that Fink was "correct" but that letters solicited by the department are given heavier weight to the process.
Litt told The Daily Wire that no one has cited the specific rule that substantiates Na's assertion.
Additionally, the department did not reach out to the ten students on the list that Fink and Litt initially provided; they did, however, solicit letters from a later list of students, but Litt pointed out to The Daily Wire that they left out what he felt was the strongest letter they solicited in favor of Fink from the dossier they were required to send to Fink on April 3. Only when Fink and Litt noticed that documents were missing and requested the full dossier did the department send them the letter.
The student who wrote the letter, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Kayla, was shocked when told by The Daily Wire that her letter was originally omitted from the dossier, as she submitted it on time.
"No reasonable person would believe that my letter was 'accidentally' omitted from the dossier, because presumably it flatly contradicts the department's narrative," Kayla told The Daily Wire in a text message. "They asked me what my honest opinion was, and I spent hours articulating how Professor Fink is an excellent instructor and explaining the impact he has had on my life.
"It infuriates me to hear they attempted to (by accident or by malice) discard my opinion simply because it contradicts their mission."
Here is her letter:
A number of negative letters from students solicited by the department were included in the dossier, which Fink felt were reaching in their criticism of him; perhaps the most damaging to Fink was a letter that stated that "it wasn't rare for Fink to bring up racial slurs or other forms of charged epithet."
But fourth-year philosophy student and College Republican member Michael Mathis, who is taking Fink's class for the third time this quarter, told The Daily Wire that the letter is taking Fink's words "completely out of context."
"It's not him up there blurting racial slurs for the hell of it; he was saying, 'Here's a quote,' he's says the quote and then says, 'Is this legal? Is this protected?' That kind of thing," Mathis said.
The problem is that Fink won't have the opportunity to defend himself in front of the Excellence Review panel. All they will see is a letter accusing him of perpetuating racial slurs.
What was truly bizarre was that the department reached out to an anonymous student that had never taken a class with Fink. This was among the documents sent to Fink and Litt when they requested the complete dossier:
"I think it's a sign that they're digging for something," Litt said, "and they might have misfired or something and sent it to the wrong person ... that's pathetic. The department knows exactly who took his classes."
There's also the fact that the faculty member that evaluated Fink, Communications Professor Greg Bryant, was on Fink's "bias list" because Bryant was "copied on all these emails that are disparaging toward Professor Fink," according to Litt. Fink asked in an email why Bryant was evaluating his class when the department is supposed to shy away from those on the bias list; Carly Bobek, UCLA's labor relations specialist, responded, "After taking into account the general availability of Senate faculty to perform your review, it was determined that Professor Bryant would be the most appropriate observer."
Litt told The Daily Wire in an email that this excuse doesn't make sense:
Are they seriously contending that NONE of these ... faculty members were available? I obviously have a bias of my own here, but most of these professors were teaching on campus that quarter (and thus not on sabbatical or research leave) and I find it extremely hard to believe that none of them, except biased Bryant, were available. I doubt they even asked most of them. Remember that as Chair, Kerri Johnson could simply appoint or require one of her subordinates to review the class. That person would then presumably follow their bosses orders and review the class...
Fink made a similar comment in his response to Bobek and asked why his deadline wasn't changed to avoid having Bryant evaluate him:
The Communications Senate faculty consists of 12 individuals, including Johnson and Bryant. It is odd that the remaining 10 members of the Senate faculty would not have been available for that night. The Daily Wire reached out to a number of the faculty members for comment; the only one who has responded thus far was Professor Tim Groeling, who said that members of the faculty can't comment on personnel cases.
Naturally, Bryant wrote an evaluation that was critical of Fink's teaching style, calling it "of average quality." Bryant claimed in his evaluation letter, which was obtained by The Daily Wire, that Fink constantly espoused "his personal legal views" and that Fink created "a potentially unwelcoming environment for students to speak" with his "sometimes highly defensive" responses to two students he called on during class.
But students told The Daily Wire that they never once felt uncomfortable in Fink's class.
"He just asked me a question and he challenged me like he always does but I didn't feel victimized at all," said Gael Adrien Mbama, a fourth year International Development Studies student and Daily Bruin columnist.
Adrien Mbama also pointed out that Fink constantly challenges his students in class so they can think on their feet. He is taking one of Fink's classes for the third time this quarter.
The second student was Mathis, who told The Daily Wire that he "felt more welcome than any other class I've ever taken."
"Usually on the campus you would hear hyper-left ideas, but he invites other ideas into the classroom that you wouldn't able to hear in any other class," Mathis said. "His class is a really good area where you can foster your mind and liberate your mind and begin to understand a new way of thinking."
Mathis also disputed the notion that Fink promulgates his personal views in class.
"He starts out on day one saying, 'I'm not going to tell you how to think. You're not even going to know what I think. I'm just going to tell you both sides of the debate,'" Mathis said.
Thomas Miller, a UCLA communications lecturer, volunteered to evaluate Fink's teaching during the same class as Bryant; Miller came out with more favorable evaluation:
Though Miller praised Fink strongly, the Bryant letter carries the most weight in the Excellence Review process because he was the chosen faculty evaluator. Between Bryant's letter and the allegations made by students in the letters critical of Fink, the department may have an excuse to push Fink out of his job when his Excellence Review is concluded in May.
"The way the system is, this is the easiest way for them to get rid of me," Fink told The Daily Wire. "This is the perfect storm."
Fink pointed out that the university only has to say that he did not reach their level of excellence standards to justify letting him go.
"This is everything for them," Fink said. "If they don't push me out now, they're never going to be able to do that without withstanding a viewpoint discrimination claim."
Fink is also convinced that the administration is involved, since they've been copied onto email threads featuring Fink setting members of the department straight for not knowing the correct school policy, yet never spoke in defense of Fink. Additionally, no one in the administration ever reached out to Fink when he went on Tucker Carlson Tonight to explain that students were being blocked from his class.
For Fink, fighting back against the administration is necessary to uphold the principles of academic freedom.
"If they can do it to me, they can do it to somebody else," Fink said.
And yet, at the beginning of the new quarter, Fink's class was overflowing students; his reviews are mostly excellent on Bruinwalk, a website that provides ratings and reviews on various UCLA professors and student letters in favor of him show that not only do students learn a lot from Fink's class, he is willing to be mentors to them. None of this is indicative of a professor that needs to be let go. Given the apparent bias shown by the department against Fink thus far, the administration may very well be ready to push him out regardless of the value he brings as an educator and the positive impact he is having on his students.
UPDATE (May 2): A source close to the situation told The Daily Wire that Keith Fink's Excellence Review vote will take place on Thursday. It is believed that the panel will consist of eight or nine faculty members, two of whom – Greg Bryant and Kerri Johnson – were on Fink's bias list, meaning that there are already two probable votes against Fink keeping his position as continuing lecturer. All it takes is a majority vote against Fink for him to be relieved of his duties.