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UCLA students blocked from enrolling in conservative professor’s ‘Free Speech on Campus’ class

A conservative communications professor at UCLA claims his department chair is effectively blocking students from enrolling in his popular “Free Speech on Campus” class in a decision that’s likely politically motivated.

The department chair, meanwhile, says the situation is based on maintaining “reasonable class sizes across the major” and denies that her decision to reject students’ requests for enrollment is politically motivated.

Caught in the middle are frustrated students who simply want to enroll in lecturer Keith Fink’s “Communication Studies 167: Sex, Politics, and Race: Free Speech on Campus.”

Taryn Jacobson is one such student.

A senior at UCLA, she told The College Fix she has never been able to take a class with Fink because his courses always fill up so quickly. This quarter, Jacobson said she was absolutely determined to get into Fink’s “Free Speech on Campus” class.

“This is one of my last quarters at UCLA and this class is crucial to my preparation for law school,” Jacobson stated in an email to The Fix. “It will also strongly guide my decision (either by affirming or disaffirming) my aspirations to attend.”

The class filled up quickly, as usual, and Jacobson was once again unable to get in. However, Jacobson said she attended the first class anyway and received a permission-to-enroll form from Fink, also known as a “PTE.” Unfortunately, Jacobson’s PTE was then denied.

This quarter marks the first time Professor Fink has experienced his department denying his PTEs, and he seems to be getting singled out. Other professors in the Department of Communication Studies report no issues with getting their PTEs approved, according to the Daily Bruin. Fink and his teaching assistants and students lay much of the blame on the new Chair of the Department of Communication Studies, Kerri Johnson.

“Ever since this leadership change, the school has targeted Professor Fink and his classes in many ways, including by: (1) restricting his ability to enroll students at his discretion (a restriction not imposed on any other CommStudies professors), (2) reducing the size of his classes and moving them to smaller classrooms despite overwhelming student demand, (3) dishonoring ‘Permission to Enroll’ forms issued by him and failing to help students whose PTEs had been dishonored,” Andrew Litt, Professor Fink’s TA, stated in an email to The College Fix.

Additionally, Austin Kaidi, a UCLA alumnus who took Fink’s classes and also served as his TA, told The Fix: “For the past five years, Professor Fink has been able to educate large numbers of students without any problems. However one quarter after the Communication Studies appoints a chairwoman with incredibly left-leaning ideals, Professor Fink, the only outspoken conservative in the department, is singled out, his PTE’s are revoked, and his future classes are limited.”

Kaidi added that the room in which Fink teaches “Communications Studies 167” holds 292 seats, yet only 200 of the 241 students who attempted to join the class this year were able to enroll.

When questioned about the denial of Fink’s PTEs, Johnson told The College Fix: “As department chair, I am responsible for overseeing workload equity for my faculty, lecturers, and TAs and ensuring a productive learning environment for our students. One important aspect of this responsibility is to maintain reasonable class sizes across the major which entails an assessment of student to faculty and student to TA ratios. Accordingly, I do not approve modifications to enrollment caps unless implications for workload equity have been evaluated. In this case, they were not; petitions to add the class were issued without approval.”

She added: “With regard to the question of political discrimination, I was unaware of Mr. Keith’s political leanings until recently when Mr. Fink referenced them in an email. This exchange occurred long after the events in question.”

Fink did not respond to requests from The College Fix seeking comment.

He told the Daily Bruin: “I am well familiar with UCLA’s rules. This is a violation of academic freedom, a violation of (UCLA’s) own rules and students’ rights. Students are not being treated with equity here.”

Fink also told the Bruin he has spoken with his union representative and the ombudsman about the matter. “This is an important issue,” Fink said. “Most people don’t stand up to the administration when they are wronged, either out of ignorance of their rights or fear that their situation will be exacerbated if they challenge the school.”

“I am a voice of a teacher who’s not going to go away,” he added. “When I see an injustice toward students, I am going to fight.”

Jacobson, the senior trying to take Fink’s class, told The College Fix she is frustrated.

“Higher education is supposed to be about providing students with opportunities to learn and expand their horizons, rather than limiting them,” she said. “I have never experienced a situation like this: the professor wants to admit more students at no cost to the school, the room FITS more students, yet the actual department housing the course is thwarting his efforts and effectively denying me an educational opportunity — one that happens to be of great importance to me.”

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Lauren Fox is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. She is majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. On campus Lauren sings in an a cappella women’s group, works for the intramural sports program, and volunteers at a local middle school Junior Great Books program. She enjoys reading Kurt Vonnegut and George Saunders.

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