UCLA still targeting conservative prof's free speech course

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has repeatedly slashed enrollment for a conservative professor’s courses on free speech, which some see as a ploy to silence him.

Professor Keith Fink is slated to teach a course during the upcoming term titled Comm M172: Free Speech in the Workplace, but while the course had historically been held in a large lecture hall with a capacity of 293 , the new chair of the Department of Communication Studies has mandated that it now take place in a smaller room with just 210 seats.

In addition, Johnson reduced maximum enrollment in the course from 200 students to 180, and most gallingly for Fink, rescinded his ability to grant permission for additional students to enroll beyond the cap.

Andrew Litt, Fink’s teaching assistant, told Campus Reform that Johnson even “surreptitiously tried to reduce his enrollment cap to 170 and at one point even 150,” but ultimately backed down.

The “hard cap” on enrollment actually began this term, preventing at least 41 students from enrolling in his course examining free speech on campus. Last year, conversely, Fink asserts that he was able to give out at least 50 “permission to enroll” slips, allowing him to fill every seat in the auditorium.

[RELATED: UCLA restricts enrollment in popular free speech course]

According to Fink, Johnson justified the new restrictions on the grounds that she was concerned he would be unable to effectively educate such a large number of students, but did so before ever having sat in on any of his classes, despite repeated invitations for her to do so.

“As a teacher, I’m happy to teach 500 [students]. I haven’t voiced a problem,” Fink told Campus Reform. “Why do you take the class from 200 and then you move it to a smaller room with a smaller cap? And then she [Johnson] says it’s a ‘perfect fit.’”

Fink pointed out that the real victims of the new restrictions are the students who are being prevented from pursuing their academic interests, noting that at least one student has been left in a state of registrative limbo by the unexpected change in policy.

Elise Zappia, a prospective student in Fink’s upcoming Free Speech in the Workplace course who was unable to register before the class filled up, told Campus Reform that she suspects the department’s real purpose is to limit the influence of one of the few conservative professors on campus, especially considering his immense popularity among students.

[RELATED: UCLA lectures freshmen on inclusive language, social justice]

“I think it’s shocking that they are reducing the numbers and moving him to a smaller room because he is a widely renowned professor at UCLA. Everyone wants to take his classes, so you would think that they would give him more space to educate more students since he’s had so much success in the past,” she remarked. “It’s appalling to me that UCLA is prohibiting a lot of students from furthering their learning experiences here and it’s kind of disappointing, to be honest.”

One possible explanation, she speculated, is that UCLA has simply determined that Fink’s conservative views are inconsistent with the school’s liberal leanings.

“I think UCLA is historically a liberal school and within the past 6 months my professors have always made comments about the election and how they are Democrats,” she noted. “They are pushing a liberal point of view on the students, so I think what the department is doing to Fink is discrimination against him as one of the few conservative professors. He doesn’t align with UCLA’s narrative so they are limiting his exposure to students.”

A petition is currently being circulated calling on UCLA restore Fink to "the largest class size available" and to lift all caps on enrollment. A hard-copy version was signed by about 130 students in Fink's current free speech class, and an online version is available for those outside of the UCLA community to express their support for free speech.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kathryn_mary96