Submission: Students must speak up in defense of professor Keith Fink
By Daniel Tran
June 4, 2017 10:08 p.m.
This post was updated June 10 at 12:43 p.m.
The first time I saw a spot finally open up on the Communication Studies M172: “Free Speech in Workplace” waitlist was on April 1. Realizing my computer screen was not playing an April Fools’ Day prank, I put myself on the waitlist.
After reading a Daily Bruin article regarding enrollment problems in the winter quarter, I knew the odds would be stacked against any student looking for a permission-to-enroll number. Thankfully, I got off the waitlist and after nine weeks with professor Keith Fink, it was clear that the risk was definitely worth it.
Fink has inspired me to care about my legal rights and helped me learn from my peers. His Socratic teaching style fosters a classroom environment where all viewpoints are welcome and all students have a voice. There is no doubt in my mind that Fink is an excellent professor.
However, the communication studies department thinks otherwise and is trying to get rid of him. Since Fink is up for “excellence review” this academic year, the department has an opportunity to get rid of him if he is judged to be “not excellent.”
After Kerri Johnson became the department chair this year, Fink began to experience problems with teaching evaluations and class enrollment for the first time. Fink believes the unfair treatment is due to his conservative beliefs. Through their failure to be impartial, Johnson and department Vice Chair Greg Bryant have displayed a lack of academic integrity.
For example, Fink pointed out that the department has a responsibility to avoid having a “biased” faculty member evaluate him since their bias against him would affect their ability to produce an objective evaluation. But rather than choosing an unbiased faculty member, Johnson chose Bryant, whom Fink named “biased” at the start of the review process.
Likewise, Bryant’s review conducted winter quarter was deceptive and misleading. In two instances, he claimed that Fink calling on his students and noting their affiliation with specific campus organizations created a “hostile and unwelcoming learning environment.”
However, both students involved refuted Bryant’s mischaracterization and believe Fink meant no harm. Fink noted that Bryant never asked the students if they found the interaction to be hostile or unwelcome, and highlighted the fact both of these students even signed up for his current class.
Fink also discovered that Johnson lied about last year’s class size being 200 students. Johnson told Campus Reform that “Mr. Fink’s class has not been reduced in size this quarter, and has remained stable at 200 for several years.”
However, according to an email exchange between Fink and the previous department chair Tim Groeling, Johnson’s statements are false. In the exchange, Fink requested that the capacity of the class be increased to 250. Groeling agreed, on the condition that Fink’s teaching assistant could do the work “without adversely affecting his own academic progress.”
On May 17, Fink found out the results of a panel that held a vote on whether or not he met UCLA’s excellence standards. The vote was three each for “excellent” and “not excellent,” while three abstained.
Fink contends the faculty whom he named as “biased” did not recuse themselves from voting. Fink’s fate now lies solely in the hands of Laura Gómez, interim dean of social sciences, whom he also named “biased” at the outset of the review process.
UCLA getting rid of Fink would be a huge mistake, but students doing nothing about it would be an even bigger mistake. Fink goes out of his way to help and positively influence his students. He empowers his students to exercise their legal rights and to stand up for themselves and others.
Students should stand with Fink and urge UCLA to keep him in order to defend academic freedom and give future students the opportunity to learn from a prominent lawyer, legal scholar and inspirational speaker. With their biased and incomprehensible approach evaluating his performance, the department is misrepresenting Fink, his students and his classroom.
I transferred to UCLA in hopes of becoming a more open-minded and versatile person for a future career in law. After my first week with Fink, I immediately knew he would help me do just that. Fink genuinely cares about helping his students both inside and outside the classroom.
Students should support and express their solidarity for Fink by signing an online petition at keepfink.com and respectfully voicing their support for Fink to Gómez. If anyone in the communication studies department is “excellent,” it’s Professor Fink.
Tran is a third-year communication studies student.