UCLA's Andrzej Korbonski; Students must take the initiative
The largest political science department of any US college or university, in terms of major, is at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Its chairman, Andrzej Korbonski, shot his eyebrows in the air when I told him that my questions would be about balanced, objective, and unbiased teaching in political science classes.
"I don't think I have ever faced the business of balance," was his rejoinder when he recovered his speech.
"We're public, and we can't afford to forget it." And then, in case I was really probing for the Marxist in the political science woodpile, he said, "We do teach two courses in the political theory of Marxism."
He went on to detail the enormous number of courses available to UCLA undergraduates and said he was "eager to have as well-rounded an offering as possible."
And, like other scholars, he indicated that students themselves must be the ones to "monitor"their professors -- to call them up short if they are caught pushing one bias or another.
"Students," Dr. Korbonski insisted, "must take the initiative." As he explained, were some professor to go "over- board," the institution could only respond to student concerns. He mused further about the question of balance and noted, "I really don't think it's ever a secret where a professor is coming from."
He spoke UCLA's Center for Mideast Studies, which, he said, is as balanced as it is possible to make it. And then, warming to the subject, he indicated that all teaching at UCLA about the American political system is balanced; i.e., every political point of view is covered, and students are required to know the major differences among them.
Dr. Korbonski, a Soviet specialist, was quick to state that each year the students have come in as freshmen better prepared. Noting that UCLA is very much a commuter college, also that the majority of students hold jobs, he said that nevertheless the students work hard at their studies.
As for balance in the student body, he praised the admissions office and university policy in general which encourage minority students, allowing them a flexible schedule to permit each one's necessary combination of work and study.
Coming back to my concerns about ideologically balanced teaching, this political scientist asked where I was going next. I affirmed that my next appointment was with the chairman of the economics department.
Leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head and his eyes twinkling, he said, "Will you be asking Demsetz [Dr. Harold Demsetz] about balance?"
He chuckled as I nodded in the affirmative, then asked, "Know anything about the UCLA econ department?"
I admitted that the previous day, at San Diego State University, I was told to find out if UCLA thought its economic department wasn't unbalanced.
"Hmmm," was all Dr. Korbonski was about to say, when a thought occurred to him that brought his feet down to the floor with a smack: "did they say anything there about the political science department here?"
"Hmmm," was my final comment.